Liza of Lambeth
Published by the Penguin Group
First published in Great Britain by William Heinemann Ltd 1897
It was the first Saturday afternoon in August; it had been broiling hot all day, with a cloudless sky, and the sun had been beating down on the houses, so that the top rooms were like ovens; but now with the approach of evening it was cooler, and everyone in Vere Street was out of doors.
Vere street, Lambeth, is a short, straight street leading out of the Westminster Bridge Road; it has forty houses on one side and forty houses on the other, and these eighty houses are very much more like one another than ever peas are like peas, or young ladies like young ladies. They are newish, three-storied buildings of dingy grey brick with slate roofs, and they are perfectly flat, without a bow-window or even a projecting cornice or window-sill to break the straightness of the line from one end of the street to the other.
This Saturday afternoon the street was full of life; no traffic came down Vere Street, and the cemented space between the pavements was given up to children. Several games of cricket were being played by wildly excited boys, using coats for wickets, an old tennis-ball or a bundle of rags tied together for a ball, and, generally, an old broomstick for bat. The wicket was so large and the bat so small that the man in was always getting bowled, when heated quarrels would arise, the batter absolutely refusing to go out and the bowler absolutely insisting on going in. The girls were more peaceable; they were chiefly employed in skipping, and only abused one another mildly when the rope was not properly turned or the skipper did not jump sufficiently high. Worst off of all were the very young children, for there had been no rain for weeks, and the street was as dry and clean as a covered court, and, in the lack of mud to wallow in, they sat about the road, disconsolate as poets. The number of babies was prodigious; they sprawled about everywhere, on the pavement, round the doors, and about their mothers' skirts. The grown-ups were gathered round the open doors; there were usually two women squatting on the doorstep, and two or three more seated on either side on chairs; they were invariably nursing babies, and most of them showed clear signs that the present object of the maternal care would be soon ousted by a new arrival. Men were less numerous but such as there were leant against the walls, smoking, or sat on the sills of the ground-floor windows. It was the dead season in Vere Street as much as in Belgravia, and really if it had not been for babies just come or just about to come, and an opportune murder in a neighbouring doss-house, there would have been nothing whatever to talk about. As it was, the little groups talked quietly, discussing the atrocity or the merits of the local midwives, comparing the circumstances of their various confinements.
'You'll be 'avin' your little trouble soon, eh, Polly?' asked one good lady of another.
'Oh, I reckon I've got another two months ter go yet,' answered Polly.
'Well,' said a third. 'I wouldn't 'ave thought you'd go so long by the look of yer!'
'I 'ope you'll have it easier this time, my dear,' said a very stout old person, a woman of great importance.
'She said she wasn't goin' to 'ave no more, when the last one come.' This remark came from Polly's husband.
'Ah,' said the stout old lady, who was in the business, and boasted vast experience. 'That's wot they all says; but, Lor' bless yer, they don't mean it.'
'Well, I've got three, and I'm not goin' to 'ave no more bli'me if I will; 'tain't good enough—that's wot I says.'
'You're abaht right there, ole gal,' said Polly, 'My word, 'Arry, if you 'ave any more I'll git a divorce, that I will.'
At that moment an organ-grinder turned the corner and came down the street.
'Good biz; 'ere's an organ!' cried half a dozen people at once.
The organ-man was an Italian, with a shock of black hair and a ferocious moustache. Drawing his organ to a favourable spot, he stopped, released his shoulder from the leather straps by which he dragged it, and cocking his large soft hat on the side of his head, began turning the handle. It was a lively tune, and in less than no time a little crowd had gathered round to listen, chiefly the young men and the maidens, for the married ladies were never in a fit state to dance, and therefore disinclined to trouble themselves to stand round the organ. There was a moment's hesitation at opening the ball; then one girl said to another:
'Come on, Florrie, you and me ain't shy; we'll begin, and bust it!'
The two girls took hold of one another, one acting gentleman, the other lady; three or four more pairs of girls immediately joined them, and they began a waltz. They held themselves very upright; and with an air of grave dignity which was quite impressive, glided slowly about, making their steps with the utmost precision, bearing themselves with sufficient decorum for a court ball. After a while the men began to itch for a turn, and two of them, taking hold of one another in the most approved fashion, waltzed round the circle with the gravity of judges.
All at once there was a cry: 'There's Liza!' And several members of the group turned and called out: 'Oo, look at Liza!'
The dancers stopped to see the sight, and the organ-grinder, having come to the end of his tune, ceased turning the handle and looked to see what was the excitement.
'Oo, Liza!' they called out. 'Look at Liza; oo, I sy!'
It was a young girl of about eighteen, with dark eyes, and an enormous fringe, puffed-out and curled and frizzed, covering her whole forehead from side to side, and coming down to meet her eyebrows. She was dressed in brilliant violet, with great lappets of velvet, and she had on her head an enormous black hat covered with feathers.
'I sy, ain't she got up dossy?' called out the groups at the doors, as she passed.
'Dressed ter death, and kill the fashion; that's wot I calls it.'
Liza saw what a sensation she was creating; she arched her back and lifted her head, and walked down the street, swaying her body from side to side, and swaggering along as though the whole place belonged to her.
''Ave yer bought the street, Bill?' shouted one youth; and then half a dozen burst forth at once, as if by inspiration:
'Knocked 'em in the Old Kent Road!'
It was immediately taken up by a dozen more, and they all yelled it out:
'Knocked 'em in the Old Kent Road. Yah, ah, knocked 'em in the Old Kent Road!'
'Oo, Liza!' they shouted; the whole street joined in, and they gave long, shrill, ear-piercing shrieks and strange calls, that rung down the street and echoed back again.
'Hextra special!' called out a wag.
'Oh, Liza! Oo! Ooo!' yells and whistles, and then it thundered forth again:
'Knocked 'em in the Old Kent Road!'
Liza put on the air of a conquering hero, and sauntered on, enchanted at the uproar. She stuck out her elbows and jerked her head on one side, and said to herself as she passed through the bellowing crowd:
'This is jam!'
'Knocked 'em in the Old Kent Road!'
When she came to the group round the barrel-organ, one of the girls cried out to her:
'Is that yer new dress, Liza?'
'Well, it don't look like my old one, do it?' said Liza.
'Where did yer git it?' asked another friend, rather enviously.
'Picked it up in the street, of course,' scornfully answered Liza.
'I believe it's the same one as I saw in the pawnbroker's dahn the road,' said one of the men, to tease her.
'Thet's it; but wot was you doin' in there? Pledgin' yer shirt, or was it yer trousers?'
'Yah, I wouldn't git a second-'and dress at a pawnbroker's!'
'Garn!' said Liza indignantly. 'I'll swipe yer over the snitch if yer talk ter me. I got the mayterials in the West Hend, didn't I? And I 'ad it mide up by my Court Dressmiker, so you jolly well dry up, old jellybelly.'
'Garn!' was the reply.
Liza had been so intent on her new dress and the comment it was exciting that she had not noticed the organ.
'Oo, I say, let's 'ave some dancin',' she said as soon as she saw it. 'Come on, Sally,' she added, to one of the girls, 'you an' me'll dance togither. Grind away, old cock!'
The man turned on a new tune, and the organ began to play the Intermezzo from the 'Cavalleria'; other couples quickly followed Liza's example, and they began to waltz round with the same solemnity as before; but Liza outdid them all; if the others were as stately as queens, she was as stately as an empress; the gravity and dignity with which she waltzed were something appalling, you felt that the minuet was a frolic in comparison; it would have been a fitting measure to tread round the grave of a premiere danseuse, or at the funeral of a professional humorist. And the graces she put on, the languor of the eyes, the contemptuous curl of the lips, the exquisite turn of the hand, the dainty arching of the foot! You felt there could be no questioning her right to the tyranny of Vere Street.
Suddenly she stopped short, and disengaged herself from her companion.
'Oh, I sy,' she said, 'this is too bloomin' slow; it gives me the sick.'
That is not precisely what she said, but it is impossible always to give the exact unexpurgated words of Liza and the other personages of the story, the reader is therefore entreated with his thoughts to piece out the necessary imperfections of the dialogue.
'It's too bloomin' slow,' she said again; 'it gives me the sick. Let's 'ave somethin' a bit more lively than this 'ere waltz. You stand over there, Sally, an' we'll show 'em 'ow ter skirt dance.'
They all stopped waltzing.
'Talk of the ballet at the Canterbury and South London. You just wite till you see the ballet at Vere Street, Lambeth—we'll knock 'em!'
She went up to the organ-grinder.
'Na then, Italiano,' she said to him, 'you buck up; give us a tune that's got some guts in it! See?'
She caught hold of his big hat and squashed it down over his eyes. The man grinned from ear to ear, and, touching the little catch at the side, began to play a lively tune such as Liza had asked for.
The men had fallen out, but several girls had put themselves in position, in couples, standing face to face; and immediately the music struck up, they began. They held up their skirts on each side, so as to show their feet, and proceeded to go through the difficult steps and motions of the dance. Liza was right; they could not have done it better in a trained ballet. But the best dancer of them all was Liza; she threw her whole soul into it; forgetting the stiff bearing which she had thought proper to the waltz, and casting off its elaborate graces, she gave herself up entirely to the present pleasure. Gradually the other couples stood aside, so that Liza and Sally were left alone. They paced it carefully, watching each other's steps, and as if by instinct performing corresponding movements, so as to make the whole a thing of symmetry.
'I'm abaht done,' said Sally, blowing and puffing. 'I've 'ad enough of it.'
'Go on, Liza!' cried out a dozen voices when Sally stopped.
She gave no sign of having heard them other than calmly to continue her dance. She glided through the steps, and swayed about, and manipulated her skirt, all with the most charming grace imaginable, then, the music altering, she changed the style of her dancing, her feet moved more quickly, and did not keep so strictly to the ground. She was getting excited at the admiration of the onlookers, and her dance grew wilder and more daring. She lifted her skirts higher, brought in new and more difficult movements into her improvisation, kicking up her legs she did the wonderful twist, backwards and forwards, of which the dancer is proud.
'Look at 'er legs!' cried one of the men.
'Look at 'er stockin's!' shouted another; and indeed they were remarkable, for Liza had chosen them of the same brilliant hue as her dress, and was herself most proud of the harmony.
Her dance became gayer: her feet scarcely touched the ground, she whirled round madly.
'Take care yer don't split!' cried out one of the wags, at a very audacious kick.
The words were hardly out of his mouth when Liza, with a gigantic effort, raised her foot and kicked off his hat. The feat was greeted with applause, and she went on, making turns and twists, flourishing her skirts, kicking higher and higher, and finally, among a volley of shouts, fell on her hands and turned head over heels in a magnificent catharine-wheel; then scrambling to her feet again, she tumbled into the arms of a young man standing in the front of the ring.
'That's right, Liza,' he said. 'Give us a kiss, now,' and promptly tried to take one.
'Git aht!' said Liza, pushing him away, not too gently.
'Yus, give us a kiss,' cried another, running up to her.
'I'll smack yer in the fice!' said Liza, elegantly, as she dodged him.
'Ketch 'old on 'er, Bill,' cried out a third, 'an' we'll all kiss her.'
'Na, you won't!' shrieked Liza, beginning to run.
'Come on,' they cried, 'we'll ketch 'er.'
She dodged in and out, between their legs, under their arms, and then, getting clear of the little crowd, caught up her skirts so that they might not hinder her, and took to her heels along the street. A score of men set in chase, whistling, shouting, yelling; the people at the doors looked up to see the fun, and cried out to her as she dashed past; she ran like the wind. Suddenly a man from the side darted into the middle of the road, stood straight in her way, and before she knew where she was, she had jumped shrieking into his arms, and he, lifting her up to him, had imprinted two sounding kisses on her cheeks.
'Oh, you ——!' she said. Her expression was quite unprintable; nor can it be euphemized.
There was a shout of laughter from the bystanders, and the young men in chase of her, and Liza, looking up, saw a big, bearded man whom she had never seen before. She blushed to the very roots of her hair, quickly extricated herself from his arms, and, amid the jeers and laughter of everyone, slid into the door of the nearest house and was lost to view.
Liza and her mother were having supper. Mrs. Kemp was an elderly woman, short, and rather stout, with a red face, and grey hair brushed tight back over her forehead. She had been a widow for many years, and since her husband's death had lived with Liza in the ground-floor front room in which they were now sitting. Her husband had been a soldier, and from a grateful country she received a pension large enough to keep her from starvation, and by charring and doing such odd jobs as she could get she earned a little extra to supply herself with liquor. Liza was able to make her own living by working at a factory.
Mrs. Kemp was rather sulky this evening.
'Wot was yer doin' this afternoon, Liza?' she asked.
'I was in the street.'
'You're always in the street when I want yer.'
'I didn't know as 'ow yer wanted me, mother,' answered Liza.
'Well, yer might 'ave come ter see! I might 'ave been dead, for all you knew.'
Liza said nothing.
'My rheumatics was thet bad to-dy, thet I didn't know wot ter do with myself. The doctor said I was to be rubbed with that stuff 'e give me, but yer won't never do nothin' for me.'
'Well, mother,' said Liza, 'your rheumatics was all right yesterday.'
'I know wot you was doin'; you was showin' off thet new dress of yours. Pretty waste of money thet is, instead of givin' it me ter sive up. An' for the matter of thet, I wanted a new dress far worse than you did. But, of course, I don't matter.'
Liza did not answer, and Mrs. Kemp, having nothing more to say, continued her supper in silence.
It was Liza who spoke next.
'There's some new people moved in the street. 'Ave you seen 'em?' she asked.
'No, wot are they?'
'I dunno; I've seen a chap, a big chap with a beard. I think 'e lives up at the other end.'
She felt herself blushing a little.
'No one any good you be sure,' said Mrs. Kemp. 'I can't swaller these new people as are comin' in; the street ain't wot it was when I fust come.'
When they had done, Mrs. Kemp got up, and having finished her half-pint of beer, said to her daughter:
'Put the things awy, Liza. I'm just goin' round to see Mrs. Clayton; she's just 'ad twins, and she 'ad nine before these come. It's a pity the Lord don't see fit ter tike some on 'em—thet's wot I say.'
After which pious remark Mrs. Kemp went out of the house and turned into another a few doors up.
Liza did not clear the supper things away as she was told, but opened the window and drew her chair to it. She leant on the sill, looking out into the street. The sun had set, and it was twilight, the sky was growing dark, bringing to view the twinkling stars; there was no breeze, but it was pleasantly and restfully cool. The good folk still sat at their doorsteps, talking as before on the same inexhaustible subjects, but a little subdued with the approach of night. The boys were still playing cricket, but they were mostly at the other end of the street, and their shouts were muffled before they reached Liza's ears.
She sat, leaning her head on her hands, breathing in the fresh air and feeling a certain exquisite sense of peacefulness which she was not used to. It was Saturday evening, and she thankfully remembered that there would be no factory on the morrow; she was glad to rest. Somehow she felt a little tired, perhaps it was through the excitement of the afternoon, and she enjoyed the quietness of the evening. It seemed so tranquil and still; the silence filled her with a strange delight, she felt as if she could sit there all through the night looking out into the cool, dark street, and up heavenwards at the stars. She was very happy, but yet at the same time experienced a strange new sensation of melancholy, and she almost wished to cry.
Suddenly a dark form stepped in front of the open window. She gave a little shriek.
''Oo's thet?' she asked, for it was quite dark, and she did not recognize the man standing in front of her.
'Me, Liza,' was the answer.
It was a young man with light yellow hair and a little fair moustache, which made him appear almost boyish; he was light-complexioned and blue-eyed, and had a frank and pleasant look mingled with a curious bashfulness that made him blush when people spoke to him.
'Wot's up?' asked Liza.
'Come aht for a walk, Liza, will yer?'
'No!' she answered decisively.
'You promised ter yesterday, Liza.'
'Yesterday an' ter-day's two different things,' was her wise reply.
'Yus, come on, Liza.'
'Na, I tell yer, I won't.'
'I want ter talk ter yer, Liza.' Her hand was resting on the window-sill, and he put his upon it. She quickly drew it back.
'Well, I don't want yer ter talk ter me.'
But she did, for it was she who broke the silence.
'Say, Tom, 'oo are them new folk as 'as come into the street? It's a big chap with a brown beard.'
'D'you mean the bloke as kissed yer this afternoon?'
Liza blushed again.
'Well, why shouldn't 'e kiss me?' she said, with some inconsequence.
'I never said as 'ow 'e shouldn't; I only arst yer if it was the sime.'
'Yea, thet's 'oo I mean.'
''Is nime is Blakeston—Jim Blakeston. I've only spoke to 'im once; he's took the two top rooms at No. 19 'ouse.'
'Wot's 'e want two top rooms for?'
''Im? Oh, 'e's got a big family—five kids. Ain't yer seen 'is wife abaht the street? She's a big, fat woman, as does 'er 'air funny.'
'I didn't know 'e 'ad a wife.'
There was another silence; Liza sat thinking, and Tom stood at the window, looking at her.
'Won't yer come aht with me, Liza?' he asked, at last.
'Na, Tom,' she said, a little more gently, 'it's too lite.'
'Liza,' he said, blushing to the roots of his hair.
'Liza'—he couldn't go on, and stuttered in his shyness—'Liza, I—I—I loves yer, Liza.'
He was quite brave now, and took hold of her hand.
'Yer know, Liza, I'm earnin' twenty-three shillin's at the works now, an' I've got some furniture as mother left me when she was took.'
The girl said nothing.
'Liza, will you 'ave me? I'll make yer a good 'usband, Liza, swop me bob, I will; an' yer know I'm not a drinkin' sort. Liza, will yer marry me?'
'Na, Tom,' she answered quietly.
'Oh, Liza, won't you 'ave me?'
'Na, Tom, I can't.'
'Why not? You've come aht walkin' with me ever since Whitsun.'
'Ah, things is different now.'
'You're not walkin' aht with anybody else, are you, Liza?' he asked quickly.
'Na, not that.'
'Well, why won't yer, Liza? Oh Liza, I do love yer, I've never loved anybody as I love you!'
'Oh, I can't, Tom!'
'There ain't no one else?'
'Then why not?'
'I'm very sorry, Tom, but I don't love yer so as ter marry yer.'
She could not see the look upon his face, but she heard the agony in his voice; and, moved with sudden pity, she bent out, threw her arms round his neck, and kissed him on both cheeks.
'Never mind old chap!' she said. 'I'm not worth troublin' abaht.'
And quickly drawing back, she slammed the window to, and moved into the further part of the room.
The following day was Sunday. Liza when she was dressing herself in the morning, felt the hardness of fate in the impossibility of eating one's cake and having it; she wished she had reserved her new dress, and had still before her the sensation of a first appearance in it. With a sigh she put on her ordinary everyday working dress, and proceeded to get the breakfast ready, for her mother had been out late the previous night, celebrating the new arrivals in the street, and had the 'rheumatics' this morning.
'Oo, my 'ead!' she was saying, as she pressed her hands on each side of her forehead. 'I've got the neuralgy again, wot shall I do? I dunno 'ow it is, but it always comes on Sunday mornings. Oo, an' my rheumatics, they give me sich a doin' in the night!'
'You'd better go to the 'orspital mother.'
'Not I!' answered the worthy lady, with great decision. 'You 'as a dozen young chaps messin' you abaht, and lookin' at yer, and then they tells yer ter leave off beer and spirrits. Well, wot I says, I says I can't do withaht my glass of beer.' She thumped her pillow to emphasize the statement.
'Wot with the work I 'ave ter do, lookin' after you and the cookin' and gettin' everythin' ready and doin' all the 'ouse-work, and goin' aht charring besides—well, I says, if I don't 'ave a drop of beer, I says, ter pull me together, I should be under the turf in no time.'
She munched her bread-and-butter and drank her tea.
'When you've done breakfast, Liza,' she said, 'you can give the grate a cleanin', an' my boots'd do with a bit of polishin'. Mrs. Tike, in the next 'ouse, 'll give yer some blackin'.'
She remained silent for a bit, then said:
'I don't think I shall get up ter-day. Liza. My rheumatics is bad. You can put the room straight and cook the dinner.'
'Arright, mother, you stay where you are, an' I'll do everythin' for yer.'
'Well, it's only wot yer ought to do, considerin' all the trouble you've been ter me when you was young, and considerin' thet when you was born the doctor thought I never should get through it. Wot 'ave you done with your week's money, Liza?'
'Oh, I've put it awy,' answered Liza quietly.
'Where?' asked her mother.
'Where it'll be safe.'
Liza was driven into a corner.
'Why d'you want ter know?' she asked.
'Why shouldn't I know; d'you think I want ter steal it from yer?'
'Na, not thet.'
'Well, why won't you tell me?'
'Oh, a thing's sifer when only one person knows where it is.'
This was a very discreet remark, but it set Mrs. Kemp in a whirlwind of passion. She raised herself and sat up in the bed, flourishing her clenched fist at her daughter.
'I know wot yer mean, you —— you!' Her language was emphatic, her epithets picturesque, but too forcible for reproduction. 'You think I'd steal it,' she went on. 'I know yer! D'yer think I'd go an' tike yer dirty money?'
'Well, mother,' said Liza, 'when I've told yer before, the money's perspired like.'
'Wot d'yer mean?'
'It got less.'
'Well, I can't 'elp thet, can I? Anyone can come in 'ere and tike the money.'
'If it's 'idden awy, they can't, can they, mother?' said Liza.
Mrs. Kemp shook her fist.
'You dirty slut, you,' she said, 'yer think I tike yer money! Why, you ought ter give it me every week instead of savin' it up and spendin' it on all sorts of muck, while I 'ave ter grind my very bones down to keep yer.'
'Yer know, mother, if I didn't 'ave a little bit saved up, we should be rather short when you're dahn in yer luck.'
Mrs. Kemp's money always ran out on Tuesday, and Liza had to keep things going till the following Saturday.
'Oh, don't talk ter me!' proceeded Mrs. Kemp. 'When I was a girl I give all my money ter my mother. She never 'ad ter ask me for nothin'. On Saturday when I come 'ome with my wiges, I give it 'er every farthin'. That's wot a daughter ought ter do. I can say this for myself, I be'aved by my mother like a gal should. None of your prodigal sons for me! She didn't 'ave ter ask me for three 'apence ter get a drop of beer.'
Liza was wise in her generation; she held her tongue, and put on her hat.
'Now, you're goin' aht, and leavin' me; I dunno wot you get up to in the street with all those men. No good, I'll be bound. An' 'ere am I left alone, an' I might die for all you care.'
In her sorrow at herself the old lady began to cry, and Liza slipped out of the room and into the street.
Leaning against the wall of the opposite house was Tom; he came towards her.
''Ulloa!' she said, as she saw him. 'Wot are you doin' 'ere?'
'I was waitin' for you ter come aht, Liza,' he answered.
She looked at him quickly.
'I ain't comin' aht with yer ter-day, if thet's wot yer mean,' she said.
'I never thought of arskin' yer, Liza—after wot you said ter me last night.'
His voice was a little sad, and she felt so sorry for him.
'But yer did want ter speak ter me, didn't yer, Tom?' she said, more gently.
'You've got a day off ter-morrow, ain't yer?'
'Bank 'Oliday. Yus! Why?'
'Why, 'cause they've got a drag startin' from the "Red Lion" that's goin' down ter Chingford for the day—an' I'm goin'.'
'Yus!' she said.
He looked at her doubtfully.
'Will yer come too, Liza? It'll be a regular beeno; there's only goin' ter be people in the street. Eh, Liza?'
'Na, I can't.'
'I ain't got—I ain't got the ooftish.'
'I mean, won't yer come with me?'
'Na, Tom, thank yer; I can't do thet neither.'
'Yer might as well, Liza; it wouldn't 'urt yer.'
'Na, it wouldn't be right like; I can't come aht with yer, and then mean nothin'! It would be doin' yer aht of an outing.'
'I don't see why,' he said, very crestfallen.
'I can't go on keepin' company with you—after what I said last night.'
'I shan't enjoy it a bit without you, Liza.'
'You git somebody else, Tom. You'll do withaht me all right.'
She nodded to him, and walked up the street to the house of her friend Sally. Having arrived in front of it, she put her hands to her mouth in trumpet form, and shouted:
''I! 'I! 'I! Sally!'
A couple of fellows standing by copied her.
''I! 'I! 'I! Sally!'
'Garn!' said Liza, looking round at them.
Sally did not appear and she repeated her call. The men imitated her, and half a dozen took it up, so that there was enough noise to wake the seven sleepers.
''I! 'I! 'I! Sally!'
A head was put out of a top window, and Liza, taking off her hat, waved it, crying:
'Come on dahn, Sally!'
'Arright, old gal!' shouted the other. 'I'm comin'!'
'So's Christmas!' was Liza's repartee.
There was a clatter down the stairs, and Sally, rushing through the passage, threw herself on to her friend. They began fooling, in reminiscence of a melodrama they had lately seen together.
'Oh, my darlin' duck!' said Liza, kissing her and pressing her, with affected rapture, to her bosom.
'My sweetest sweet!' replied Sally, copying her.
'An' 'ow does your lidyship ter-day?'
'Oh!'—with immense languor—'fust class; and is your royal 'ighness quite well?'
'I deeply regret,' answered Liza, 'but my royal 'ighness 'as got the collywobbles.'
Sally was a small, thin girl, with sandy hair and blue eyes, and a very freckled complexion. She had an enormous mouth, with terrible, square teeth set wide apart, which looked as if they could masticate an iron bar. She was dressed like Liza, in a shortish black skirt and an old-fashioned bodice, green and grey and yellow with age; her sleeves were tucked up to the elbow, and she wore a singularly dirty apron, that had once been white.
'Wot 'ave you got yer 'air in them things for?' asked Liza, pointing to the curl-papers. 'Goin' aht with yer young man ter-day?'
'No, I'm going ter stay 'ere all day.'
'Wot for, then?'
'Why, 'Arry's going ter tike me ter Chingford ter-morrer.'
'Oh? In the "Red Lion" brake?'
'Yus. Are you goin'?'
'Not! Well, why don't you get round Tom? 'E'll tike yer, and jolly glad 'e'll be, too.'
''E arst me ter go with 'im, but I wouldn't.'
'Swop me bob—why not?'
'I ain't keeping company with 'im.'
'Yer might 'ave gone with 'im all the sime.'
'Na. You're goin' with 'Arry, ain't yer?'
'An' you're goin' to 'ave 'im?'
'Well, I couldn't go with Tom, and then throw him over.'
'Well, you are a mug!'
The two girls had strolled down towards the Westminster Bridge Road, and Sally, meeting her young man, had gone to him. Liza walked back, wishing to get home in time to cook the dinner. But she went slowly, for she knew every dweller in the street, and as she passed the groups sitting at their doors, as on the previous evening, but this time mostly engaged in peeling potatoes or shelling peas, she stopped and had a little chat. Everyone liked her, and was glad to have her company. 'Good old Liza,' they would say, as she left them, 'she's a rare good sort, ain't she?'
She asked after the aches and pains of all the old people, and delicately inquired after the babies, past and future; the children hung on to her skirts and asked her to play with them, and she would hold one end of the rope while tiny little ragged girls skipped, invariably entangling themselves after two jumps.
She had nearly reached home, when she heard a voice cry:
She looked round and recognized the man whom Tom had told her was called Jim Blakeston. He was sitting on a stool at the door of one of the houses, playing with two young children, to whom he was giving rides on his knee. She remembered his heavy brown beard from the day before, and she had also an impression of great size; she noticed this morning that he was, in fact, a big man, tall and broad, and she saw besides that he had large, masculine features and pleasant brown eyes. She supposed him to be about forty.
'Mornin'!' he said again, as she stopped and looked at him.
'Well, yer needn't look as if I was goin' ter eat yer up, 'cause I ain't,' he said.
''Oo are you? I'm not afeard of yer.'
'Wot are yer so bloomin' red abaht?' he asked pointedly.
'Well, I'm 'ot.'
'You ain't shirty 'cause I kissed yer last night?'
'I'm not shirty; but it was pretty cool, considerin' like as I didn't know yer.'
'Well, you run into my arms.'
'Thet I didn't; you run aht and caught me.'
'An' kissed yer before you could say "Jack Robinson".' He laughed at the thought. 'Well, Liza,' he went on, 'seein' as 'ow I kissed yer against yer will, the best thing you can do ter make it up is to kiss me not against yer will.'
'Me?' said Liza, looking at him, open-mouthed. 'Well you are a pill!'
The children began to clamour for the riding, which had been discontinued on Liza's approach.
'Are them your kids?' she asked.
'Yus; them's two on 'em.'
''Ow many 'ave yer got?'
'Five; the eldest gal's fifteen, and the next one 'oo's a boy's twelve, and then there are these two and baby.'
'Well, you've got enough for your money.'
'Too many for me—and more comin'.'
'Ah well,' said Liza, laughing, 'thet's your fault, ain't it?'
Then she bade him good morning, and strolled off.
He watched her as she went, and saw half a dozen little boys surround her and beg her to join them in their game of cricket. They caught hold of her arms and skirts, and pulled her to their pitch.
'No, I can't,' she said trying to disengage herself. 'I've got the dinner ter cook.'
'Dinner ter cook?' shouted one small boy. 'Why, they always cooks the cats' meat at the shop.'
'You little so-and-so!' said Liza, somewhat inelegantly, making a dash at him.
He dodged her and gave a whoop; then turning he caught her round the legs, and another boy catching hold of her round the neck they dragged her down, and all three struggled on the ground, rolling over and over; the other boys threw themselves on the top, so that there was a great heap of legs and arms and heads waving and bobbing up and down.
Liza extricated herself with some difficulty, and taking off her hat she began cuffing the boys with it, using all the time the most lively expressions. Then, having cleared the field, she retired victorious into her own house and began cooking the dinner.
Bank Holiday was a beautiful day: the cloudless sky threatened a stifling heat for noontide, but early in the morning, when Liza got out of bed and threw open the window, it was fresh and cool. She dressed herself, wondering how she should spend her day; she thought of Sally going off to Chingford with her lover, and of herself remaining alone in the dull street with half the people away. She almost wished it were an ordinary work-day, and that there were no such things as bank holidays. And it seemed to be a little like two Sundays running, but with the second rather worse than the first. Her mother was still sleeping, and she was in no great hurry about getting the breakfast, but stood quietly looking out of the window at the house opposite.
In a little while she saw Sally coming along. She was arrayed in purple and fine linen—a very smart red dress, trimmed with velveteen, and a tremendous hat covered with feathers. She had reaped the benefit of keeping her hair in curl-papers since Saturday, and her sandy fringe stretched from ear to ear. She was in enormous spirits.
''Ulloa, Liza!' she called as soon as she saw her at the window.
Liza looked at her a little enviously.
''Ulloa!' she answered quietly.
'I'm just goin' to the "Red Lion" to meet 'Arry.'
'At what time d'yer start?'
'The brake leaves at 'alf-past eight sharp.'
'Why, it's only eight; it's only just struck at the church. 'Arry won't be there yet, will he?'
'Oh, 'e's sure ter be early. I couldn't wite. I've been witin' abaht since 'alf-past six. I've been up since five this morning.'
'Since five! What 'ave you been doin'?'
'Dressin' myself and doin' my 'air. I woke up so early. I've been dreamin' all the night abaht it. I simply couldn't sleep.'
'Well, you are a caution!' said Liza.
'Bust it, I don't go on the spree every day! Oh, I do 'ope I shall enjoy myself.'
'Why, you simply dunno where you are!' said Liza, a little crossly.
'Don't you wish you was comin', Liza?' asked Sally.
'Na! I could if I liked, but I don't want ter.'
'You are a coughdrop—thet's all I can say. Ketch me refusin' when I 'ave the chanst.'
'Well, it's done now. I ain't got the chanst any more.' Liza said this with just a little regret in her voice.
'Come on dahn to the "Red Lion", Liza, and see us off,' said Sally.
'No, I'm damned if I do!' answered Liza, with some warmth.
'You might as well. P'raps 'Arry won't be there, an' you can keep me company till 'e comes. An' you can see the 'orses.'
Liza was really very anxious to see the brake and the horses and the people going; but she hesitated a little longer. Sally asked her once again. Then she said:
'Arright; I'll come with yer, and wite till the bloomin' old thing starts.'
She did not trouble to put on a hat, but just walked out as she was, and accompanied Sally to the public-house which was getting up the expedition.
Although there was still nearly half an hour to wait, the brake was drawn up before the main entrance; it was large and long, with seats arranged crosswise, so that four people could sit on each; and it was drawn by two powerful horses, whose harness the coachman was now examining. Sally was not the first on the scene, for already half a dozen people had taken their places, but Harry had not yet arrived. The two girls stood by the public-door, looking at the preparations. Huge baskets full of food were brought out and stowed away; cases of beer were hoisted up and put in every possible place—under the seats, under the driver's legs, and even beneath the brake. As more people came up, Sally began to get excited about Harry's non-appearance.
'I say, I wish 'e'd come!' she said. ''E is lite.'
Then she looked up and down the Westminster Bridge Road to see if he was in view.
'Suppose 'e don't turn up! I will give it 'im when 'e comes for keepin' me witin' like this.'
'Why, there's a quarter of an hour yet,' said Liza, who saw nothing at all to get excited about.
At last Sally saw her lover, and rushed off to meet him. Liza was left alone, rather disconsolate at all this bustle and preparation. She was not sorry that she had refused Tom's invitation, but she did wish that she had conscientiously been able to accept it. Sally and her friend came up; attired in his Sunday best, he was a fit match for his lady-love—he wore a shirt and collar, unusual luxuries—and be carried under his arm a concertina to make things merry on the way.
'Ain't you goin', Liza?' he asked in surprise at seeing her without a hat and with her apron on.
'Na,' said Sally, 'ain't she a soft? Tom said 'e'd tike 'er, an' she wouldn't.'
'Well, I'm dashed!'
Then they climbed the ladder and took their seats, so that Liza was left alone again. More people had come along, and the brake was nearly full. Liza knew them all, but they were too busy taking their places to talk to her. At last Tom came. He saw her standing there and went up to her.
'Won't yer change yer mind, Liza, an' come along with us?'
'Na, Tom, I told yer I wouldn't—it's not right like.' She felt she must repeat that to herself often.
'I shan't enjoy it a bit without you,' he said.
'Well, I can't 'elp it!' she answered, somewhat sullenly.
At that moment a man came out of the public-house with a horn in his hand; her heart gave a great jump, for if there was anything she adored it was to drive along to the tootling of a horn. She really felt it was very hard lines that she must stay at home when all these people were going to have such a fine time; and they were all so merry, and she could picture to herself so well the delights of the drive and the picnic. She felt very much inclined to cry. But she mustn't go, and she wouldn't go: she repeated that to herself twice as the trumpeter gave a preliminary tootle.
Two more people hurried along, and when they came near Liza saw that they were Jim Blakeston and a woman whom she supposed to be his wife.
'Are you comin', Liza?' Jim said to her.
'No,' she answered. 'I didn't know you was goin'.'
'I wish you was comin',' he replied, 'we shall 'ave a game.'
She could only just keep back the sobs; she so wished she were going. It did seem hard that she must remain behind; and all because she wasn't going to marry Tom. After all, she didn't see why that should prevent her; there really was no need to refuse for that. She began to think she had acted foolishly: it didn't do anyone any good that she refused to go out with Tom, and no one thought it anything specially fine that she should renounce her pleasure. Sally merely thought her a fool.
Tom was standing by her side, silent, and looking disappointed and rather unhappy. Jim said to her, in a low voice:
'I am sorry you're not comin'!'
It was too much. She did want to go so badly, and she really couldn't resist any longer. If Tom would only ask her once more, and if she could only change her mind reasonably and decently, she would accept; but he stood silent, and she had to speak herself. It was very undignified.
'Yer know, Tom.' she said, 'I don't want ter spoil your day.'
'Well, I don't think I shall go alone; it 'ud be so precious slow.'
Supposing he didn't ask her again! What should she do? She looked up at the clock on the front of the pub, and noticed that it only wanted five minutes to the half-hour. How terrible it would be if the brake started and he didn't ask her! Her heart beat violently against her chest, and in her agitation she fumbled with the corner of her apron.
'Well, what can I do, Tom dear?'
'Why, come with me, of course. Oh. Liza, do say yes.'
She had got the offer again, and it only wanted a little seemly hesitation, and the thing was done.
'I should like ter, Tom,' she said. 'But d'you think it 'ud be arright?'
'Yus, of course it would. Come on, Liza!' In his eagerness he clasped her hand.
'Well,' she remarked, looking down, 'if it'd spoil your 'oliday—.'
'I won't go if you don't—swop me bob, I won't!' he answered.
'Well, if I come, it won't mean that I'm keepin' company with you.'
'Na, it won't mean anythin' you don't like.'
'Arright!' she said.
'You'll come?' he could hardly believe her.
'Yus!' she answered, smiling all over her face.
'You're a good sort, Liza! I say, 'Arry, Liza's comin'!' he shouted.
'Liza? 'Oorray!' shouted Harry.
''S'at right, Liza?' called Sally.
And Liza feeling quite joyful and light of heart called back:
''Oorray!' shouted Sally in answer.
'Thet's right, Liza,' called Jim; and he smiled pleasantly as she looked at him.
'There's just room for you two 'ere,' said Harry, pointing to the vacant places by his side.
'Arright!' said Tom.
'I must jest go an' get a 'at an' tell mother,' said Liza.
'There's just three minutes. Be quick!' answered Tom, and as she scampered off as hard as she could go, he shouted to the coachman: ''Old 'ard; there' another passenger comin' in a minute.'
'Arright, old cock,' answered the coachman: 'no 'urry!'
Liza rushed into the room, and called to her mother, who was still asleep:
'Mother! mother! I'm going to Chingford!'
Then tearing off her old dress she slipped into her gorgeous violet one; she kicked off her old ragged shoes and put on her new boots. She brushed her hair down and rapidly gave her fringe a twirl and a twist—it was luckily still moderately in curl from the previous Saturday—and putting on her black hat with all the feathers, she rushed along the street, and scrambling up the brake steps fell panting on Tom's lap.
The coachman cracked his whip, the trumpeter tootled his horn, and with a cry and a cheer from the occupants, the brake clattered down the road.
As soon as Liza had recovered herself she started examining the people on the brake; and first of all she took stock of the woman whom Jim Blakeston had with him.
'This is my missus!' said Jim, pointing to her with his thumb.
'You ain't been dahn in the street much, 'ave yer?' said Liza, by way of making the acquaintance.
'Na,' answered Mrs. Blakeston, 'my youngster's been dahn with the measles, an' I've 'ad my work cut out lookin' after 'im.'
'Oh, an' is 'e all right now?'
'Yus, 'e's gettin' on fine, an' Jim wanted ter go ter Chingford ter-day, an' 'e says ter me, well, 'e says, "You come along ter Chingford, too; it'll do you good." An' 'e says, "You can leave Polly"—she's my eldest, yer know—"you can leave Polly," says 'e, "ter look after the kids." So I says, "Well, I don't mind if I do," says I.'
Meanwhile Liza was looking at her. First she noticed her dress: she wore a black cloak and a funny, old-fashioned black bonnet; then examining the woman herself, she saw a middle-sized, stout person anywhere between thirty and forty years old. She had a large, fat face with a big mouth, and her hair was curiously done, parted in the middle and plastered down on each side of the head in little plaits. One could see that she was a woman of great strength, notwithstanding evident traces of hard work and much child-bearing.
Liza knew all the other passengers, and now that everyone was settled down and had got over the excitement of departure, they had time to greet one another. They were delighted to have Liza among them, for where she was there was no dullness. Her attention was first of all taken up by a young coster who had arrayed himself in the traditional costume—grey suit, tight trousers, and shiny buttons in profusion.
'Wot cheer, Bill!' she cried to him.
'Wot cheer, Liza!' he answered.
'You are got up dossy, you'll knock 'em.'
'Na then, Liza Kemp,' said his companion, turning round with mock indignation, 'you let my Johnny alone. If you come gettin' round 'im I'll give you wot for.'
'Arright, Clary Sharp, I don't want 'im,' answered Liza. 'I've got one of my own, an' thet's a good 'andful—ain't it, Tom?'
Tom was delighted, and, unable to find a repartee, in his pleasure gave Liza a great nudge with his elbow.
''Oo, I say,' said Liza, putting her hand to her side. 'Tike care of my ribs; you'll brike 'em.'
'Them's not yer ribs,' shouted a candid friend—'them's yer whale-bones yer afraid of breakin'.'
''Ave yer got whale-bones?' said Tom, with affected simplicity, putting his arm round her waist to feel.
'Na, then,' she said, 'keep off the grass!'
'Well, I only wanted ter know if you'd got any.'
'Garn; yer don't git round me like thet.'
He still kept as he was.
'Na then,' she repeated, 'tike yer 'and away. If yer touch me there you'll 'ave ter marry me.'
'Thet's just wot I wants ter do, Liza!'
'Shut it!' she answered cruelly, and drew his arm away from her waist.
The horses scampered on, and the man behind blew his horn with vigour.
'Don't bust yerself, guv'nor!' said one of the passengers to him when he made a particularly discordant sound. They drove along eastwards, and as the hour grew later the streets became more filled and the traffic greater. At last they got on the road to Chingford, and caught up numbers of other vehicles going in the same direction—donkey-shays, pony-carts, tradesmen's carts, dog-carts, drags, brakes, every conceivable kind of wheel thing, all filled with people, the wretched donkey dragging along four solid rate-payers to the pair of stout horses easily managing a couple of score. They exchanged cheers and greetings as they passed, the 'Red Lion' brake being noticeable above all for its uproariousness. As the day wore on the sun became hotter, and the road seemed more dusty and threw up a greater heat.
'I am getting 'ot!' was the common cry, and everyone began to puff and sweat.
The ladies removed their cloaks and capes, and the men, following their example, took off their coats and sat in their shirt-sleeves. Whereupon ensued much banter of a not particularly edifying kind respecting the garments which each person would like to remove—which showed that the innuendo of French farce is not so unknown to the upright, honest Englishman as might be supposed.
At last came in sight the half-way house, where the horses were to have a rest and a sponge down. They had been talking of it for the last quarter of a mile, and when at length it was observed on the top of a hill a cheer broke out, and some thirsty wag began to sing 'Rule Britannia', whilst others burst forth with a different national ditty, 'Beer, Glorious Beer!' They drew up before the pub entrance, and all climbed down as quickly as they could. The bar was besieged, and potmen and barmaids were quickly busy drawing beer and handing it over to the eager folk outside.
THE IDYLL OF CORYDON AND PHYLLIS.
Gallantry ordered that the faithful swain and the amorous shepherdess should drink out of one and the same pot.
''Urry up an' 'ave your whack,' said Corydon, politely handing the foaming bowl for his fair one to drink from.
Phyllis, without replying, raised it to her lips and drank deep. The swain watched anxiously.
''Ere, give us a chanst!' he said, as the pot was raised higher and higher and its contents appeared to be getting less and less.
At this the amorous shepherdess stopped and handed the pot to her lover.
'Well, I'm dashed!' said Corydon, looking into it; and added: 'I guess you know a thing or two.' Then with courtly grace putting his own lips to the place where had been those of his beloved, finished the pint.
'Go' lumme!' remarked the shepherdess, smacking her lips, 'that was somethin' like!' And she put out her tongue and licked her lips, and then breathed deeply.
The faithful swain having finished, gave a long sigh, and said:
'Well, I could do with some more!'
'For the matter of thet, I could do with a gargle!'
Thus encouraged, the gallant returned to the bar, and soon brought out a second pint.
'You 'ave fust pop,' amorously remarked Phyllis, and he took a long drink and handed the pot to her.
She, with maiden modesty, turned it so as to have a different part to drink from; but he remarked as he saw her:
'You are bloomin' particular.'
Then, unwilling to grieve him, she turned it back again and applied her ruby lips to the place where his had been.
'Now we shan't be long!' she remarked, as she handed him back the pot.
The faithful swain took out of his pocket a short clay pipe, blew through it, filled it, and began to smoke, while Phyllis sighed at the thought of the cool liquid gliding down her throat, and with the pleasing recollection gently stroked her stomach. Then Corydon spat, and immediately his love said:
'I can spit farther than thet.'
'I bet yer yer can't.'
She tried, and did. He collected himself and spat again, further than before, she followed him, and in this idyllic contest they remained till the tootling horn warned them to take their places.
* * * * *
At last they reached Chingford, and here the horses were taken out and the drag, on which they were to lunch, drawn up in a sheltered spot. They were all rather hungry, but as it was not yet feeding-time, they scattered to have drinks meanwhile. Liza and Tom, with Sally and her young man, went off together to the nearest public-house, and as they drank beer, Harry, who was a great sportsman, gave them a graphic account of a prize-fight he had seen on the previous Saturday evening, which had been rendered specially memorable by one man being so hurt that he had died from the effects. It had evidently been a very fine affair, and Harry said that several swells from the West End had been present, and he related their ludicrous efforts to get in without being seen by anyone, and their terror when someone to frighten them called out 'Copper!' Then Tom and he entered into a discussion on the subject of boxing, in which Tom, being a shy and undogmatic sort of person, was entirely worsted. After this they strolled back to the brake, and found things being prepared for luncheon; the hampers were brought out and emptied, and the bottles of beer in great profusion made many a thirsty mouth thirstier.
'Come along, lidies an' gentlemen—if you are gentlemen,' shouted the coachman; 'the animals is now goin' ter be fed!'
'Garn awy,' answered somebody, 'we're not hanimals; we don't drink water.'
'You're too clever,' remarked the coachman; 'I can see you've just come from the board school.'
As the former speaker was a lady of quite mature appearance, the remark was not without its little irony. The other man blew his horn by way of grace, at which Liza called out to him:
'Don't do thet, you'll bust, I know you will, an' if you bust you'll quite spoil my dinner!'
Then they all set to. Pork-pies, saveloys, sausages, cold potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, cold bacon, veal, ham, crabs and shrimps, cheese, butter, cold suet-puddings and treacle, gooseberry-tarts, cherry-tarts, butter, bread, more sausages, and yet again pork-pies! They devoured the provisions like ravening beasts, stolidly, silently, earnestly, in large mouthfuls which they shoved down their throats unmasticated. The intelligent foreigner seeing them thus dispose of their food would have understood why England is a great nation. He would have understood why Britons never, never will be slaves. They never stopped except to drink, and then at each gulp they emptied their glass; no heel-taps! And still they ate, and still they drank—but as all things must cease, they stopped at last, and a long sigh of content broke from their two-and-thirty throats.
Then the gathering broke up, and the good folk paired themselves and separated. Harry and his lady strolled off to secluded byways in the forest, so that they might discourse of their loves and digest their dinner. Tom had all the morning been waiting for this happy moment; he had counted on the expansive effect of a full stomach to thaw his Liza's coldness, and he had pictured himself sitting on the grass with his back against the trunk of a spreading chestnut-tree, with his arm round his Liza's waist, and her head resting affectionately on his manly bosom. Liza, too, had foreseen the separation into couples after dinner, and had been racking her brains to find a means of getting out of it.
'I don't want 'im slobberin' abaht me,' she said; 'it gives me the sick, all this kissin' an' cuddlin'!'
She scarcely knew why she objected to his caresses; but they bored her and made her cross. But luckily the blessed institution of marriage came to her rescue, for Jim and his wife naturally had no particular desire to spend the afternoon together, and Liza, seeing a little embarrassment on their part, proposed that they should go for a walk together in the forest.
Jim agreed at once, and with pleasure, but Tom was dreadfully disappointed. He hadn't the courage to say anything, but he glared at Blakeston. Jim smiled benignly at him, and Tom began to sulk. Then they began a funny walk through the woods. Jim tried to go on with Liza, and Liza was not at all disinclined to this, for she had come to the conclusion that Jim, notwithstanding his 'cheek', was not ''alf a bad sort'. But Tom kept walking alongside of them, and as Jim slightly quickened his pace so as to get Liza on in front, Tom quickened his, and Mrs. Blakeston, who didn't want to be left behind, had to break into a little trot to keep up with them. Jim tried also to get Liza all to himself in the conversation, and let Tom see that he was out in the cold, but Tom would break in with cross, sulky remarks, just to make the others uncomfortable. Liza at last got rather vexed with him.
'Strikes me you got aht of bed the wrong way this mornin',' she said to him.
'Yer didn't think thet when yer said you'd come aht with me.' He emphasized the 'me'.
Liza shrugged her shoulders.
'You give me the 'ump,' she said. 'If yer wants ter mike a fool of yerself, you can go elsewhere an' do it.'
'I suppose yer want me ter go awy now,' he said angrily.
'I didn't say I did.'
'Arright, Liza, I won't stay where I'm not wanted.' And turning on his heel he marched off, striking through the underwood into the midst of the forest.
He felt extremely unhappy as he wandered on, and there was a choky feeling in his throat as he thought of Liza: she was very unkind and ungrateful, and he wished he had never come to Chingford. She might so easily have come for a walk with him instead of going with that beast of a Blakeston; she wouldn't ever do anything for him, and he hated her—but all the same, he was a poor foolish thing in love, and he began to feel that perhaps he had been a little exacting and a little forward to take offence. And then he wished he had never said anything, and he wanted so much to see her and make it up. He made his way back to Chingford, hoping she would not make him wait too long.
Liza was a little surprised when Tom turned and left them.
'Wot 'as 'e got the needle abaht?' she said.
'Why, 'e's jealous,' answered Jim, with a laugh.
'Yus; 'e's jealous of me.'
'Well, 'e ain't got no cause ter be jealous of anyone—that 'e ain't!' said Liza, and continued by telling him all about Tom: how he had wanted to marry her and she wouldn't have him, and how she had only agreed to come to Chingford with him on the understanding that she should preserve her entire freedom. Jim listened sympathetically, but his wife paid no attention; she was doubtless engaged in thought respecting her household or her family.
When they got back to Chingford they saw Tom standing in solitude looking at them. Liza was struck by the woebegone expression on his face; she felt she had been cruel to him, and leaving the Blakestons went up to him.
'I say, Tom,' she said, 'don't tike on so; I didn't mean it.'
He was bursting to apologize for his behaviour.
'Yer know, Tom,' she went on, 'I'm rather 'asty, an' I'm sorry I said wot I did.'
'Oh, Liza, you are good! You ain't cross with me?'
'Me? Na; it's you thet oughter be cross.'
'You are a good sort, Liza!'
'You ain't vexed with me?'
'Give me Liza every time; that's wot I say,' he answered, as his face lit up. 'Come along an' 'ave tea, an' then we'll go for a donkey-ride.'
The donkey-ride was a great success. Liza was a little afraid at first, so Tom walked by her side to take care of her, she screamed the moment the beast began to trot, and clutched hold of Tom to save herself from falling, and as he felt her hand on his shoulder, and heard her appealing cry: 'Oh, do 'old me! I'm fallin'!' he felt that he had never in his life been so deliciously happy. The whole party joined in, and it was proposed that they should have races; but in the first heat, when the donkeys broke into a canter, Liza fell off into Tom's arms and the donkeys scampered on without her.
'I know wot I'll do,' she said, when the runaway had been recovered. 'I'll ride 'im straddlewyse.'
'Garn!' said Sally, 'yer can't with petticoats.'
'Yus, I can, an' I will too!'
So another donkey was procured, this time with a man's saddle, and putting her foot in the stirrup, she cocked her leg over and took her seat triumphantly. Neither modesty nor bashfulness was to be reckoned among Liza's faults, and in this position she felt quite at ease.
'I'll git along arright now, Tom,' she said; 'you garn and git yerself a moke, and come an' jine in.'
The next race was perfectly uproarious. Liza kicked and beat her donkey with all her might, shrieking and laughing the white, and finally came in winner by a length. After that they felt rather warm and dry, and repaired to the public-house to restore themselves and talk over the excitements of the racecourse.
When they had drunk several pints of beer Liza and Sally, with their respective adorers and the Blakestons, walked round to find other means of amusing themselves; they were arrested by a coconut-shy.
'Oh, let's 'ave a shy!' said Liza, excitedly, at which the unlucky men had to pull out their coppers, while Sally and Liza made ludicrously bad shots at the coconuts.
'It looks so bloomin' easy,' said Liza, brushing up her hair, 'but I can't 'it the blasted thing. You 'ave a shot, Tom.'
He and Harry were equally unskilful, but Jim got three coconuts running, and the proprietors of the show began to look on him with some concern.
'You are a dab at it,' said Liza, in admiration.
They tried to induce Mrs. Blakeston to try her luck, but she stoutly refused.
'I don't old with such foolishness. It's wiste of money ter me,' she said.
'Na then, don't crack on, old tart,' remarked her husband, 'let's go an' eat the coconuts.'
There was one for each couple, and after the ladies had sucked the juice they divided them and added their respective shares to their dinners and teas. Supper came next. Again they fell to sausage-rolls, boiled eggs, and saveloys, and countless bottles of beer were added to those already drunk.
'I dunno 'ow many bottles of beer I've drunk—I've lost count,' said Liza; whereat there was a general laugh.
They still had an hour before the brake was to start back, and it was then the concertinas came in useful. They sat down on the grass, and the concert was begun by Harry, who played a solo; then there was a call for a song, and Jim stood up and sang that ancient ditty, 'O dem Golden Kippers, O'. There was no shyness in the company, and Liza, almost without being asked, gave another popular comic song. Then there was more concertina playing, and another demand for a song. Liza turned to Tom, who was sitting quietly by her side.
'Give us a song, old cock,' she said.
'I can't,' he answered. 'I'm not a singin' sort.' At which Blakeston got up and offered to sing again.
'Tom is rather a soft,' said Liza to herself, 'not like that cove Blakeston.'
They repaired to the public-house to have a few last drinks before the brake started, and when the horn blew to warn them, rather unsteadily, they proceeded to take their places.
Liza, as she scrambled up the steps, said: 'Well, I believe I'm boozed.'
The coachman had arrived at the melancholy stage of intoxication, and was sitting on his box holding his reins, with his head bent on his chest. He was thinking sadly of the long-lost days of his youth, and wishing he had been a better man.
Liza had no respect for such holy emotions, and she brought down her fist on the crown of his hat, and bashed it over his eyes.
'Na then, old jellybelly,' she said, 'wot's the good of 'avin' a fice as long as a kite?'
He turned round and smote her.
'Jellybelly yerself!' said he.
'Puddin' fice!' she cried.
She was tremendously excited, laughing and singing, keeping the whole company in an uproar. In her jollity she had changed hats with Tom, and he in her big feathers made her shriek with laughter. When they started they began to sing 'For 'e's a jolly good feller', making the night resound with their noisy voices.
Liza and Tom and the Blakestons had got a seat together, Liza being between the two men. Tom was perfectly happy, and only wished that they might go on so for ever. Gradually as they drove along they became quieter, their singing ceased, and they talked in undertones. Some of them slept; Sally and her young man were leaning up against one another, slumbering quite peacefully. The night was beautiful, the sky still blue, very dark, scattered over with countless brilliant stars, and Liza, as she looked up at the heavens, felt a certain emotion, as if she wished to be taken in someone's arms, or feel some strong man's caress; and there was in her heart a strange sensation as though it were growing big. She stopped speaking, and all four were silent. Then slowly she felt Tom's arm steal round her waist, cautiously, as though it were afraid of being there; this time both she and Tom were happy. But suddenly there was a movement on the other side of her, a hand was advanced along her leg, and her hand was grasped and gently pressed. It was Jim Blakeston. She started a little and began trembling so that Tom noticed it, and whispered:
'You're cold, Liza.'
'Na, I'm not, Tom; it's only a sort of shiver thet went through me.'
His arm gave her waist a squeeze, and at the same time the big rough hand pressed her little one. And so she sat between them till they reached the 'Red Lion' in the Westminster Bridge Road, and Tom said to himself: 'I believe she does care for me after all.'
When they got down they all said good night, and Sally and Liza, with their respective slaves and the Blakestons, marched off homewards. At the corner of Vere Street Harry said to Tom and Blakeston:
'I say, you blokes, let's go an' 'ave another drink before closin' time.'
'I don't mind,' said Tom, 'after we've took the gals 'ome.'
'Then we shan't 'ave time, it's just on closin' time now.' answered Harry.
'Well, we can't leave 'em 'ere.'
'Yus, you can,' said Sally. 'No one'll run awy with us.'
Tom did not want to part from Liza, but she broke in with:
'Yus, go on, Tom. Sally an' me'll git along arright, an' you ain't got too much time.'
'Yus, good night, 'Arry,' said Sally to settle the matter.
'Good night, old gal,' he answered, 'give us another slobber.'
And she, not at all unwilling, surrendered herself to him, while he imprinted two sounding kisses on her cheeks.
'Good night, Tom,' said Liza, holding out her hand.
'Good night, Liza,' he answered, taking it, but looking very wistfully at her.
She understood, and with a kindly smile lifted up her face to him. He bent down and, taking her in his arms, kissed her passionately.
'You do kiss nice, Liza,' he said, making the others laugh.
'Thanks for tikin' me aht, old man,' she said as they parted.
'Arright, Liza,' he answered, and added, almost to himself: 'God bless yer!'
''Ulloa, Blakeston, ain't you comin'?' said Harry, seeing that Jim was walking off with his wife instead of joining him and Tom.
'Na,' he answered, 'I'm goin' 'ome. I've got ter be up at five ter-morrer.'
'You are a chap!' said Harry, disgustedly, strolling off with Tom to the pub, while the others made their way down the sleeping street.
The house where Sally lived came first, and she left them; then, walking a few yards more, they came to the Blakestons', and after a little talk at the door Liza bade the couple good night, and was left to walk the rest of the way home. The street was perfectly silent, and the lamp-posts, far apart, threw a dim light which only served to make Lisa realize her solitude. There was such a difference between the street at midday, with its swarms of people, and now, when there was neither sound nor soul besides herself, that even she was struck by it. The regular line of houses on either side, with the even pavements and straight, cemented road, seemed to her like some desert place, as if everyone were dead, or a fire had raged and left it all desolate. Suddenly she heard a footstep, she started and looked back. It was a man hurrying behind her, and in a moment she had recognized Jim. He beckoned to her, and in a low voice called:
She stopped till he had come up to her.
'Wot 'ave yer come aht again for?' she said.
'I've come aht ter say good night to you, Liza,' he answered.
'But yer said good night a moment ago.'
'I wanted to say it again—properly.'
'Where's yer missus?'
'Oh, she's gone in. I said I was dry and was goin' ter 'ave a drink after all.'
'But she'll know yer didn't go ter the pub.'
'Na, she won't, she's gone straight upstairs to see after the kid. I wanted ter see yer alone, Liza.'
He didn't answer, but tried to take hold of her hand. She drew it away quickly. They walked in silence till they came to Liza's house.
'Good night,' said Liza.
'Won't you come for a little walk, Liza?'
'Tike care no one 'ears you,' she added, in a whisper, though why she whispered she did not know.
'Will yer?' he asked again.
'Na—you've got to get up at five.'
'Oh, I only said thet not ter go inter the pub with them.'
'So as yer might come 'ere with me?' asked Liza.
'No, I'm not comin'. Good night.'
'Well, say good night nicely.'
'Wot d'yer mean?'
'Tom said you did kiss nice.'
She looked at him without speaking, and in a moment he had clasped his arms round her, almost lifting her off her feet, and kissed her. She turned her face away.
'Give us yer lips, Liza,' he whispered—'give us yer lips.'
He turned her face without resistance and kissed her on the mouth.
At last she tore herself from him, and opening the door slid away into the house.
Next morning on her way to the factory Liza came up with Sally. They were both of them rather stale and bedraggled after the day's outing; their fringes were ragged and untidily straying over their foreheads, their back hair, carelessly tied in a loose knot, fell over their necks and threatened completely to come down. Liza had not had time to put her hat on, and was holding it in her hand. Sally's was pinned on sideways, and she had to bash it down on her head every now and then to prevent its coming off. Cinderella herself was not more transformed than they were; but Cinderella even in her rags was virtuously tidy and patched up, while Sally had a great tear in her shabby dress, and Liza's stockings were falling over her boots.
'Wot cheer, Sal!' said Liza, when she caught her up.
'Oh, I 'ave got sich a 'ead on me this mornin'!' she remarked, turning round a pale face: heavily lined under the eyes.
'I don't feel too chirpy neither,' said Liza, sympathetically.
'I wish I 'adn't drunk so much beer,' added Sally, as a pang shot through her head.
'Oh, you'll be arright in a bit,' said Liza. Just then they heard the clock strike eight, and they began to run so that they might not miss getting their tokens and thereby their day's pay; they turned into the street at the end of which was the factory, and saw half a hundred women running like themselves to get in before it was too late.
All the morning Liza worked in a dead-and-alive sort of fashion, her head like a piece of lead with electric shocks going through it when she moved, and her tongue and mouth hot and dry. At last lunch-time came.
'Come on, Sal,' said Liza, 'I'm goin' to 'ave a glass o' bitter. I can't stand this no longer.'
So they entered the public-house opposite, and in one draught finished their pots. Liza gave a long sigh of relief.
'That bucks you up, don't it?'
'I was dry! I ain't told yer yet, Liza, 'ave I? 'E got it aht last night.'
'Who d'yer mean?'
'Why, 'Arry. 'E spit it aht at last.'
'Arst yer ter nime the day?' said Liza, smiling.
'And did yer?'
'Didn't I jest!' answered Sally, with some emphasis. 'I always told yer I'd git off before you.'
'Yus!' said Liza, thinking.
'Yer know, Liza, you'd better tike Tom; 'e ain't a bad sort.' She was quite patronizing.
'I'm goin' ter tike 'oo I like; an' it ain't nobody's business but mine.'
'Arright, Liza, don't get shirty over it; I don't mean no offence.'
'What d'yer say it for then?'
'Well, I thought as seeing as yer'd gone aht with 'im yesterday thet yer meant ter after all.'
''E wanted ter tike me; I didn't arsk 'im.'
'Well, I didn't arsk my 'Arry, either.'
'I never said yer did,' replied Liza.
'Oh, you've got the 'ump, you 'ave!' finished Sally, rather angrily.
The beer had restored Liza: she went back to work without a headache, and, except for a slight languor, feeling no worse for the previous day's debauch. As she worked on she began going over in her mind the events of the preceding day, and she found entwined in all her thoughts the burly person of Jim Blakeston. She saw him walking by her side in the Forest, presiding over the meals, playing the concertina, singing, joking, and finally, on the drive back, she felt the heavy form by her side, and the big, rough hand holding hers, while Tom's arm was round her waist. Tom! That was the first time he had entered her mind, and he sank into a shadow beside the other. Last of all she remembered the walk home from the pub, the good nights, and the rapid footsteps as Jim caught her up, and the kiss. She blushed and looked up quickly to see whether any of the girls were looking at her; she could not help thinking of that moment when he took her in his arms; she still felt the roughness of his beard pressing on her mouth. Her heart seemed to grow larger in her breast, and she caught for breath as she threw back her head as if to receive his lips again. A shudder ran through her from the vividness of the thought.
'Wot are you shiverin' for, Liza?' asked one of the girls. 'You ain't cold.'
'Not much,' answered Liza, blushing awkwardly on her meditations being broken into. 'Why, I'm sweatin' so—I'm drippin' wet.'
'I expect yer caught cold in the Faurest yesterday.'
'I see your mash as I was comin' along this mornin'.'
Liza stared a little.
'I ain't got one, 'oo d'yer mean, ay?'
'Yer only Tom, of course. 'E did look washed aht. Wot was yer doin' with 'im yesterday?'
''E ain't got nothin' ter do with me, 'e ain't.'
'Garn, don't you tell me!'
The bell rang, and, throwing over their work, the girls trooped off, and after chattering in groups outside the factory gates for a while, made their way in different directions to their respective homes. Liza and Sally went along together.
'I sy, we are comin' aht!' cried Sally, seeing the advertisement of a play being acted at the neighbouring theatre.
'I should like ter see thet!' said Liza, as they stood arm-in-arm in front of the flaring poster. It represented two rooms and a passage in between; in one room a dead man was lying on the floor, while two others were standing horror-stricken, listening to a youth who was in the passage, knocking at the door.
'You see, they've 'killed im,' said Sally, excitedly.
'Yus, any fool can see thet! an' the one ahtside, wot's 'e doin' of?'
'Ain't 'e beautiful? I'll git my 'Arry ter tike me, I will. I should like ter see it. 'E said 'e'd tike me to the ply.'
They strolled on again, and Liza, leaving Sally, made her way to her mother's. She knew she must pass Jim's house, and wondered whether she would see him. But as she walked along the street she saw Tom coming the opposite way; with a sudden impulse she turned back so as not to meet him, and began walking the way she had come. Then thinking herself a fool for what she had done, she turned again and walked towards him. She wondered if she had seen her or noticed her movement, but when she looked down the street he was nowhere to be seen; he had not caught sight of her, and had evidently gone in to see a mate in one or other of the houses. She quickened her step, and passing the house where lived Jim, could not help looking up; he was standing at the door watching her, with a smile on his lips.
'I didn't see yer, Mr. Blakeston,' she said, as he came up to her.
'Didn't yer? Well, I knew yer would; an' I was witin' for yer ter look up. I see yer before ter-day.'
'I passed be'ind yer as you an' thet other girl was lookin' at the advertisement of thet ply.'
'I never see yer.'
'Na, I know yer didn't. I 'ear yer say, you says: "I should like to see thet."'
'Yus, an' I should too.'
'Well, I'll tike yer.'
'Yus; why not?'
'I like thet; wot would yer missus sy?'
'She wouldn't know.'
'But the neighbours would!'
'No they wouldn't, no one 'd see us.'
He was speaking in a low voice so that people could not hear.
'You could meet me ahtside the theatre,' he went on.
'Na, I couldn't go with you; you're a married man.'
'Garn! wot's the matter—jest ter go ter the ply? An' besides, my missus can't come if she wanted, she's got the kids ter look after.'
'I should like ter see it,' said Liza meditatively.
They had reached her house, and Jim said:
'Well, come aht this evenin' and tell me if yer will—eh, Liza?'
'Na, I'm not comin' aht this evening.'
'Thet won't 'urt yer. I shall wite for yer.'
''Tain't a bit of good your witing', 'cause I shan't come.'
'Well, then, look 'ere, Liza; next Saturday night's the last night, an' I shall go to the theatre, any'ow. An' if you'll come, you just come to the door at 'alf-past six, an' you'll find me there. See?'
'Na, I don't,' said Liza, firmly.
'Well, I shall expect yer.'
'I shan't come, so you needn't expect.' And with that she walked into the house and slammed the door behind her.
Her mother had not come in from her day's charing, and Liza set about getting her tea. She thought it would be rather lonely eating it alone, so pouring out a cup of tea and putting a little condensed milk into it, she cut a huge piece of bread-and-butter, and sat herself down outside on the doorstep. Another woman came downstairs, and seeing Liza, sat down by her side and began to talk.
'Why, Mrs. Stanley, wot 'ave yer done to your 'ead?' asked Liza, noticing a bandage round her forehead.
'I 'ad an accident last night,' answered the woman, blushing uneasily.
'Oh, I am sorry! Wot did yer do to yerself?'
'I fell against the coal-scuttle and cut my 'ead open.'
'Well, I never!'
'To tell yer the truth, I 'ad a few words with my old man. But one doesn't like them things to get abaht; yer won't tell anyone, will yer?'
'Not me!' answered Liza. 'I didn't know yer husband was like thet.'
'Oh, 'e's as gentle as a lamb when 'e's sober,' said Mrs. Stanley, apologetically. 'But, Lor' bless yer, when 'e's 'ad a drop too much 'e's a demond, an' there's no two ways abaht it.'
'An' you ain't been married long neither?' said Liza.
'Na, not above eighteen months; ain't it disgriceful? Thet's wot the doctor at the 'orspital says ter me. I 'ad ter go ter the 'orspital. You should have seen 'ow it bled!—it bled all dahn' my fice, and went streamin' like a bust waterpipe. Well, it fair frightened my old man, an' I says ter 'im, "I'll charge yer," an' although I was bleedin' like a bloomin' pig I shook my fist at 'im, an' I says, "I'll charge ye—see if I don't!" An' 'e says, "Na," says 'e, "don't do thet, for God's sike, Kitie, I'll git three months." "An' serve yer damn well right!" says I, an' I went aht an' left 'im. But, Lor' bless yer, I wouldn't charge 'im! I know 'e don't mean it; 'e's as gentle as a lamb when 'e's sober.' She smiled quite affectionately as she said this.
'Wot did yer do, then?' asked Liza.
'Well, as I wos tellin' yer, I went to the 'orspital, an' the doctor 'e says to me, "My good woman," says 'e, "you might have been very seriously injured." An' me not been married eighteen months! An' as I was tellin' the doctor all about it, "Missus," 'e says ter me, lookin' at me straight in the eyeball. "Missus," says 'e, "'ave you been drinkin'?" "Drinkin'?" says I; "no! I've 'ad a little drop, but as for drinkin'! Mind," says I, "I don't say I'm a teetotaller—I'm not, I 'ave my glass of beer, and I like it. I couldn't do withaht it, wot with the work I 'ave, I must 'ave somethin' ter keep me tergether. But as for drinkin' 'eavily! Well! I can say this, there ain't a soberer woman than myself in all London. Why, my first 'usband never touched a drop. Ah, my first 'usband, 'e was a beauty, 'e was."'
She stopped the repetition of her conversation and addressed herself to Liza.
''E was thet different ter this one. 'E was a man as 'ad seen better days. 'E was a gentleman!' She mouthed the word and emphasized it with an expressive nod.
''E was a gentleman and a Christian. 'E'd been in good circumstances in 'is time; an' 'e was a man of education and a teetotaller, for twenty-two years.'
At that moment Liza's mother appeared on the scene.
'Good evenin', Mrs. Stanley,' she said, politely.
'The sime ter you, Mrs. Kemp.' replied that lady, with equal courtesy.
'An' 'ow is your poor 'ead?' asked Liza's mother, with sympathy.
'Oh, it's been achin' cruel. I've hardly known wot ter do with myself.'
'I'm sure 'e ought ter be ashimed of 'imself for treatin' yer like thet.'
'Oh, it wasn't 'is blows I minded so much, Mrs. Kemp,' replied Mrs. Stanley, 'an' don't you think it. It was wot 'e said ter me. I can stand a blow as well as any woman. I don't mind thet, an' when 'e don't tike a mean advantage of me I can stand up for myself an' give as good as I tike; an' many's the time I give my fust husband a black eye. But the language 'e used, an' the things 'e called me! It made me blush to the roots of my 'air; I'm not used ter bein' spoken ter like thet. I was in good circumstances when my fust 'usband was alive, 'e earned between two an' three pound a week, 'e did. As I said to 'im this mornin', "'Ow a gentleman can use sich language, I dunno."'
''Usbands is cautions, 'owever good they are,' said Mrs. Kemp, aphoristically. 'But I mustn't stay aht 'ere in the night air.'
''As yer rheumatism been troublin' yer litely?' asked Mrs. Stanley.
'Oh, cruel. Liza rubs me with embrocation every night, but it torments me cruel.'
Mrs. Kemp then went into the house, and Liza remained talking to Mrs. Stanley, she, too, had to go in, and Liza was left alone. Some while she spent thinking of nothing, staring vacantly in front of her, enjoying the cool and quiet of the evening. But Liza could not be left alone long, several boys came along with a bat and a ball, and fixed upon the road just in front of her for their pitch. Taking off their coats they piled them up at the two ends, and were ready to begin.
'I say, old gal,' said one of them to Liza, 'come an' have a gime of cricket, will yer?'
'Na, Bob, I'm tired.'
'Na, I tell you I won't.'
'She was on the booze yesterday, an' she ain't got over it,' cried another boy.
'I'll swipe yer over the snitch!' replied Liza to him, and then on being asked again, said:
'Leave me alone, won't yer?'
'Liza's got the needle ter-night, thet's flat,' commented a third member of the team.
'I wouldn't drink if I was you, Liza,' added another, with mock gravity. 'It's a bad 'abit ter git into,' and he began rolling and swaying about like a drunken man.
If Liza had been 'in form' she would have gone straight away and given the whole lot of them a sample of her strength; but she was only rather bored and vexed that they should disturb her quietness, so she let them talk. They saw she was not to be drawn, and leaving her, set to their game. She watched them for some time, but her thoughts gradually lost themselves, and insensibly her mind was filled with a burly form, and she was again thinking of Jim.
''E is a good sort ter want ter tike me ter the ply,' she said to herself. 'Tom never arst me!'
Jim had said he would come out in the evening; he ought to be here soon, she thought. Of course she wasn't going to the theatre with him, but she didn't mind talking to him; she rather enjoyed being asked to do a thing and refusing, and she would have liked another opportunity of doing so. But he didn't come and he had said he would!
'I say, Bill,' she said at last to one of the boys who was fielding close beside her, 'that there Blakeston—d'you know 'im?'
'Yes, rather; why, he works at the sime plice as me.'
'Wot's 'e do with 'isself in the evening; I never see 'im abaht?'
'I dunno. I see 'im this evenin' go into the "Red Lion". I suppose 'e's there, but I dunno.'
Then he wasn't coming. Of course she had told him she was going to stay indoors, but he might have come all the same—just to see.
'I know Tom 'ud 'ave come,' she said to herself, rather sulkily.
'Liza! Liza!' she heard her mother's voice calling her.
'Arright, I'm comin',' said Liza.
'I've been witin' for you this last 'alf-hour ter rub me.'
'Why didn't yer call?' asked Liza.
'I did call. I've been callin' this last I dunno 'ow long; it's give me quite a sore throat.'
'I never 'eard yer.'
'Na, yer didn't want ter 'ear me, did yer? Yer don't mind if I dies with rheumatics, do yer? I know.'
Liza did not answer, but took the bottle, and, pouring some of the liniment on her hand, began to rub it into Mrs. Kemp's rheumatic joints, while the invalid kept complaining and grumbling at everything Liza did.
'Don't rub so 'ard, Liza, you'll rub all the skin off.'
Then when Liza did it as gently as she could, she grumbled again.
'If yer do it like thet, it won't do no good at all. You want ter sive yerself trouble—I know yer. When I was young girls didn't mind a little bit of 'ard work—but, law bless yer, you don't care abaht my rheumatics, do yer?'
At last she finished, and Liza went to bed by her mother's side.
Two days passed, and it was Friday morning. Liza had got up early and strolled off to her work in good time, but she did not meet her faithful Sally on the way, nor find her at the factory when she herself arrived. The bell rang and all the girls trooped in, but still Sally did not come. Liza could not make it out, and was thinking she would be shut out, when just as the man who gave out the tokens for the day's work was pulling down the shutter in front of his window, Sally arrived, breathless and perspiring.
'Whew! Go' lumme, I am 'ot!' she said, wiping her face with her apron.
'I thought you wasn't comin',' said Liza.
'Well, I only just did it; I overslep' myself. I was aht lite last night.'
'Me an' 'Arry went ter see the ply. Oh, Liza, it's simply spiffin'! I've never see sich a good ply in my life. Lor'! Why, it mikes yer blood run cold: they 'ang a man on the stige; oh, it mide me creep all over!'
And then she began telling Liza all about it—the blood and thunder, the shooting, the railway train, the murder, the bomb, the hero, the funny man—jumbling everything up in her excitement, repeating little scraps of dialogue—all wrong—gesticulating, getting excited and red in the face at the recollection. Liza listened rather crossly, feeling bored at the detail into which Sally was going: the piece really didn't much interest her.
'One 'ud think yer'd never been to a theatre in your life before,' she said.
'I never seen anything so good, I can tell yer. You tike my tip, and git Tom ter tike yer.'
'I don't want ter go; an' if I did I'd py for myself an' go alone.'
'Cheese it! That ain't 'alf so good. Me an' 'Arry, we set together, 'im with 'is arm round my wiste and me oldin' 'is 'and. It was jam, I can tell yer!'
'Well, I don't want anyone sprawlin' me abaht, thet ain't my mark!'
'But I do like 'Arry; you dunno the little ways 'e 'as; an' we're goin' ter be married in three weeks now. 'Arry said, well, 'e says, "I'll git a licence." "Na," says I, "'ave the banns read aht in church: it seems more reg'lar like to 'ave banns; so they're goin' ter be read aht next Sunday. You'll come with me 'an 'ear them, won't yer, Liza?"'
'Yus, I don't mind.'
On the way home Sally insisted on stopping in front of the poster and explaining to Liza all about the scene represented.
'Oh, you give me the sick with your "Fital Card", you do! I'm goin' 'ome.' And she left Sally in the midst of her explanation.
'I dunno wot's up with Liza,' remarked Sally to a mutual friend. 'She's always got the needle, some'ow.'
'Oh, she's barmy,' answered the friend.
'Well, I do think she's a bit dotty sometimes—I do really,' rejoined Sally.
Liza walked homewards, thinking of the play; at length she tossed her head impatiently.
'I don't want ter see the blasted thing; an' if I see that there Jim I'll tell 'im so; swop me bob, I will.'
She did see him; he was leaning with his back against the wall of his house, smoking. Liza knew he had seen her, and as she walked by pretended not to have noticed him. To her disgust, he let her pass, and she was thinking he hadn't seen her after all, when she heard him call her name.
She turned round and started with surprise very well imitated. 'I didn't see you was there!' she said.
'Why did yer pretend not ter notice me, as yer went past—eh, Liza?'
'Why, I didn't see yer.'
'Garn! But you ain't shirty with me?'
'Wot 'ave I got to be shirty abaht?'
He tried to take her hand, but she drew it away quickly. She was getting used to the movement. They went on talking, but Jim did not mention the theatre; Liza was surprised, and wondered whether he had forgotten.
'Er—Sally went to the ply last night,' she said, at last.
'Oh!' he said, and that was all.
She got impatient.
'Well, I'm off!' she said.
'Na, don't go yet; I want ter talk ter yer,' he replied.
'Wot abaht? anythin' in partickler?' She would drag it out of him if she possibly could.
'Not thet I knows on,' he said, smiling.
'Good night!' she said, abruptly, turning away from him.
'Well, I'm damned if 'e ain't forgotten!' she said to herself, sulkily, as she marched home.
The following evening about six o'clock, it suddenly struck her that it was the last night of the 'New and Sensational Drama'.
'I do like thet Jim Blakeston,' she said to herself; 'fancy treatin' me like thet! You wouldn't catch Tom doin' sich a thing. Bli'me if I speak to 'im again, the ——. Now I shan't see it at all. I've a good mind ter go on my own 'ook. Fancy 'is forgettin' all abaht it, like thet!'
She was really quite indignant; though, as she had distinctly refused Jim's offer, it was rather hard to see why.
''E said 'e'd wite for me ahtside the doors; I wonder if 'e's there. I'll go an' see if 'e is, see if I don't—an' then if 'e's there, I'll go in on my own 'ook, jist ter spite 'im!'
She dressed herself in her best, and, so that the neighbours shouldn't see her, went up a passage between some model lodging-house buildings, and in this roundabout way got into the Westminster Bridge Road, and soon found herself in front of the theatre.
'I've been witin' for yer this 'alf-hour.'
She turned round and saw Jim standing just behind her.
''Oo are you talkin' to? I'm not goin' to the ply with you. Wot d'yer tike me for, eh?'
''Oo are yer goin' with, then?'
'I'm goin' alone.'
'Garn! don't be a bloomin' jackass!'
Liza was feeling very injured.
'Thet's 'ow you treat me! I shall go 'ome. Why didn't you come aht the other night?'
'Yer told me not ter.'
She snorted at the ridiculous ineptitude of the reply.
'Why didn't you say nothin' abaht it yesterday?'
'Why, I thought you'd come if I didn't talk on it.'
'Well, I think you're a —— brute!' She felt very much inclined to cry.
'Come on, Liza, don't tike on; I didn't mean no offence.' And he put his arm round her waist and led her to take their places at the gallery door. Two tears escaped from the corners of her eyes and ran down her nose, but she felt very relieved and happy, and let him lead her where he would.
There was a long string of people waiting at the door, and Liza was delighted to see a couple of niggers who were helping them to while away the time of waiting. The niggers sang and danced, and made faces, while the people looked on with appreciative gravity, like royalty listening to de Reske, and they were very generous of applause and halfpence at the end of the performance. Then, when the niggers moved to the pit doors, paper boys came along offering Tit-Bits and 'extra specials'; after that three little girls came round and sang sentimental songs and collected more halfpence. At last a movement ran through the serpent-like string of people, sounds were heard behind the door, everyone closed up, the men told the women to keep close and hold tight; there was a great unbarring and unbolting, the doors were thrown open, and, like a bursting river, the people surged in.
Half an hour more and the curtain went up. The play was indeed thrilling. Liza quite forgot her companion, and was intent on the scene; she watched the incidents breathlessly, trembling with excitement, almost beside herself at the celebrated hanging incident. When the curtain fell on the first act she sighed and mopped her face.
'See 'ow 'ot I am.' she said to Jim, giving him her hand.
'Yus, you are!' he remarked, taking it.
'Leave go!' she said, trying to withdraw it from him.
'Not much,' he answered, quite boldly.
'Garn! Leave go!' But he didn't, and she really did not struggle very violently.
The second act came, and she shrieked over the comic man; and her laughter rang higher than anyone else's, so that people turned to look at her, and said:
'She is enjoyin' 'erself.'
Then when the murder came she bit her nails and the sweat stood on her forehead in great drops; in her excitement she even called out as loud as she could to the victim, 'Look aht!' It caused a laugh and slackened the tension, for the whole house was holding its breath as it looked at the villains listening at the door, creeping silently forward, crawling like tigers to their prey.
Liza trembling all over, and in her terror threw herself against Jim, who put both his arms round her, and said:
'Don't be afride, Liza; it's all right.'
At last the men sprang, there was a scuffle, and the wretch was killed, then came the scene depicted on the posters—the victim's son knocking at the door, on the inside of which were the murderers and the murdered man. At last the curtain came down, and the house in relief burst forth into cheers and cheers; the handsome hero in his top hat was greeted thunderously; the murdered man, with his clothes still all disarranged, was hailed with sympathy; and the villains—the house yelled and hissed and booed, while the poor brutes bowed and tried to look as if they liked it.
'I am enjoyin' myself,' said Liza, pressing herself quite close to Jim; 'you are a good sort ter tike me—Jim.'
He gave her a little hug, and it struck her that she was sitting just as Sally had done, and, like Sally, she found it 'jam'.
The entr'actes were short and the curtain was soon up again, and the comic man raised customary laughter by undressing and exposing his nether garments to the public view; then more tragedy, and the final act with its darkened room, its casting lots, and its explosion.
When it was all over and they had got outside Jim smacked his lips and said:
'I could do with a gargle; let's go onto thet pub there.'
'I'm as dry as bone,' said Liza; and so they went.
When they got in they discovered they were hungry, and seeing some appetising sausage-rolls, ate of them, and washed them down with a couple of pots of beer; then Jim lit his pipe and they strolled off. They had got quite near the Westminster Bridge Road when Jim suggested that they should go and have one more drink before closing time.
'I shall be tight,' said Liza.
'Thet don't matter,' answered Jim, laughing. 'You ain't got ter go ter work in the mornin' an' you can sleep it aht.'
'Arright, I don't mind if I do then, in for a penny, in for a pound.'
At the pub door she drew back.
'I say, guv'ner,' she said, 'there'll be some of the coves from dahn our street, and they'll see us.'
'Na, there won't be nobody there, don't yer 'ave no fear.'
'I don't like ter go in for fear of it.'
'Well, we ain't doin' no 'arm if they does see us, an' we can go into the private bar, an' you bet your boots there won't be no one there.'
She yielded, and they went in.
'Two pints of bitter, please, miss,' ordered Jim.
'I say, 'old 'ard. I can't drink more than 'alf a pint,' said Liza.
'Cheese it,' answered Jim. 'You can do with all you can get, I know.'
At closing time they left and walked down the broad road which led homewards.
'Let's 'ave a little sit dahn,' said Jim, pointing to an empty bench between two trees.
'Na, it's gettin' lite; I want ter be 'ome.'
'It's such a fine night, it's a pity ter go in already;' and he drew her unresisting towards the seat. He put his arm round her waist.
'Un'and me, villin!' she said, in apt misquotation of the melodrama, but Jim only laughed, and she made no effort to disengage herself.
They sat there for a long while in silence; the beer had got to Liza's head, and the warm night air filled her with a double intoxication. She felt the arm round her waist, and the big, heavy form pressing against her side; she experienced again the curious sensation as if her heart were about to burst, and it choked her—a feeling so oppressive and painful it almost made her feel sick. Her hands began to tremble, and her breathing grew rapid, as though she were suffocating. Almost fainting, she swayed over towards the man, and a cold shiver ran through her from top to toe. Jim bent over her, and, taking her in both arms, he pressed his lips to hers in a long, passionate kiss. At last, panting for breath, she turned her head away and groaned.
Then they again sat for a long while in silence, Liza full of a strange happiness, feeling as if she could laugh aloud hysterically, but restrained by the calm and silence of the night. Close behind struck a church clock—one.
'Bless my soul!' said Liza, starting, 'there's one o'clock. I must get 'ome.'
'It's so nice out 'ere; do sty, Liza.' He pressed her closer to him. 'Yer know, Liza, I love yer—fit ter kill.'
'Na, I can't stay; come on.' She got up from the seat, and pulled him up too. 'Come on,' she said.
Without speaking they went along, and there was no one to be seen either in front or behind them. He had not got his arm round her now, and they were walking side by side, slightly separated. It was Liza who spoke first.
'You'd better go dahn the Road and by the church an' git into Vere Street the other end, an' I'll go through the passage, so thet no one shouldn't see us comin' together,' she spoke almost in a whisper.
'Arright, Liza,' he answered, 'I'll do just as you tell me.'
They came to the passage of which Liza spoke; it was a narrow way between blank walls, the backs of factories, and it led into the upper end of Vere Street. The entrance to it was guarded by two iron posts in the middle so that horses or barrows should not be taken through.
They had just got to it when a man came out into the open road. Liza quickly turned her head away.
'I wonder if 'e see us,' she said, when he had passed out of earshot. ''E's lookin' back,' she added.