Harkives Summer Serial: ‘Roses and Crucifix’, Instalment III

We hope you enjoy the third instalment of ‘Roses and Crucifix’, which this week we continue with in weekly serial instalments through its twelve chapters.

‘Roses and Crucifix’ was first serialised between December 1891 and February 1892 in The Woman’s Herald, which David Doughan and Denise Sanchez describe as ‘the most vigorous feminist newspaper of its time.’ Founded in 1888 by women’s rights activist Henrietta Muller (who also edited the paper under the pseudonym Helena B. Temple), the periodical was known as The Women’s Penny Paper until 1890 when Muller changed its name to reflect the paper’s ambition to ‘herald in the new womanhood.’ The paper’s masthead identifies The Women’s Herald as ‘the only paper conducted, written, published and printed by women.’ Although Muller eventually sold the paper due to her own failing health, it would continue as an important organ of lively and liberal feminist thought as The Women’s Signal until its eventual disintegration in 1899.

Given the venue of its publication, it is no surprise that ‘Roses and Crucifix’ is a story in which Harkness makes the relationship between economic and sexual exploitation startlingly clear. The barmaids in this story exist in a system of perpetual negotiation with male power: they are required to ‘attract customers and do good business,’ but despite flirtation must keep the men ‘at arm’s length.’ Each day, they are subject to the leering stares of countless men, and are regularly followed home by ‘hangers-on’. In this story, Harkness draws on her previous journalistic research undertaken for the British Weeklyseries ‘Toilers in London: Female Labour in the Metropolis’, which she edited and to which she contributed an essay on ‘Barmaids.’ Yet in its representation of the support networks of religious groups this story also looks ahead to George Eastmont, Wanderer (1905), a novel which includes a more lengthy cameo of Cardinal Manning (whom Harkness knew personally).

In ‘Roses and Crucifix’ readers will recognise themes later explored by George Moore’sEsther Waters (1894) and George Gissing’s The Odd Women (1893). It also is a richly intertextual story. There are overt references, such as to Goethe’s Faust (1808) in the epigraph and at the conclusion, but also more obscure allusions, such as to Charlotte Bronte’s Villette (1853) both in theme and direct quotation.

Source: John Law [Margaret Harkness], ‘Roses and Crucifix’, Women’s Herald, 19 December, 1891, p. 5.


By John Law.

Author of  “A City Girl,” “Captain Lobe,” etc.

Chapter III.

Why She Became a Barmaid.

A year later Lilian stood at the entrance of a London Depôt for barmaids, waiting to see the manager about an advertisement that that appeared in the Daily Telegraph.

Her story was the old, old story of the pretty governess. The eldest brother of her pupils had flirted with her. In a country house, with nothing to do, the young man had been thrown upon his own resources, and finding little in himself to occupy his attention, he had amused himself by making love to Lilian. To the convent girl love had come without any preparation. She had not realized what she was doing, and had seen no harm in talking to Mr. Grey, the first young man with whom she had been brought in contact.

Great, therefore, was her astonishment, when his mother one day came into the schoolroom, and accused her of “flirting.” She grew very pale while the lady spoke, and she received a month’s salary and notice to leave the house, in silence. After Mrs. Grey had gone away, she sat looking at the money on the table, and repeating to herself—“Flirting—flirting. What had she done? How had she committed the sin of ‘flirting’? She remembered some talks and walks with Mr. Grey, and she thought of some dog roses that lay in her prayer book. Was that flirting?”

Before she could answer the question, the door was opened again, and Mr. Grey came into the schoolroom. He was a tall, fair, young man, dressed in white flannels, and he had a tennis racket in his hand. On his face was a look of sympathy mixed with annoyance.

“So she has given you notice,” he said, coming to the table, and looking at the money. His hair was damp, for he had been in the middle of a game of tennis when one of the children had told him, in a mysterious whisper, “Mama says Miss Murray is going away to-morrow morning.” A white flannel cap and some tennis balls were in his pocket, and he dived his hand into his pocket to fetch them out, while he looked at Lilian. The girl’s pale face made him feel very uncomfortable and after he had placed the tennis balls on the table, he pulled his moustache and waited for Lilian to speak. But she remained silent, until he repeated the sentence.

“So she has given you notice.”

“Yes,” said Lilian, “your mother has given me notice.”

“Poor little thing,” he said in a soft caressing voice, and drawing nearer while he spoke.

Lilian rose up and moved towards the door.

“When are you going away?”

“To-morrow morning.”

“Where are you going to?”

“I don’t know, I can’t go back to the convent.”

“Why not?”

Lilian did not answer. She said to herself, “It is impossible to tell him the truth, I cannot explain to him that the nuns would not understand why I am sent away. I must go to London, and find another situation as a governess.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Grey twisted his moustache and thought “It wasn’t even a kiss. I suppose I can talk to a pretty girl, if I like. I wonder where she is going to.”

“Goodbye,” said Lilian.

She went quickly out of the school room, leaving Mr. Grey standing beside the table.

He looked after her, but did not attempt to call her back. His handsome face flushed, and he muttered an oath as he put the tennis balls back into his pocket.

“I didn’t even give her a kiss,” he thought. “I meant no harm. I suppose I can talk to a girl if I choose. I won’t let her go like this. I’ll find out the time she is leaving, and I’ll go to Colchester by the same train. Poor little thing! The idea of making such a fuss! By Jove! women are cruel to governesses. I’ll see her again to-morrow morning.”

But when he came down to breakfast next day, Lilian was already on her way to London, for his mother had guessed his intentions, and had ordered a carriage to take the governess to the railway station before eight o’clock.

“Who’s that pretty girl?” a porter asked, seeing Lilian at the ticket office.

“Oh, it’s only the Hall governess,” answered the groom. “She’s been sent away for flirting with the young Squire.”

Lilian overheard the conversation, but took no notice of it. She paid for a third class ticket to London, and then walked up and down the platform, waiting for the train. The walls of the station were covered with large white roses, and in the station master’s garden grew carnations and pinks, sweet peas and mignonette. The scent of the country flowers lingered long in her memory, and she did not forget the carriage that had brought her to the station. It drove away, followed by some barking collies, and her past vanished with it.

She went to London, and found some dingy little lodgings near St. Pancras Station, where she spent several months answering advertisements, and looking for a situation. But no one would take a governess without a character, and she was afraid to write to the Prioress for a letter of recommendation because she thought that the nuns would not understand the sin of “flirting.”

The faded dog-roses lay in her prayerbook, and her tears fell on them in Church, where she went to pray for help, to beseech the Mother of Good and the Saints to give her assistance. Mr. Grey’s voice still sounded in her ears, and she remembered how he had looked when he gave her the roses. She had met him one Sunday evening on her way home from the little Catholic Church, and he had picked the flowers from the hedge and she had pressed them in her prayer book. The following day Mrs. Grey had given her a month’s salary and a day’s notice.

The small stock of guineas in her box grew less and less, and at last she was obliged to carry some of her things to a pawn shop, in order to pay the rent of her dingy lodgings. She applied for a place in a shop, but was told that it was the slack season, and that no hands were wanted.

Then things came to a crisis.

The landlady walked into her room one morning with a copy of the Daily Telegraph.

“Look here, Miss,” the woman said, “there’s a barmaid wanted. You try to get the place. I can’t keep you here any longer, for you owe me a week’s rent, besides you’re getting ill for want of food, and I’ll have to send you to a Hospital. I ain’t got money to pay for your coffin.”

Lilian looked at the advertisement, and thought, “I will try for the place. No one wants a character with a barmaid, so I’ve a chance. They will never know at the convent.”

She found a dozen girls waiting to see the manager of the Depôt about the advertisement, and she sat down amongst them, feeling hungry and exhausted. Something in her face or figure attracted the manager, and he singled her out from the rest.

“Have you a character?” he asked.

“No,” answered Lilian.

“We always expect letters of recommendation from two clergymen with our young ladies,” he said.

“My father was a clergyman,” said Lilian.

The manager told her to come into his private room, and she followed him with a beating heart, feeling in her empty pocket.

“You seem a good, steady girl,” he said, after he had shut the door. “So I’ll make an exception in your case, and take you without a recommendation. Come here, and look at this.”

He spread out before her a printed paper, headed “Rules for Barmaids,” and drew her attention to the fact that she was liable to be dismissed with a day’s notice. We never give our reasons for sending girls away,” he said, “and we never allow them to ask questions. If our young ladies don’t suit, they go; if they do good business, they stay. You’ll get ten shillings a week with us, paid every Saturday. There’s a weekly bill for breakages, and you’ll have what you break taken out of your wages. You must never sit down behind the bar, remember that. I won’t have my young ladies sitting down, and getting lazy. The work is hard. You’ll be on your feet twelve and sometimes fourteen hours a day, but you’ll have a Sunday off once a month, to do what you like with. If you’re in a place by yourself, or with one other girl, you must keep a sharp look out, and take care nothing is stolen, but you mustn’t call in a policeman. If you do, you’ll have to give the person in charge, and it will come into the papers and police court, that’s not good business. It isn’t every girl can attract men, and keep them at arm’s length, but you must learn the trick. When you’re at a bar where there’s a manageress, you must do as you’re told. I won’t have the manageress sauced, you hear that. ’Tis no good to come to me with a tale against the manageress, for I won’t listen. You’ll have eight pence a day allowed you for spirits, or you can take the money as you like it, in gin, whiskey, beer, or stout. If you’re at a place by yourself, you can take your allowance, but if you’re with a manageress, she’ll give you your proper quantity. You must look smart, and have a pleasant manner with customers. I like my young ladies to dress in black, but they must wear a flower, or a ribbon, or something lively. They must do good business, and bring customers about the place. Do you understand?”

Lilian answered “Yes.” She was bewildered by all the instructions she had received, but she felt that this was her last chance, and she did not wish to appear fastidious.

“Then sign this paper,” said the manager, “and take a copy of the rules. You can come to the Depot to-night, and begin work to-morrow morning. I’ll introduce you to a girl who’ll put you up to things. She’s going to a new place to-morrow, and you can go with her.”

He rang a bell and told the boy who answered it to send “Miss Mary Isaacs.”

“We call her ‘The Chummy Barmaid,’” he said to Lilian. “She’s one of our best hands, and, worse luck, she says she’s going to be married, and start for herself. That’s always the way with our smart barmaids.”

(To be Continued.)


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