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

We hope you enjoy the fourth 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, 26 December, 1891, p. 5.


By John Law

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

Chapter IV

The Waiter’s Union Meeting

The alarum ran down at six o’clock, and Lilian sprang up from the sofa.

“Where am I?” she wondered. A moment’s though answered this question; and then she hurried down stairs to call her friend.

“Mary!” she said, “it’s six o’clock.”

“I set the alarum half-an-hour fast” said Mary, in a sleepy voice. I’m not going to get up yet.”

Lilian dressed herself, and went upstairs to the bar; where she swept and dusted, replenished bottles, and arranged cakes and biscuits until Mary appeared, ready to begin the day, with her hair curled on her forehead, and a bow of blue ribbon at her neck.

“Lilian,” said Mary, “could you do without me to-night? I want to go to a meeting with Jim. He’ll come round at eight, to see if I can go. Do you think you can do all the work? It isn’t Saturday, so I daresay there won’t be many men about late.”

“What meeting is it?” Lilian asked.

“Well, its what they call a ‘union’ meeting. You know last year we girls tried to get up a strike. We’d a lot of meetings at a public house in the Strand, on the quiet, and we thought we’d strike for more money and less work, But bless me! what’s the good of striking! If we girls struck, the manager would get hundreds to fill our places. Now Jim’s got an idea that we girls ought to help the men in the Union they’re making, and he wants me to go with him to-night to the meeting.”

“Won’t the manager be angry if he hears of it?” enquired Lilian.

“No I don’t think so,” answered Mary. “They’ve got some gentlemen to come and speak for them. One gentleman’s been in Parliament; I forget his name, but Jim say’s he’s a Conservative, or something. You see the Union’s not against masters, only a sort of thing to help the men. Anyhow, Jim’s coming for me, and if you can do without me, I’ll be glad. I’ll do all the work for you one day soon, and let you have an evening off.”

“All right,” said Lilian.

The day passed without any special event, and in the evening Mary’s lover made his appearance.

He was a spruce young waiter from a West End Hotel.

“I’m afraid you’ll find the work heavy, Miss,” he said to Lilian, while Mary was putting on her hat. “But I’m anxious to take Mary to the meeting to-night. We’ve a member of Parliament coming to make a speech; and I’ve to speak myself. I’m on the Committee, Miss.”

Before Lilian could answer, Mary hurried upstairs, and said,

“Come along, Jim, we’re late. Don’t stop to gossip.”

When the lovers reached the street, Jim remarked,

“Your chum’s a real lady, Mary. I wonder where she comes from!”

“So do I,” said Mary. “I’ve asked her one or twice; but she says nothing. Jim, she’s an angel!”

“You’re another,” said Jim politely.

“Don’t talk rubbish,” Mary said, “and don’t try to kiss me in the street. It’s bad manners, Jim, and I won’t have it.”

They found about fifty waiters assembled in a small room belonging to a vegetarian Restaurant, smoking, and waiting for the Member of Parliament who had promised to come and whitewash the Union. On a small platform sat the Committee, and it their centre was the chairman, holdig the minute-book.

“The M.P.’s not come yet,” the Chairman whispered to Jim, “suppose you address the meeting.”

Jim found the seat for Mary close to the platform, and then took his place amongst the Committee.

“Come, Jim.” said the Chairman, “tune up, someone must speak, you’d better do it.”

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” said Jim, coming forward and sticking his thumbs into the pockets of his waistcoat. “Ladies and gentlemen.” He stopped to clear his throat and to look at Mary. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he went on, “I was just going to remark that I’m not accustomed to speak in public, but the solemnity of the occasion calls for a few remarks. Perhaps our employers think we mean mischief; well, we only want to protect our own interests. We’ve nothing to do with those noisy agitators who tell men to fight their masters. I hear they’re holding an opposition meeting at the corner public. Let them, I say. They’re no gentlemen. All we want is to protect ourselves and our sisters, I meant he young ladies in the public line of business. We’d be no men, gentlemen, if we did not try to help the ladies. Now what we want to protect ourselves against is foreigners, those Italian and Swiss waiters, who come here to pick up English. I’m not a traveller, but I understand such a thing as an English waiter is scarce known in France or Italy, but these foreigners come over here without a penny piece in their pocket, and take the bread out of our mouths. Ladies and gentlemen, they will drive us into the workhouse.” (Hear! hear!)

When I think of them I feel my blood boil, I feel I’d like to send them all back to “their own dear native land.” I believe in “England for the English,” and that’s what we can’t get while these foreigners came over like this to take the bread from us.

The chairman pulled Jim’s coat and said, “Here’s the member of Parliament!”

Jim promptly sat down.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said the Member of Parliament, “I’m very glad to learn the spirit in which you have come here this evening. I understand that you come here in no spirit of opposition to your employers, but to band yourselves together, to improve your condition. That, gentlemen, is a very laudable ambition. We hear a good deal at present about the opposition that exists between employers and employed between capital and labour. I am glad that you do not intend to increase the opposition. Capital and labour, gentlemen, capital and labour are sisters. Now I understand that you propose to include young women in your Union. I am told that barmaids work twelve and fourteen hours a day. Now I am sure we all agree that is a great deal too much. (Cries of “Hear! hear! And white slavery!”)

“Gentlemen, I am very pleased to be present this evening I think it is an honour to speak on behalf of your Union. If you would listen to my advice, I would say ‘Don’t go too fast!’ A great many unions are being formed, and we are told that there is going to be a great federation of labour. But the employed forget that the employers can form Unions too; and that capital is in the hands of the employers. A conflict between capital is therefore to be avoided. Gentlemen, I wish success to your union. I am sure it will always have my best wishes”!

The Member of Parliament sat down amidst cheers; but he was scarcely seated when a short, dark man, with square shoulders, and a determined face, sprang up.

“Capital and labour are sisters,” said this man with a scornful laugh.

“Let the gentleman go back to school, and not stand up to talk such rubbish!”

(Cries of “Order,” and “turn him out.”)

“I’m not going to be turned out,” he shouted. “Didn’t my sister die at the bar, wasn’t she worked to death, and do you think I came here to hear that capital and labour are sisters? Capital killed my sister. She worked fourteen hours a day till she dropped. It’s white slavery, I say, to keep girls behind the bar. It’s work for men, not for women. You, men, you’re no better than cowards, for you’re afraid of your masters, you’re afraid to make an honest fighting union. You say you don’t want funds for striking. What do you want them for then? What’s the good of a union like yours? It will die, I tell you. Here’s this gentleman telling you not to go too fast?”

“Sir,” said the chairman. “You’ve had your five minutes!”

The man gave a loud laugh and left the room, slamming the door after him.

“Who is he?” enquired the Member of Parliament.

“I don’t know who he is, or how he got in” the chairman answered.

“There are several unions for waiters being started, but ours is the only one that does not wish to fight the employers.”

“I am sure it does you great credit,” said the Member of Parliament.

When the meeting was over, Jim and Mary walked back to the little bar, with the underground bedrooms; and talked on the way about “The Chummy.” They had been engaged two years, and wanted to be married. Jim gave his sweetheart a sounding kiss when they reached the restaurant, and then he went back to his Hotel.

“Have you had a successful evening?” enquired Lilian.

“O, Jim made a beautiful speech,” said Mary. “I didn’t know he could talk like it. And the Member of Parliament spoke like a book. How did you get on alone, Lilian?”

“Pretty well. Two young men came in tipsy, and gave me some trouble. They broke a glass and upset the claret cup. Nothing else happened. Here, take the cash-box. I’ve counted the money. I’m dreadfully tired; but it isn’t so hot to-night.

The girls went down to the little underground room, and were soon fast asleep, with the cash-box under their pillow. Mary dreamt of “The Chummy,” and Lilian saw in her sleep a tall, fair man, tumbling into a ditch while he tried to pick some dog-roses.

(To be Continued.)


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