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

We hope you enjoy the fifth 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, 2 January, 1892, p. 5.


By John Law

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

 Chapter V

The Cash Box.

       The girls worked well together. Mary took the lead owing to her six years’ experience at the bar; but Lilian’s refinement and gentle manners had a subduing effect upon the “chummy barmaid.”

“Jim says he’s proud to see me friends with a lady,” she told Lilian, “Jim knows a lady when he sees one!”

Mary admired her lover and was never tired of singing his praises to her friends and relations, but she did not flatter the smart young waiter, for flattery was a weapon she treated with contempt, saying that “men cannot guard themselves against it.”

“Men bite, and women scratch,” she remarked wisely. “Dear me! what a lot one learns at the bar with men coming and going all day and nearly all night! Men are like dogs, women are like cats!”

Lilian laughed.

“Well you know what I mean,” she added. “I’d despise myself if I took a mean advantage of men, for they’re so strong if you go straight at them, and such dummies if you twist them about. Now there was young Johnson—”

Then she began a long story about one of her favourites, who had come to grief, and Lilian tried to listen.

“I’ve known six men that have killed themselves,” she continued, after the story about young Johnson was finished. “Yes, six,” she repeated, counting on her fingers. “There was poor Wilson, who took to drink because he was jilted by an actress, and got into debt and shot himself. And there was Rawson. Now Rawson was a good looking chap, if you like. Well, Rawson killed himself with morphia, and there was an inquest, and the verdict was ‘accidental death.’ But a friend of his told me all about it, and how he did it. Just think! Only the day before he was found dead in his bed, he was calling at a house, and he saw his mother and sister come to the door; and he hid himself behind a curtain in the hall, and he saw them go by; and when they had gone upstairs he slipped out of the house. He was ashamed to meet his family, he was so in debt. They found him dead in bed the very next day. They say his mother took it to heart when she saw him, and he was buried like a gentleman. I remember lending him a shilling, poor Rawson, not long before he killed himself!”

“Then there was Mr. Sinjohn, a married man, that got into trouble with a lady, and shot himself in a cab. His wife took it very quiet, they told me, and when she saw him lying in the hospital, she said it was only what she’d expected.”

Then there was—”

“Oh Mary, do stop!” cried Lilian. “I can’t bear to hear these stories!”

“Well they’re true as gospel!” said Mary solemnly. “Many’s the story we barmaids could tell, if we were asked. I guess we know more about men than most women; more than their mothers and sisters at any rate; and their wives too, for that matter. Sometimes I think I could write a book that would astonish people. I’d call it ‘The True Story of a London Barmaid!’ No, I’d call it ‘Six years at the Bar’; that’s a better title, isn’t it?

“There’s four sorts of men that come to the bar,” she explained to Lilian. “There’s the dashing chaps that hang about when the races are going on; horsey men, and swell mobsmen. There’s the thieves. I know most of their language, and I startle them sometimes by dropping a word or two. But I wouldn’t blab, not to save my life! If your life depended on it, I might tell, because that would be different. Then there’s the young mashers, and worst of all, the old grey haired mashers. And then there’s the homeless young men. It’s them I’m sorry for. I’ll make a home for them at ‘The Chummy,’ see if I don’t! Will you come to me as a barmaid, Lilian, when I’m married?”

Lilian shook her head.

“You think you’ll be married before me?” said Mary.

Lilian shook her head again.

“She’s very proud,” thought Mary, “although she’s so quiet and gentle. She doesn’t think ‘The Chummy’ good enough for her!”

Days and weeks passed by, and still the girls worked on at the little bar, and slept in the underground bedroom. Lilian began to know each bottle on the shelves, and each glass. The bar was very small, and the space behind it was so narrow, the girls could not pass one another; so they divided the bar in the centre and seldom changed places. Mary took the right hand side nearest to the waiting room, because the work there was the heaviest, and most difficult to manage, A marble slab beneath the window, communicated with the waiting room, and men leant against the window, talking and drinking.

Sometimes the waiting-room was quite full of men; but generally customers came straight to the bar; only idle people patronised the waiting room; and Mary kept her eye on such men, for she always expected them to be up to mischief.

The cash-box was kept on a shelf below the counter where both of the girls could reach it. Every morning a man came from the Depôt to count the money and take it away. The empty box was then put back again in its place; and the girls carried it downstairs at night, and slept with it under their pillow. They did not take very much money, for the bar was small; but they had sometimes five or six pounds to give the man who came the next morning.

Lilian kept the books, and entered the money that was taken over the bar. She did not touch stimulants; and Mary never exceeded the eight pence a day which the Manager allowed his young ladies as “liquor-money.” Both of the girls gave satisfaction to the Manager, and when one of them went to the Depôt on Saturday night, with the list of breakages, he paid their wages, and said

“You’re doing good business.”

But shortly before Christmas something happened that decided the Manager to move the girls from the small bar and to place them in a large restaurant, under the care of a Manageress.

One evening, after ten o’clock, a man came into the waiting-room, and ordered a glass of whisky. He wore an overcoat with pockets, and a large, soft, black felt hat.

Some of the customers noticed him, and a gentleman whispered to Mary that he was “Jack the Ripper.” Mary laughed but she looked carefully at the man while she gave him the whisky, and she did not like his appearance.

He was a tall man, and seemed to be about fifty. He stood at the window, sipping his whisky, and looking from time to time at the bar. Presently he ordered another glass, speaking in a low, muffled voice, as if his tongue were too big for his mouth. Mary served him, and again she said to herself,

“I don’t like his appearance!”

The clock struck eleven. Still the man stood silently in the waiting-room, with his hat pulled over his face, and a glass of whisky on the slab before him.

“I’ll tell him he must go,” thought Mary. But she did not like to interfere, and other customers who were coming in and going out, occupied her attention.

At half-past eleven Lilian began to put away the biscuits in boxes, and to count the sponge cakes that had been left over from the day. Then she proceeded to wash the spoons and glasses. It was getting late, and she was very tired.

At twelve o’clock the bar would be closed for the night, and she would be able to go to bed. She caught sight of her face in the glass behind the counter, and noticed that her eyes were shining, and that her cheeks were crimson; also that the flower she wore at her neck was brown and faded. For fifteen hours she had been at work, so her feet ached, and her hand trembled. Her back was turned on Mary, and she did not see the man in the waiting-room. But presently a crash of glass and a sharp cry made her turn round quickly.

“Lilian,” cried Mary, “he’s got the cash-box!”

The man with the slouch hat had jumped over the marble slab, and the bar, and had seized the cash-box from the shelf. When Lilian looked round she saw him struggling with Mary. No one else was in the place; for he had watched until all other customers had gone away and had then jumped over the slab and the bar.

But Mary did not lose a single minute. By the time Lilian was conscious of what was going on, the Chummy barmaid had slipped down on the floor and seized hold of the man’s legs. He fell with an oath, and in falling he struck his head against the open door of a cupboard.

“Lilian, the cash-box!” shouted Mary. “Take it from him. Ah! it’s all right! He’s dropped it!”

“Oh, Mary, you’ve killed him,” said Lilian.

“Nonsense! he’s only stunned,” said Mary, struggling to her feet. “He hit his head and it’s bleeding. Here’s the box.”

“I’ll call a policeman,” said Lilian.

“No, you mustn’t. If you do the Manager will never forgive us. Throw some water on him, and he’ll come to presently.”

“He isn’t dead,” Lilian murmured after she had dashed some water down on the man’s face. “He’s coming to himself!”

Slowly the man raised his head, and looked at the frightened girls. Then he stumbled to his feet, and leant against the bar, wiping the blood from his forehead.

“Be off! or I’ll give you in charge!” said Mary.

Without a word he let her lead him out of the door, and push him into the street.

“Well,” said Mary, after she had locked the door, “That’s what I call good business!”

“We ought to have fetched a policeman,” said Lilian.

“What!” said Mary. “Why, if we’d done that, we’d have got a day’s notice. It would have been in the papers. Give me a little brandy. I’ve had my allowance, but the Manager won’t mind when I tell him what’s happened. I’ve not had such a fright for years. I knew by his face that man was up to mischief; but somehow I never thought he was after the cash-box. They ought to have a man here; it’s not a fit place for girls. I think I’ve hurt my arm, Lilian.” She turned up the sleeve of her dress and looked at her round, red arms. Then she said, “I don’t think it is broken. But the man fell on it, I mean his legs twisted it, and it hurts a bit. I’ll be better when I’ve had some brandy.”

Lilian put up the shutters, trembling all the time, but saying little. The whole thing had happened so quickly, that it had given her a great shock, and the sight of the man’s white face, with the blood on his forehead, had made her feel sick and faint. She wiped up the blood from the floor, and picked up the pieces of broken glass, and then she found the man’s hat, that had dropped by the side of the counter.

“Well, let’s go to bed, and take the box with us,” said Mary. “It’s a long time since I’ve felt so frightened. I’ve not trembled like this since a man jumped over the bar and tried to give me a kiss. That’s two years ago, just before Jim and me made up our minds to get married!”

(To be Continued.)


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