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

We hope you enjoy the sixth 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, 9 January, 1892, p. 5.


By John Law

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

Chapter VI

Lilian Sees a Familiar Face.

The manager called the girls “plucky” when he heard about the thief and the cash box, and congratulated them on doing “good business”; but the following Saturday night, when Lilian went to his office with the list of breakages, be paid her wages, and said as he handed to her Mary’s money –

“Tell Miss Isaacs you will both leave where you are after to-morrow, and go to the Penelope Restaurant. You will sleep in the depôt, and begin with an early shift.”

Mary received the news with a grimace.

“The Penelope,” she exclaimed. “Why, that’s where the cat is!”

“Who’s the cat”? Enquired Lilian.

“The Manageress.”

“Why do you call her the cat?”

“Oh, she’s been called the cat ever since I can remember. She’s got such a temper, and she drinks like a fish. If she takes to a girl, it’s all right, but she’s got many a girl sacked for nothing. She’s vicious.”

The “Penelope” was a large restaurant about a mile from the depôt, frequented chiefly by a class of men called by Mary “City Gentry.” It was near a station, and passengers came to it for lunch, and for table d’hôte. Half a dozen barmaids served at the bar, under the superintendence of a manageress. This lady, who went by the name of “the Cat,” was a great favourite with the manager, and had unbounded influence at the depôt. She boasted that her word was sufficient to raise a girl’s salary, or to get a girl dismissed. She has strong likes and dislikes, which showed themselves in strange fashions. For instance, if one of her favourites had a weakness for spirits, the “Cat” increased the eight-pence a day “liquor money” to ten pence; if another happened to have a lover, the “Cat” winked while the girl chatted over the bar. But woe betide the barmaid who was not a favourite, for the manageress had a dozen ways of making the life of such a one unbearable.

She was a short thin woman, with grey hair, a pursed-up mouth, high cheek bones, and a nose with a crimson tip. Her think, nervous fingers, which were never at rest, reminded one of a cat’s claws, when they fingered the bottles and glasses. Her pursed-up mouth showed brown fang-like teeth, and her rasping voice must often have made her throat ache.

The “Cat” examined Mary and Lilian when the girls arrived at the “Penelope,” on Monday morning, a little before seven o’clock. She watched them take off their hats and jackets.

“That’s not the place for your hat,” she said to Lilian. “Hang it on the end nail, not there.”

Lilian obeyed in silence.

“Look sharp,” said the “Cat.” “Don’t take all day about it.”

Her eyes followed Lilian all the morning, and she lost no opportunity of finding fault. Her rasping voice made the girl nervous.

“You don’t like spirits,” she said with a grating laugh, when Lilian asked for lemonade instead of beer with her dinner, “No wonder you look so white and pink. Don’t you think beer good for the complexion, or have you got a blue ribbon in your box?”

She gave Lilian the heaviest place at the bar, and when the manager payed the place a visit, she pointed to the girl, and whispered something to him. He looked at Lilian, and shook his head. Then he strolled to where she was serving, and stood watching her face for several minutes.

“You’re not well, are you?” he asked when she came near to him.

“The manageress tells me you’re delicate for the work. What’s the matter with you?”

“I’m quite well,” answered Lilian.

“I hear you take nothing but fizz,” he remarked. “Of course you can do as you like, only mind that you don’t knock up. We can’t keep a delicate Venus.”

Then he turned away, leaving Lilian to ponder over his words, and to wonder why the manageress had suggested to him that she was delicate.

Fifty girls lived in the depôt. Upstairs were large rooms, in which each girl had a bed surrounded with yellow curtains; downstairs was a dining room, where breakfast and supper were served, also dinner on a Sunday. A matron presided over the establishment, which was more like a girls’ school than a lodging-house. The barmaids came in and out at all hours, for most of them worked in shifts, so there was always a bevy of girls upstairs and downstairs shouting and singing, laughing and talking, teasing and yawning, while the matron scolded and the servants grumbled. Most of them came from the shopkeeping class, a few were well educated, and one or two called themselves “ladies.” They were all “young ladies” of course, but they drew a distinction between a “lady” and a “young lady,” which they could not interpret.

Lilian soon found herself isolated in the depôt. The girls liked her, but finding it impossible to become familiar with her, left her a great deal alone. Mary joined in the hurly-burly of fun, and was friends with all the girls telling them about her lover, and “the Chummy,” chatting to everyone about everything that came into her head and went out again.

But Lilian lived apart, and the girls called her “a wet blanket.” They criticised her actions, repeated her words, copied her dress, and imitated her way of talking and walking. They felt that she was not one of themselves, but they did not guess that their voices jarred upon her, they had no idea that their loud laughter made her head ache, that she could not eat while they finished their toilette at breakfast, of sleep while they romped about the passages and bedrooms.

“Where does she come from?” they often asked Mary.

“I don’t know where she comes from,” answered Lilian’s friend, “but I know she’s an angel.”

At six o’clock the alarum woke the girls, and those who had an early shift of work, dress and hurried to the dining room, where they were supposed to have hot coffee and bread and butter before leaving the house. But very often they found the door locked, and they were obliged to hurry away just as the sleepy servant appeared with breakfast. If the servant came early, they tried to go out, and the snow beat on them as they ran along the dark streets, for it was Christmas.

“How you shiver, Lilian,” said Mary, one morning, while they were walking to the “Penelope.”

“Do I?” said Lilian. “Feel how my hands burns, my head is always hot and I am dreadfully sleepy. I nearly fell asleep yesterday morning while I was sweeping the restaurant. I don’t know what’s the matter with me.”

“Your hands are hot, but your teeth chatter and you shiver,” said Mary.

“I wish I could get my fur cloak out of the pawn,” said Lilian, “that’s what I want, especially at night, when I leave work.”

“How much have you saved towards it?”

“Only ten shillings, and the pawn ticket is for a pound.”

“Let me lend you ten shillings.”

“What take your money out of the savings bank! No, I can’t do that.”

“Well, you can pay me back. Don’t be so proud, Lilian. You’d do it for me, if you had the money.”

But Lilian shook her head, and refused to listen: she would not even give way when Jim came to the restaurant and strengthened Mary’s request by saying, “No you really might, Miss.”

She did not think that she was ill, although a burning fever seemed to be always upon her, and she was very drowsy in the morning. She said to herself, “I shall be all right when the warm weather comes. The work is hard and I have not been accustomed to so much standing. That’s what is the matter with me.”

Sometimes she dreamt about the convent. Vivid pictures of the nuns came before her, and the sound of Latin hymns mingled with the snores of the barmaids. She woke up from dreams in which she had found herself praying in the Convent Chapel, surrounded by nuns in white flannel dresses. In her sleep she seemed to see the flowers on the convent altar and to smell the incense. But when she opened her eyes no priest was there, only snoring, tired barmaids. She closed her eyes again, and then the convent bell seemed to be ringing; bt it was a church clock, not the bell she had known in childhood. She woke with a start, fancying that the Prioress was calling her by name, and she saw Mary standing beside her bed, and heard the chummy barmaid say: –

“The alarum’s run down. Get up, quick.”

Christmas passed by, but the cold weather stayed on, giving people plenty of skating. Lilian remembered how she had skated at the Hall, and who had put on her skates. She did not forget the tall fair young man who had been obliged to content himself with skating when a frost came, and who had grumbled all the time, saying that the horses were eating their heads off in the stables, thanks to the abominable weather. About his memory lingered an indescribable something which had prevented her from having a vocation She could have become a nun had not that will-o’-the-wisp always flickered before her consciousness.

She was a Catholic, and from childhood she had been taught to look on the Man of Sorrows as a symbol of suffering here, to be followed by happiness hereafter.

Entbehren sollst du! Sollst entbehren!

Had sounded in her ears all life long; but she cherished a hop that an exception might be made in her case, for she felt that she could be so very, very happy. She did not ask for much, only for love and tenderness; just what the nuns found in the arms of Jesus.

She remembered her first confession, when the Prioress sent her into the Chapel, and the priest lifted her on his knee to explain sin and forgiveness.

“Father, I love you very much,” she said, nestling close to him.

“You must love God, my child,” said the priest. “Human love cannot satisfy an immortal being.”

But the will-o’-the-wisp had danced before her eyes and the Love of God had not grown so strong that she could renounce earthly happiness; it was a hope, a dream, a vague longing, something that dazzled her when she saw lovely things and beautiful poetry, and impossibility, and perhaps a sin,in fact the thing that had made the priest sigh and say, “It is a pity she has no vocation.” For Lilian would have made a good nun. She was gentle and obedient, she had no doubts, and she was unselfish.

“If only I could go to Father Dominic,” she said to herself, one evening while she was busy at the bar, “If only I could tell him why I was sent away from the Hall, I should feel a load off my conscience. He would understand about Mr. Grey. I know just how he would shake his head and tell me, “My child, human love can never satisfy an immortal being.”

Her thoughts were far away from the restaurant, and she started when the manageress said, “There’s a gentleman waiting for a brandy and soda.” She looked up and saw Mr. Grey standing before her, in ulster and cap, holding a Gladstone bag in his hand. He looked puzzled and seem to doubt his own eyes, but when she put down the brandy and soda before him, he said, “It is Miss Murray.” Then he added in the voice, she remembered so well. “How thin your hands are, Lilian.”

She turned quickly away, and did not look at him again.

Presently he left the restaurant.

“Do you know that gentleman,” enquired the manageress.

“I used to know him,” she answered.

“Well, he’s paid for a brandy and soda and left it,” said the manageress, taking up the glass, and turning aside to swallow the contents.

“What’s the matter with you, Lilian?” enquired Mary after the girls left the restaurant that evening. “You look so pale, and you are trembling.”

“Oh, nothing,” said Lilian. “But there is someone following us. I hear footsteps.”

Mary turned round.

“Yes,” she said, “There’s a tall, fair man, in an ulster, a little way behind us.”

They heard the man’s footsteps close behind them all the way to the depôt, and when they reached the door, Mary said, , “He’s just turned away. I suppose he wanted to find out where we are living.”

(To be Continued.)


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