We hope you enjoy the seventh 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, 16 January, 1892, pp. 8-9.
ROSES AND CRUCIFIX
By John Law
Author of “A City Girl,” “Captain Lobe.” etc.
Lilian woke up early next morning, and lay in bed, watching the grey dawn creeping over the housetops and the chimneys.
“It is like a dream,” she said to herself, “I can scarcely believe that he really came to the bar last night, and that he spoke to me. I suppose he was on his way home. Perhaps by now he has told his mother than I am a barmaid.”
The grey dawn crept on, showing her the dirty window beside her bed, and the ugly yellow curtains which shut her off from the other barmaids.
“Entbehren sollst du! Sollst entbehren!” Something seemed to whisper to her as the light fell on the crucifix which had been a parting present from Father Dominic, when she left the Convent to become a governess.
“He will not come again,” she said. “He was only passing through London. Probably he is at The Hall by this time, I shall not see him any more, it is foolish to think about it.”
So saying she took the crucifix from the chest of drawers beside her bed, and pressed it to her lips.
The alarm sounded. She rose and began to dress.
“Yes, I am pretty,” she thought, while she stood before the looking-glass, twisting her hair about her head. “I am very pretty, but the world is full of pretty women.”
Then she hurried down stairs, and as no coffee was ready, she went out into the greasy, dirty streets, without any breakfast.
“The bar, nothing but the bar,” she thought. And then she added, “perhaps I shall grow like the Cat, get cross, and take to drinking spirits.”
She knew what her work would be like after she reached the restaurant, and felt that she hated bar customers, and loathed their inane compliments. From eight in the morning until eight at night, men would hurry in with rugs and bags, call for a glass of beer or spirits, throw down the money, and rush out, horsey men would talk about sport, business men would discuss finance or politics, and the whole world would make a sort of hotch-pot in her brain, while she drew beer, supplied cigars, measured spirits, and cleared away dirty glasses.
“I belong to the bar,” she thought, when she reached the restaurant, and the fact sent a wave of disgust sweeping across her consciousness.
The hours seemed to pass by unusually slowly that day, and she looked often at the clock, thinking that it must have stopped. Sometimes she found herself watching the swinging doors in front of the bar, and wondering if a tall fair man would come through them. Then she called herself “exceedingly foolish.”
“I am glad I have an early shift this evening,” she thought, “for I want to fetch my cloak from the pawnshop. I have the pound—at last.”
At eight o’clock a barmaid came to take her place, and she was free to leave the restaurant. She put on her hat and jacket, and started for the pawnshop. In her right hand she held her pawnticket, and she grasped it tightly, as if she were afraid of letting it drop. The pound was in her purse, made up of shillings, and sixpences, which she had saved week by week, until they reached the sum for which she had pawned her cloak.
“Miss Murray,” said a voice, after she had walked about a hundred yards towards the pawnshop, “may I speak to you for a minute?”
Lilian started and then stood still.
“You have dropped something,” Mr. Grey said, and he stooped down to pick up the pawnticket.
“Oh yes, thank you,” murmured Lilian, “I will put it in my pocket.”
“Where are you going to?” he asked.
Lilian didn’t answer.
“Shall I tell him the truth,” she wondered. “Shall I say that I am on my way to the pawnshop?”
“Where are you going to?” he repeated. “This is not the way you went home last evening.”
“No,” replied Lilian slowly, “it is now the way to the Depôt. I am going to fetch my fur cloak from the pawnshop. I could not find work for a long time after I came to London, so I was obliged to pawn some of my things. Your mother sent me away without a character, and no one would have me as a governess.”
“Why did you not go back to the Convent?”
“I thought the nuns would not understand why I was sent away. Please do not speak of it.”
She began to walk on quickly, but a sharp pain in her side soon made her slacken her steps.
“Let me drive you there in a cab,” said Mr. Grey, who had been walking beside her and watching her face.
She shook her head.
“I am sure you are not well,” he told her, “you have grown so thin. What made you think of becoming a barmaid?”
She told him about the efforts she had made to find a place in a shop, and how the landlady had, at last, brought her the advertisement in the Daily Telegraph, and advised her to try for the only situation she could get without having a character.
“It is all her fault,” he muttered, when Lilian had finished her story, “how could she turn the girl adrift like this!”
At last they reached a shop ornamented by three large gilded balls, and a coloured lamp, where Lilian stopped.
“May I wait for you?” he asked.
“Yes, if you really wish it,” she answered, “I shall not be long.”
A few minutes later she came back, but without the cloak, and looking very much disappointed.
“They won’t let me have it,” she said, “I am too late, I must wait until I am off duty in the afternoon, or middle day, for they will not let me have it in the evening. No, you can do nothing,” she continued, seeing Mr. Grey put his hand in his pocket. “No money will get it for me to-night. They seem to be very strict in these places, they are not like ordinary shopkeepers.”
“Let me drive you home,” he said. “You are shivering with cold, and white as a ghost. I am sure you cannot walk all that distance.”
She tried to remonstrate, but he would not listen. He called a cab, helped her in, and followed himself, after giving the address of the Depôt to the cabman. Neither spoke, while the cab rattled over the streets. Lilian lay back, wondering if she were dreaming, and he looked at her pale face, saying to himself—
“It’s all her fault for sending the girl away without a character. Poor little thing! How ill she looks! But she’s prettier than ever.”
The cab stopped at the Depôt, and Mr. Grey sprang out to ring the bell. Lilian followed.
“You will let me see you again?” he asked, while she stood beside him, on the doorstep. Then he added without waiting for her to answer him—
“I’m in town for the season, by myself, in lodgings. I’ll look in at the restaurant to-morrow, at about eight.”
The door was opened before Lilian could speak.
He raised his hat and jumped back into the cab, shouting out his address to the cabman, which Lilian did not hear distinctly, but which she fancied was the name of a club in Piccadilly.
“I shall see him again to-morrow evening,” she said to herself. And that night she slept like an infant.
He kept his promise. At eight o’clock the next evening, the swinging doors in front of the bar opened, and he came through them. He walked to the place where Lilian was serving, and bent over the bar to talk to her. He did not stay long, but when she left the restaurant, she found him waiting for her outside, and he went with her to the Depôt, talking on the way about the Hall, speaking about everyone and everything at his home except her, as he called his mother.
“Do you ever find time to go to the theatre, or a concert?” he asked Lilian. “Or are you always hard at work?”
“I am too tired for anything but bed after I leave the bar on work days,” she answered, “but I go out sometimes on my free Sunday.”
“How often do you have a free Sunday?”
“Once a month.”
“Where do you go then?”
“To Church, and for a walk. Last time I went on the river. I want to go to Gravesend some day, for I have never seen the sea. I was scarcely four when I left Madeira, and since then I have only been at the Convent, and the Hall, and in London.”
“Supposing we go to some quiet place in Sussex, next time you have a free Sunday,” said Mr. Grey. “The sea air will do you good. We can go to Littlehampton, or Bognor, or some other quiet place. Will you come?”
“I will think about it,” she answered.
It is a curious fact that after Mr. Grey began to visit the bar, the manageress lost her dislike to Lilian.
“You will soon be on the list of the Cat’s favourites,” joked Mary.
Lilian tried to smile, but the smile died on her lips, as she said to herself,
“The manageress would like me very much if only I had lovers and drank spirits.”
That night she went to sleep kissing the crucifix, and the following evening she told Mr. Grey that she could not go with him to Sussex when she had a free Sunday.
After that he did not come to the restaurant for a week.
“Is he offended because I would not go with him to Sussex?” she asked herself. “Why doesn’t he come? What has happened?”
She began to feel sad, and desolate.
Her heart had sung a Te Deum each time he pushed through the swinging doors of the restaurant, and the faces of the customers had appeared to her transfigured when he stood at the bar talking to her, and the way from the Depôt had seemed to take only about five minutes, while he walked by her side. Now a dozen doubts tormented her by day, and a dozen fears kept her awake at night. Perhaps he was ill, more likely he was offended, anyhow he did not come, and she could do nothing but wait, and hope, watch the swinging doors, and think of her past happiness.
Thus a week passed, and on Saturday night she looked at the clock, when it struck eight, thinking
“He will not come now, for he does not know that my hours are changed, and that I do not go home before eleven.”
But just as the last stroke was falling, the swinging doors were pushed open and Mr. Grey hurried to the bar.
“You missed me?” he asked Lilian.
“Yes,” she said growing red, and then turning pale, “I was afraid you were offended.”
“Offended! What nonsense! I was obliged to go home, and I have only just returned to London. She made me fetch her diamonds to be re-set, and she would not let anyone else bring them to London, because they will belong to, to—” he hesitated, and then said “to me some day. So I had to go home, and I have only just taken the diamonds to my lodgings. I hurried here as soon as possible. Are you leaving now?”
“No, I am on duty till eleven.”
“How provoking! I have an engagement I must keep at half past nine, I thought it would just fit in with taking you home. How are you?”
“Oh all right,” said Lilian.
She did not tell him that a cough kept her awake at night, and that she felt languid and drowsy, for his presence made her forget everything that was unpleasant, and the assurance that he was not offended thrilled her with happiness.
He did not stay very long, but promised to come again the following night, and take her back to the Depôt.
“You missed me?” he asked, watching her face, while he put the question. Her eyes answered “Yes,” and he went away with a smile on his face, whispering across the bar, “To-morrow evening.”
Lilian continued her work. She listened patiently while customers payed her compliments, for she was accustomed to hear bar refuse talking bar rubbish. So she let them men discourse about the damask roses in her cheeks, the carnations, and pinks, until the manageress came to her, and said, “Look at Miss Isaacs.”
Mary was making telegraphic signs from the further end of the bar, shaking her head, and beckoning.
“You’d better go and see what Miss Isaacs wants” said the Manageress. “I’ll take your place for a few minutes.”
Before Lilian could reach her friend she saw that something serious had happened.
“Lilian,” said Mary, drawing her aside, and speaking in a whisper, “did that tall, fair haired gentleman who so often comes to the bar and who was talking to you half an hour ago, say something about having some diamonds at his lodgings?”
“Answer me,” said Mary solemnly.
“Well he said that he had been down into the country to fetch some diamonds, and that he has them at his rooms. What of it?”
“Lilian,” said Mary, in an awestruck whisper, “some thieves heard what he said. One of them followed him, and he will be robbed before to-morrow morning.
“Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?”
“The men have only just gone away, and I was afraid to move while they were talking, I wouldn’t blab to save my life, but—
“Go on,” said Lilian, who seemed to be fascinated by her friend’s face.
“But,” said Mary hesitatingly, “I can tell by the way you look at that tall air [sic] haired man, you—you love him. I wouldn’t blab to save my own life, but Lilian, if you care for that man, tell him at once. Let him know that he was overheard, and that he has been followed. His life may depend on it.”
“The Manageress won’t like me to go before eleven,” faltered Lilian.
“Tell her that she must. Don’t lose a single minute.”