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

We hope you enjoy the eighth 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, 23 January, 1892, pp. 8-9.

ROSES AND CRUCIFIX

By John Law

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

Chapter VIII.

The Family Diamonds.

“What’s the matter? Are you ill?” inquired the manageress when Lilian returned to her place, feeling he way along the bar as though she were blind, or stupified [sic].

Instead of answering the question, Lilian said, “Please give me some brandy, very weak, with plenty of water in it.”

“Now I call that sensible,” cried the manageress, “the most sensible thing you’ve done I expect this side of Christmas.”

Lilian took up the glass in which the manageress had mixed the brandy, and while lifting it up to her lips she looked at the clock. “May I go home?” she asked, “I’m not off duty till eleven, but if you’ll let me go home I shall feel so grateful.”

“Are you ill?”

Lilian hesitated.

“Well, I’ll ask no questions,” said the manageress, whose heart had been softened by Lilian’s request for spirits. “You can go, if you like. Have another drop?”

“No, thank you,” murmured Lilian, “this is quite enough I thought I was going to faint.” The manageress turned away, with a triumphant smile on her face, leaving Lilian to drink the brandy. She disliked people “who give themselves airs,” as she expressed it, and now she began to feel that Lilian was a kindred spirit. “I’ll ask Miss Isaacs what she said to the girl, though the manageress. “She looks real ill this evening.”

Meanwhile Lilian gulped down the contents of the glass, which she was holding to her lips, and made up her mind that she would go straight to Mr. Grey’s lodgings. “I don’t know what he will think of me,” she said to herself, “but I can’t help what he thinks. I have no one to send to him, so I must go to him myself, and tell him he was overheard and followed. His life may depend on it. Supposing he was killed! Murdered! I must go at once, I must not lose a minute.” The clock struck ten when she reached the street, and she stopped to count the strokes, although a half tipsy man had followed her out of the restaurant, and was mumbling compliments at her elbow. She wrapped her fur cloak round her, and began to walk quickly towards the Marble Arch. She did not think of taking a cab until she had walked half of the distance then her feet seemed suddenly to give way beneath her, and she was obliged to catch hold of some iron railings in order to save herself from falling on the pavement. She hailed a cab and gave the man the address of the house she wanted, telling him to drive her there as fast as possible. “What will he think of me coming so late,” she wondered, while she pictured Mr. Grey’s astonished face when she walked into his room with her message. Her heart beat fast, but it did not occur to her to turn back until her task was accomplished, for she thought that Mr. Grey’s life depended upon his knowing that he had been overheard, and followed. Once she said to herself, “I am the lady who sent her away from The Hall for “flirting,” but the lady’s son. “Shall I wait for you, Miss?” the cabman asked, after he had drawn up the hansome before the door of a house facing the park. “Will you want me again?”

“Yes, please wait,” she said, feeling the man’s presence a protection. “I won’t be long.” She went up the doorsteps and raised the door knocker. After about two minutes the door was cautiously opened by a man-servant, who looked her over from head to foot and drawled, “What is it, Miss?” “I want to see Mr. Grey.”

“He’s gone to bed, Miss.”

“I must see him.”

“You can’t, Miss.”

“I must,” she insisted. “Tell him that Miss Murray is here, with an important message. He will see me if you give him my name.”

“Well, come in, Miss,” said the man, “and stop here in the hall while I tell Mr. Grey a young lady wants to see him.”

Lilian followed the man into the hall, and waited while he closed the front door. She saw him glance at the hat stand, and turn a key of a room beside her. He put the key back in his pocket, and said, “Miss Murray you say your name is? I’ll be back in a minute, Miss.”

A coloured lamp suspended from the ceiling, showed a conservatory at the further end of the hall and the scent of mignonette reached Lilian while she watched the flight of steps up which the servant had proceeded with her message. The scent of mignonette always brought back to her a vague recollection of things in Madeira. She could not say if she remembered, or if she had only heard that she had one day been found buried in a mignonette bed, but the scent reminded her of butterflies and sunshine, and seemed to belong to the time when she mixed up earth with paradise, when heaven seemed so near that she watched to see the feet of the angels coming through the sky, and called the rain “God shaking his carpet.”

“Mr. Grey will see you in a few minutes,” said the servant as he returned leisurely down the staircase. “Go upstairs, Miss, into the front room on the first floor. You’ll see the door open.”

Lilian went up the stairs, and as she went her feet sank into the soft carpet. For a long time she had walked on the bare boards, and lived amidst hideous surroundings, so the lodging house seemed to her almost luxurious. She liked pretty things and enjoyed luxuries, although she had been brought up in a Convent. The very feeling of her fur cloak gave her pleasure, because it was soft and thick. She had an innate dislike to poverty when it meant bare walls, no carpets, and as she went up the lodging house staircase a feeling of comfort crept over her senses. But when she reached the first floor the same curious sensation she had experienced in the street came over her again, and she felt herself trembling from head to foot. She almost fell as she walked into the room indicated by the servant, and she dropped her cloak, when she and a cold clammy hand seemed to be pressing on her forehead and chest. Slowly her eyes travelled over the bachelor drawing-room. Photographs of actresses were on the walls, invitation cards and notes littered the mantlepiece, cigars and pipes had been hastily unpacked on the tables. On the floor was an open portmanteau. A syphon and a bottle of Hock stood upon a side board, also some glasses. Evidently the room had been lately vacated, for books, writing paper, and newspapers were scattered over the chairs, and the sofas.

Lilian’s eyes rested on the photograph of a rising actress and a strange dull pain came over her, when she recognised the face. “You here, Lilian,” said a voice. Mr. Grey had come into the room, and she had not heard him, thanks to his soft slippers. He was standing in front of the sofa, looking at her with an astonished smile on his face, while he slowly pressed a handkerchief into the pocket of his velvet jacket.

“Yes,” said Lilian, trying to get up, and falling back on the sofa “I have come to tell you that what you said about the diamonds was over-heard at the bar, and you were followed.

“What do you mean,” he asked.

Lilian explained that her friend understood thieves language, and that she had come to say that he would be robbed, perhaps murdered, that night. Her voice trembled, and tears cam to her eyes, while she begged him to take measures against the thieves who were sure to come because they had said that they were coming.

“My dear child, it’s awfully good of you to come like this, awfully good,” said Mr. Grey, “but you really can’t believe this rubbish.”

“Of course I believe it,” said Lilian, who had risen to her feet. “Do you think I should have come for any other reason? The cab is waiting.”

“Sit down,” he said, “and let us talk about it.”

“No, I can’t sit down, I must go,” said Lilian. “But please give me a glass of water. I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I fee choked.”

Mr. Grey fetched some water, and when he came back with it, he said, –

“Lilian, don’t hurray away like this. Sit down for a few minutes.”

“No, I must go,” she told him. “I cannot stay. Let me go – please.”

“No, you shall not go,” he said, with a sudden flush of colour in his cheeks. “You shall not go like this.”

“O let me go!” she pleaded, “See how ill I am, don’t try to keep me.”

He looked at her, ad when he saw how pale she had become, he asked.

“Can I get you anything?”

“Have you any brandy in the house?”

“I ought to have some here. I will look for it.”

“She sank down on the sofa, and watched while he turned over the things on the table. At last he found a travelling flask, and poured some brandy out of it into the glass of water which he had given her.

“I am better now,” she said. “You will let me go? I want to go home to bed. I’m so tired.”

He almost carried her downstairs, and lifted her into the cab. “You will remember that I cam because your life is in danger,” she whispered. “You won’t forget.”

“I shall not forget your goodness,” he answered gently, “Shall I tell the man to drive you to the depôt?”

“Yes.”

As the cab drove along she looked wistfully at him for a minute, then her head fell back against the cushions, and her eyes closed. Presently a thin red stream oozed from her lips, and crept down her face and next, but she did not feel the blood, or try to staunch it, for she was no longer conscious.

(To be Continued.)

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