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

We hope you enjoy the ninth 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, 30 January, 1892, p. 5.


By John Law

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

 Chapter IX.

“Are You Lilian’s Sweetheart?”

       The following morning, soon after ten o’clock, Mr. Grey knocked at the door of the Barmaid’s Depôt. “What do you want?” enquired a girl who opened the door for him. She was very untidy and evidently belonged to “The great unwashed,” for her drab coloured arms, and face, were besmeared with smuts. With one had she held the door-handle, while she spoke, with the other she pulled a dirty apron down from her waist. “What do you want?” she asked again, without looking at Mr. Grey, planting her foot against the door, and smoothing out her dirty apron.

“I want to see Miss Murray” he answered.

“Well you can’t. She’s broken a blood vessel, and the doctor won’t let no one see her.”

“Broken a blood vessel! How did she do it?”

“I ain’t got no time to gossip,” answered the girl tartly. “Give me your message and begone please.”

“Is there anyone else I can see? May I come in and send her a message?”

“No, you mayn’t,” said the girl. “Matron says I’m to send all followers about their business.” So saying the girl slammed the door in his face.

He stood for a minute thinking, then he walked slowly away. “What can I do?” he asked himself, “I must let Lilian know that the thieves made an attempt to rob me last night. Poor little thing! She looked ill, I must write her a letter, I suppose, I see nothing else for it.” After the letter was written and posted, he began to think about his engagements, but he discovered that there was not one he cared to keep. Time dragged, and things looked insipid. “I’ll write her another letter,” he said, about an hour after he had posted the first. “I’ll go to the Club, and write to her again. I’ll ask her to let me have a telegram, or a line to say how she is, and I’ll suggest a good doctor. I must do something for her, poor little thing. The diamonds are safe at the jeweller’s, thanks to her. I thought it was all rubbish when she came last night, but she was right, and but for her warning the house would have been broken into, there’s not a doubt about it.” After lunch he strolled to the Penelope Restaurant, feeling as restless and anxious as was consistent with his easy-going, pleasure loving, careless disposition. All the harm he had ever done in his life, had been the result of laziness, for he would not have hurt a fly willingly. Only he never exerted himself to think, if he could possibly help it, consequently as he stumbled through life there was a general destruction of flies and insects. Nature had given him a handsome face, and a good figure, both of which things he appreciated. But he did not over-value Nature’s gifts, for he was not conceited, he only laughed when friends told him that he would before long grow fat, and sink into the insignificant role of a country gentleman. That time seemed far off, and if it ever did come “well don’t let’s think about it.”

“I do not for a single minute believe that she has broken a blood-vessel” he said to himself, while pushing through the doors of the Restaurant. But she was not at the bar. He glanced restlessly about the place, and his eyes fell on the manageress. “I’ll just ask the manageress where she is?” he thought. But the Cat was in a bad temper and would not give him any information, so he went away, hoping to find a telegram at his lodgings. He found neither telegram nor note, and when he returned home that night, there was still no news of Lilian. “Only last night, just this time, she was here” he thought, “she can’t have broken a blood-vessel, poor little thing, but I wonder she does not write. I don’t understand it.”

There was no letter the next morning.

“I begin to feel quite anxious” he said, while he turned over his correspondence, “but I don’t know what I can do, unless I write her another letter, and I have explained twice how I told the policeman to watch the house, and all the rest of it.

When he came in that evening he found a letter addressed to “Mr. Grey” lying beside the evening papers. The envelope had finger marks and smudges on the one side, and a large wreath of violets on the other, he took it up between his finger and thumb, and stood looking at it, as if it were a curiosity from the British Museum, some ancient parchment, covered with hieroglyphics. At last he opened it and read,—

“Dear Sir, come to Lilian to-morrow, ten sharp, from your obedient servant, Mary Isaacs.”

The words were scrawled over a sheet of paper ornamented with a wreath of violets like the wreath on the envelope. “I suppose I had better go,” he said to himself, “but it looks as if this were written by that horrid, dirty little servant.” His repugnance changed to astonishment after he rang the Depôt bell, next morning, for the door was opened by a tall good-looking young woman, with a rosy shining face, and bright blue eyes.

“Are you Lilian’s sweetheart?” she asked. “I’ve been watching for you out of the window. It’s as much as my life is worth to let you go upstairs, but Lilian wants to see you. Come in, please, Matron’s out shopping, so you can slip upstairs, and back, before she’s in. The manager’s in the country. You got my letter? Of course you did, you wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t got it.”

“Is Miss Murray really ill?” Mr. Grey asked, after he had followed the girl into the Hall. “Is it true that she has broken a blood-vessel?”

“It’s Gospel,” said Mary, solemnly.

“How did it happen?”

“I don’t know. A cabman carried her in here unconscious the night before last. I’d gone to bed, but Matron called me up, and I had to fetch a doctor. He says she’s very ill. I’ve nursed her, though I expect I’ll get the sack when the Manager hears of it. He may send me away if he likes, for I’m not going to let Lilian die for want of being looked after. She’s an angel, is Lilian, and she looks just like an angel now she’s ill. You mustn’t talk to her, you must only look at her.”

Mary laid two fingers on her lips, and went up the steep, narrow staircase. Once or twice she looked back, and seemed about to speak, then she shook her head, and climbed the stairs in silence. Mr. Grey followed her, holding his hat in his hand, and looking unusually serious.

“Wait here,” said Mary, when they reached a landing at the top of the house. “I’ll be there in a minute.” She disappeared down a narrow passage amongst boxes, furniture, and lumber, leaving Mr. Grey wondering where he would find Lilian. He had never been in such a strange place, the only place he had seen like it was the servants’ quarter at The Hall, through which he had scampered as a boy, while playing at hide and seek. It was a dark, gloomy place, full of broken chairs and old boxes, without a window, lighted by a lamp. “Come,” said Mary’s voice somewhere in the distance.

He groped his way towards her, hitting his head against the ceiling, and found her standing at the door of a room, full of beds, but apparently uninhabited. Iron bars were fastened from wall to wall, and round the bars yellow curtains were twisted. Yellow curtains at the farther end of the room shut off a small space by the window, and Mary pointed to these curtains saying:— “Lilian is there. I’ll watch, and let you know when Matron’s coming. You mustn’t stop more than five minutes, and you mustn’t let her talk.”

He hesitated, and then asked, “Are you quite sure that she is well enough to see me?”

“Yes, be quick.” Mary ran away leaving him at the door of the room.

Presently he gathered up courage to walk to the window, and to lift up the yellow curtains. There he saw Lilian, lying on a small low bed. Her face looked like wax, for it was colourless, her brown hair was spread over the pillow, and her arms crossed above her head, She reminded Mr. Grey of a picture, the picture of a girl floating down a dark river, with a man standing on the bank, watching the girl’s face. He had wandered through most of the European picture-galleries, and he had a lazy appreciation of art, in fact all beautiful things pleased him.

“It is very good of you to come,” said Lilian, when she saw him. “Please bring that chair close to me, and sit down where I can talk to you. You said in your letter I might ask you any favour I liked,” she continued after he was seated. “Do you really mean it?”

“Of course I mean it,” he said.

She looked at him wistfully, and seemed to doubt what he was saying, so he repeated, “Indeed I mean it. You saved the diamonds, and—”

“You told me all that in your letters,” she said, in a weary voice. “I have been very ill,” she went on, “I think I am dying. I don’t want to go to the hospital, I want to go to—to—the Convent. But I can’t go unless you help me.”

“How can I help you?” he said eagerly.

“Will you go to the Rev. Mother, and tell her why I was sent away from the Hall, why I had no character, and had to become a barmaid? Will you say I am dying, and that I meant no harm, and that I want to come home, to her, and the nuns, and to Father Dominic?”

“Yes, if you wish it.”

“Will you explain that I didn’t mean any harm, and that I couldn’t help it?”

“And explain what your mother calls ‘flirting.’ I will tell Father Dominic, and he will understand, but Rev. Mother is a nun, and she has spent all her life in a Convent.”

Lilian’s voice had sunk to a whisper while she was speaking, and a faint colour had passed over her face, but the colour died away quickly after she had finished, and she gasped for breath.

“Please give me some ice,” she said, pointing to a plate. “Thank you. Will you go soon? It is very good of you to go. Thank you!” There was complete silence after he had replaced the plate of ice on the table. Then he said, in rather a husky voice,—“Lilian, she, I mean we, have treated you very badly, can you forgive us?”

“Don’t talk like that,” she said, “please don’t, all the happiness I have ever had in my life has come from you. But I am ill now, and I can’t talk. I want to go home, back to the Convent.”

She looked at the dirty window, covered with cobwebs, and yellow curtains, and said:—“It’s so noisy here, I lie awake all night, and the noise only seems to stop for about an hour, and then it begins again. I could cry with the noise. Will you go soon to the Convent?”

“Thank you.” He wanted to say more, but words would not come, and he could only repeat, “Can you forgive us?”

“There is nothing to forgive,” she said, “nothing. You were good to me, and I was happy. Your mother called it ‘flirting,’ and she thought it was a sin, but she made a mistake. Tell Rev. Mother, that I am dying, then she will forgive me, even if she does not understand.”

“You must not die,” he said. “You must get well Lilian.”

She shook her head, and before either of them could speak again, they heard Mary crying, “Look sharp! Matron will be here in a minute”

(To be continued.)


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