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

We hope you enjoy the tenth 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, 6 February, 1892, pp. 5-6.


By John Law

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

Chapter X.

Mr. Grey at the Convent

“I wish she had asked me to do anything bust this,” Mr. Grey said, “anything but this. But I could not refuse her. If she had asked me to become a monk, I declare I should have thought about it.” He was walking up the hill from the station to the Convent, under the chestnuts. The soft spring sun shone on him, and the birds sang in the trees, for it was the season when a “young man’s fancy lightly turns to love,” but he felt very melancholy, and he did not notice the chestnuts, the birds, or the sunshine. He was going to the Convent; and as he approached the place, his depression increased, and he said to himself, “I wish she had asked me to do anything else. But, poor little thing, I could not refuse her. She thinks she is dying, but it is not as bad as that; she will get well, of course.” He reached the top of the hill and then he saw a high wall, with a door in the centre. On the door was a brass plate, bearing the word “Convent.” “I suppose this is the place,” he said, “I wonder if I can go in! There seems to be no bell; and the door is not locked.” Very cautiously he opened the door, and looked through it at the Convent. He saw a large, old-fashioned house, covered with roses and creepers, and round about the house, a wilderness of laburnum trees, red and white may, and chestnuts. The gravel path from the door to the house was strewed with blossoms, which the wind had shaken from the trees, and beside the path grew primroses and violets, mixed with other spring flowers. He could not see a human being, but he heard rooks cawing busily, as if the place belonged to them; and while he was looking, a magnificent peacock strutted forward, spread its tail, shook out its feathers, and walked proudly up and down the gravel path. “What a beautiful place!” he though, “And how quiet!” So this is where Lilian grew up! No wonder she is unlike other girls I have met. But it must have been awfully dull here – dull as Heaven!” He passed the peacock, and walked to the door of the Convent. Then he saw a grating; and after he had rung the bell, a face appeared behind the narrow bars, a grave, gentle face, with soft brown eyes.

“Can I see the lady of this establishment?” he asked, when the door was opened. “The Prioress,” he said, looking at the nun, who was dressed in white flannel, and white veil, and then throwing a hasty glance into the Convent. “Please come in,” the nun said. “I will tell Reverend Mother that you wish to see her.”

After the nun had closed the door of the receiving room, he looked at the clean white floor, the wooden chairs, the bookshelves, and the little table, on which lay a few books. A window opened into the garden, and beyond the garden stretched meadows, with undulating grass, and carefully kept the hedges – a real English landscape. He glanced at the books on the shelves, saying to himself, “I’d no idea Newman wrote a whole library,” and at the pictures on the walls, noticing the Pope and Cardinal Manning. Then he walked to the window.

“O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria,” he heard some voices singing. The voices seemed far off, but he heard the music, and sometimes the words, while the nuns sang their “Salve Regina,” in the chapel. “Mater misericordiae, vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra salve,” the voices sang, while he listened.

He felt strangely out of place in this Convent, and he looked at his clothes, as though they had something to do with it, for he had not waited to change them, and had come own to the Convent in a black coat and high hat. While he was carefully removing a speck of dust from his sleeve, the door opened, and a small aristocratic-looking woman, dressed in white flannel habit, and black veil, cam into the room.

For a minute he thought she was a child, for her face was round and rosy. Then he realized that she was at least sixty. Knowledge, without experience, had left the expression of her face quaintly young, although time had scored it with lines and wrinkles. She stood with her hands folded on her scapular, and asked what he wanted.

“I have come to you from Miss Murray,” he said, “She is very ill, and she wants you to let her come home.”

“Lilian! Ill!” explained the Prioress. “Pray sit down, and tell me about it.”

The Prioress say down on a wooden chair by the table, and Mr. Grey took a chair near her. “Yes; she is very ill,” he said, “In fact, she has broken a blood vessel!”

“Where is she?”

“In London, at a barmaids’ Depôt; I will give you the address.”

“Lilian in a Depôt for Barmaids!” exclaimed the Prioress. “How did she get there? I sent her as a governess to a lady in Essex, and I have written to the lady several times about her. The only answer I could get was that she had been sent away, because she was “a designing young person.” I have been extremely anxious about Lilian, and so has Father Dominic. The lady ought not to have sent her away without communicating with me; I can’t understand how she could do it!”

“She, I mean we have behaved very badly,” said Mr. Grey.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean – she – in fact – I am sorry to say –”

“Who? What?”

“Er – my Mother.”

“Oh!” said the Prioress, drawing up her lips, and gathering her forehead in the frown, that made the girls and nuns tremble.

“I assure you, there was nothing in it,” he said, “nothing, not even a kiss!”

“A kiss!” cried the Prioress.

“No; I say it was not a kiss, it was nothing, absolutely nothing.”

“Then what did you mother mean by calling Lilian ‘designing young person?’” asked the Prioress. “How is it that she came to apply such words to a girl as modest, and as good as ever walked this earth? Who ought to have become a nun – but who had no vocation!”

“I really can’t tell you,” he said helplessly. “I don’t understand it myself. I talked to her sometimes, and she talked to me; but there was really nothing in it – nothing! “You see,” he continued, finding the Prioress’ eyes fixed on his face. “I’m the eldest son, and they have their eye on someone they want me to marry, but I assure you, I never thought of doing anything so –” he hesitated, and then said the first thing that came into his head, “anything so stupid!”

The frown disappeared from the Prioress’ forehead, the muscles of her face relaxed, and she looked at Mr. Grey with child-like curiosity for a minute. She had been young once, and had endured a London season, but she had never like young men, and she had hated dancing. At last she had run away from home to become a nun, because he rather had wished to make her a Maid of Honour, and since that time she had only seen young men at a distance. This young man was very handsome, and, as he sat before her, trying to explain his position with regard to Lilian, the memory of old days came back to her with lights and music, crowded rooms, jewellery and beautiful dresses. She knew that these things have a fascination for some people, and she wished to be perfectly just to judge this young man and Lilian not as a nun but as an ordinary woman. But she had not the necessary experience to do this; so she fell back upon the thing which she could judge, and which stood ripe for judgment.

(To be continued.)


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