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

We hope you enjoy the eleventh and penultimate 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, 20 February, 1892, p. 8.

ROSES AND CRUCIFIX

By John Law

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

Chapter XI.

Lilian’s Home.

       “Your mother did very wrong to send Lilian away without telling me,” said the Prioress. “But why did not Lilian come to me, why did she go to London, and become a barmaid?”

“She was afraid you would not understand why she was sent away,” Mr. Grey explained, “and my mother forgot that she would want a letter of recommendation as a governess. She went to London, and she could not get a situation as a governess, so at last she became a barmaid. I met her accident at a bar, near a railway station. The first time I saw her there, was one night, when I came back from Scotland. I had better tell you all about it!”

Then he briefly explained how Lilian had come to his lodgings to warn him about the thieves; how she had saved the family diamonds; and how he had visited the Depôt that morning. “You will let her come home?” he asked.

“I will fetch her myself,” answered the Prioress now. [sic] She shall sleep here to-night. If she is not well enough to come by train, I will bring her here in a carriage.”

“You will let me know if there is anything I can do for her?” he asked.

“What can you do?” enquired the Prioress.

“I can send her flowers—grapes.”

“The [sic] Prioress smiled; a sad smile, rather sarcastic. “O Clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria!” sang the nuns in the chapel.

“You will find your way out, if you go through the garden,” the Prioress said. “This window opens into the garden.”

He rose up, and left the tiny woman with the smile on her face, and her hands folded on her scapular. Directly he was gone, the Prioress hurried into the garden, to the greenhouse, where the Sub-Prioress was busily engaged transplanting geraniums. “Sister,” she said, “I want you to come with me to London. Lilian is found at last.”—

“In a Home for Barmaids. She is very ill. We must fetch her at once. Put on your cloak. I will tell you all about it on the way to London.” Ten minutes later, a curious sort of pill-box stood at the Convent door; a small cart, with a black cover, so small, that two people could scarcely find room in it. But the Prioress did not take up much space, neither was she a burden to the small, lazy pony, who lived on Convent grass, with a feed of grain on Holy Days and Sundays. The Sub-Prioress was obliged to keep her head bowed down, for the pill-box was low as well as narrow. “Do you mean to drive all the way to London?” she enquired.

“No,” answered her Superior, who held the whip. “Only to the station.” While the pony trotted down the hill, the nuns sat close together, talking about Lilian. “The foolish child!” said the Sub-Prioress. “Why did she not trust us?”

“She was always rather proud and very sensitive,” said the Prioress. “But I am afraid from what that young man said, she is really ill; you know her father broke a blood-vessel. Look! There is Mr. Grey, on his way to the station.”

The Sub-Prioress put her head discreetly out of the pill-box for a minute, and then drew it back again, saying:—“He is very handsome.”

“Yes!” said the Prioress. “And good natured, I think, but indolent, and rather stupid.”

“Do you think he is in love with Lilian?”

“In a fashion, yes!”

A week later Lilian was lying in an arm chair by the open window of the Convent Infirmary, looking out upon the elm trees, listening to the rooks, and thinking. On her knee was an envelope, and her thoughts were about the cheque inside it. “Jim and Mary may be here any minute,” she said to herself. “How surprised they will be when I give them Mr. Grey’s cheque. He asked me to let him do something for me, and I told him that I wanted Jim and Mary to be married, and that they could not be married until they had money to open the Chummy. Now they can be married at once.” She smiled, and shutting her eyes, lay back in her chair. She was growing each day weaker, and most of her time was passed in sleeping. She felt no pain, but her strength was slowly leaving her, and she lay for hours in a comatose state between sleeping and waking, in the arm chair, by the open window.

The Infirmary was over the Chapel, and the incense came up through the floor, also the voices of the nuns while they chanted Latin hymns, and the low murmur of Father Dominic’s voice when he said masses. Of all the Latin hymns that the nuns sang in the Chapel, Lilian loved the Salve Regina best.

“Salve, Regina, mater misericordiae

Vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra salve!

Ad te clammus, exules filii Hevae;

Ad te susparimus, gementes et flentes in hac lacrymarum valle.”

But it was recreation time, and the nuns were not chanting in the Chapel, only the birds were singing in the Convent garden, and instead of a Latin hymn Lilian seemed to hear a German love song.

“Du mein Gedanke, du mein Sein und Werden,

Du meines Herzens erste Seligkeit

Ich liebe dich, wie nichts aut diese Erden

Ich liebe dich in Zeit und Ewigkeit.

 

Die du mein Alles bist in diesem Leben,

Die mir erschloss die Liebe Wonnezeit,

Ich hab’ mic die mit ganzer Seel ergeben,

Ich liebe dich in Zeit und Ewigkeit!”

“Eitis sicut deus, scientes bonum et malum,” sighed Lilian, thinking how she had confessed everything to Father Dominic, wondering why he had said so little, but had looked so sad, remembering the grave smile on the face of the Prioress, trying to understand what no one seemed able to explain, namely the sin of “flirting.” The trees looked so beautiful in their fresh green dress, and the birds were so happy building their nests! The world, oh! how she loved it! She was not sorry to die, for she was tired. They would tell her when she had to die, and Father Dominic would be with her. It seemed so natural to obey in the Convent. Father Dominic had heard her confession, and had given her absolution; everything was done, and she had only to wait. Perhaps she would die in her sleep, like her father, then she would not know anything about it.

The Infirmary door opened, and a young nun came in, one who had been at school with Lilian. The nun walked quietly to the window, and knelt down beside Lilian’s chair, waiting for Lilian to wake up. But Lilian was not asleep. She opened her eyes, when she heard Sister Mary Augustine kneel down beside her, and she put her arm around the nun’s neck. Sister Mary Augustine wore the black veil, but she had only taken the vows a short time before Lilian’s return home. She had spent her whole life in the Convent, first in the school, where she discovered that she had a vocation, then with the novices, last of all as a professed nun. Her work lay in the poor school where she taught the Catholic children whose parents thought the Board School an abomination. Her work was hard, but she rejoiced in it. She had a sweet, calm face, with holy, childlike eyes, like those of the Dresden Madonna. She looked lovingly at Lilian, and asked if there was anything she could fetch. “There are some lovely flowers for you downstairs,” she said, “and some beautiful grapes; but Reverend Mother says she will bring them to you, she would not let me bring them.”

Lilian answered that she wanted nothing. “You are happy as a nun?” she asked presently, “you like it?”

“Happy!” exclaimed Sister Mary Augustine, “that does not express what I feel. When my work is done, I go into the Chapel, and I throw myself into the arms of Jesus, it is not happiness, Lilian, it is bliss.” The nun looked up to heaven with ecstacy, and Lilian murmured, “Yes, you are happy.”

The conversation was interrupted by a loud knock at the Infirmary door, which made sister Mary Augustine spring up, and hide her hands under her scapula. “Come in,” she said.

The door was opened, and Mary entered, followed by Jim, who looked sheepish. They came slowly towards Lilian, staring at Sister Mary Augustine, and afraid to speak. Jim wore a smart red necktie, and his best coat: his eyes were wide open, and the expression of his face was so funereal that Sister Mary Augustine could scarcely keep from laughing. She hurried away, leaving them with Lilian.

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