This year’s summer serial is an unfinished story Harkness contributed to the Labour Elector from June 1893. It ran until the periodical folded in January 1894. At the time of ‘Connie’s appearance, the periodical was again under the editorship of Harkness’s close political and personal acquaintance Henry Hyde Champion. She had previously contributed to the Labour Elector (see, for instance, her article on ‘The Loafer’), but this appears to have been her only serial contribution to the periodical, and the only piece of fiction she produced for it.
The story of Connie, an actress subject to economic as well as sexual exploitation, recalls themes from Harkness’s earlier work, including her descriptions of young women’s working conditions in Toilers in London (1889), and fiction including A City Girl (1887) as well as ‘A Pantomime Child’. Like A City Girl and ‘Roses and Crucifix’, the story explores the power balance in a cross-class relationship. Central to the story is the dependent role into which Connie is forced by late nineteenth-century society: she depends on her employer for the work that she needs to maintain herself financially, and this allows him to exploit her. She also relies, first on her father, and later on other characters, for shelter – a point that is repeatedly emphasised as her shelter and security are arbitrarily taken away from her.
A discussion of ‘Connie’, led by Dr Deborah Mutch, took place as part of the ‘In Harkness’ London’ Symposium held at Birkbeck, University of London, on 22 November 2014. Interested readers will find the discussion questions on the text here.
Source: John Law [Margaret Harkness], ‘Connie’, Labour Elector, June 1893, pp. 10-12. Microfilm available via the British Library.
BY JOHN LAW,
Author of “A City Girl,” “Captain Lobe,” “Little Tim’s Christmas,” “His First Day’s Wages,” etc., etc.
“IT’s no use, Connie, better give it up.”
“No, here’s another bit. I’ll try once again.”
So saying, Connie threw a bit of stick up against a window, threw it with all her force, then waited a few seconds.
“Father!” she called loudly, “Father!”
But no one answered. The stick fell on the pavement after it had struck the window, and the girl did not stoop to pick it up again.
“I believe it is no use,” she said to the young man who had called her “Connie.” Then she looked up and down the street.
Her long black cloak had fallen open, showing her lace dress. On her feet were black satin shoes. The hood of the cloak covered her head. Golden curls surrounded her face, which was very young and childlike.
“What shall I do?” she asked the young man, looking up at him with her big dark eyes. “Father is asleep, or—or—”
“Or tipsy.” She said the last word in a whisper.
“He wouldn’t let me take the latch-key,” she added. “I wanted to have it, but he said he would sit up until I came home. The landlady’s deaf, and there’s no one but father to let me in.”
The young man did not speak for a minute. Then he said slowly:
“It’s no use to rattle the door and throw things at the window, and you can’t spend the night on the doorstep.”
“What can I do?”
“You had better come home with me.”
They were standing in front of a dark house in a street leading out of Drury Lane. It was almost midnight. In a few minutes the public houses would be desolate. The girl knew this and she shivered. What should she do?
Opposite the house was a street lamp, and by its dim light she could see her companion’s face as he bent down to ask,
“Can you trust me, Connie?”
“Oh, yes,” she said.
“I am alone,” he continued. “My friend who lives with me is away in the country. You can have his room.”
“If only I could make father hear me,” she said, half sobbing.
“You can’t,” he replied. “We have been here a quarter of an hour, and it’s all of no use. You had better come home with me.”
Still she hesitated.
Just then a tipsy man reeled by, and as he passed he muttered something about her pretty face. This made her draw the black cloak tightly over her dress, and push back the hair from her forehead.
“Yes, I’ll come,” she said in a weary voice. “I can’t stay here all night. There is nothing else for it.”
“Will you take my arm?”
“We shall be home in a few minutes,” he told her, as they walked quickly along.
She said nothing.
“You are not afraid of me?”
“Then what is it?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s downright cruel of him to lock me out,” she sobbed. “He knows the landlady’s deaf. Oh, it’s cruel to have a father that gets tipsy, and forgets all about once, and leaves one to a stranger.”
“We will talk about it when we get home,” the young man told her. “I’m not quite a stranger, you know, Connie.”
The night was clear, but cold, and as they walked on the wind blew chill upon them, making the girl shiver. She looked down at her thin satin shoes, and asked:
“Is it very far?”
“No,” he answered. “Isn’t it strange,” he continued, “that one can never see a policeman, or get a cab when such things are really wanted?”
“There’s a cab,” she said, as a four-wheeler crept slowly into sight.
“We are nearly there now,” said he; and five minutes later they stopped before a tall house in a more fashionable part of London than Drury Lane, where he pulled a latchkey out of his pocket
“Here we are,” he said; “I live here in a flat. You will see in a minute.”
Then he opened the door, and led the way through a lighted passage, and up two flights of stone steps.
“These are my rooms,” he said, opening a second door, and leading the way into a little hall. “It’s a small place, but not a bad den, taking it altogether. Let me help you off with your cloak.”
Connie looked shyly round her.
A coloured lamp hung from the ceiling. Two or three chairs, a table, a hat-stand, and a clock furnished the entrance, called by courtesy “the hall.”
Horsewhips and tennis rackets, and a motley group of hats and caps were arranged on the hat-stand; and amongst them the tenant of the flat—Humphry Munro—hung up his hat and overcoat. Then he stood before Connie in evening dress, with a crushed flowed in his button hole, and, having tossed the flower under the table, he said:
“Come in and get warm.”
Connie followed him into a small room and waited while he lighted the gas. Afterwards, womanlike, she walked to the nearest mirror and began to smooth her hair, which the wind had blown into wild disorder.
Munro watched her, with a good-natured smile on his handsome face. He was tall and broad-shouldered, a well made man, and a gentleman.
“I call this fun,” he said, when she turned round and looked at him. “I’ll light the fire, and get you something hot to drink. The housekeeper leaves everything ready for us when she goes home at night, and we look after ourselves until she comes in the morning. My friend Grey is in the country, so you can have his room I’ll show it to you when you’re warm. Here’s a nice low chair by the fireplace.”
Then, seeing her crying, he added gently, “Don’t cry, Connie; there’s nothing to cry about.”
“I’ll be all right in a minute,” she said, trying to swallow the sobs in her throat. “You are very kind, Mr. Munro; don’t think me ungrateful, but, but—”
“Father’s so cruel!” she sobbed; “I’ll never go back to him. Tomorrow I’ll get lodgings and live by myself.”
“Sit down while I light the fire,” Munro said; “then we will talk about it.”
The room was rather too full of furniture to please the ordinary bachelor, but it was pretty and artistic. Connie’s eyes wandered over the sofas, chairs, and tables, to the open piano. Flowers in pots, and a sleepy parrot attracted her attention, because they were things to which she was unaccustomed. She glanced at the photographs, of which there were dozens, some in frames, the greater number scattered carelessly about on stands and tables. A long row of ladies adorned the mantelpiece.
Standing by itself in a crimson plush frame was the likeness of a lady whose features resembled those of Humphry Munro. Was the lady his mother, Connie wondered. No, she looked too young for that; she was his sister, perhaps. But what a hard, cold face she had!
“You are looking at my sister,” Munro said, when he came back in his smoking jacket, with a pipe in his mouth, and his hands full of sticks. “Do you like her face?”
“No,” said Connie.
“No more do I,” said he confidentially. “But I’ve only one other relation in the world, and that’s my father. Do you like this?”
So saying, he handed to Connie another photograph.
“Yes,” said Connie, “but he looks unhappy. Is he unhappy?”
“I’ll fetch some glasses,” said Munro, evading the question. “Then we shall be all right and comfortable.”
Connie placed the photograph on a table, and lay back in the arm-chair. A sense of warmth and comfort stole over her. Her sobs stopped altogether. All was so new to her, everything was so interesting, she forgot her troubles and began to think only of Munro and his surroundings.
“What a pretty room this is,” she said, when he came back again.
“Do you think so?”
“Yes. You must be very happy here.”
“Well I am not in much. Sometimes I only breakfast here, and am out all the rest of the day. I was rather lonely before my friend Grey came to live with me; now we have high times in the evenings, and do all sorts of things, when we are free from engagements.”
He mixed some whisky and water for her, and told her to drink it up.
“You are getting warm now?” he asked.
“Oh yes!” she answered, slipping out of the arm-chair on to the hearthrug to enjoy the fire. “I am quite warm now.”
Munro sat down to smoke, and while he watched her, he said to himself that she made a pretty picture in her lace dress. Her arms and neck were bare, and they looked very white in the firelight. The rebellious curls that the wind had blown about lay on her forehead. Her eyelids were heavy with crying, and they gave to her dark eyes a tired, pathetic look that added to the childishness of her appearance.
“What are you thinking about?” he asked presently.
“I am thinking I will never, never go back to father,” she replied, looking up at him. “Tomorrow I will take rooms by myself. Other girls live alone, girls who play in the same pantomime I play in. I will give father ten shillings a week, and keep the pound for myself.”
“What will he say to that?”
“He won’t like it. He’ll be very angry. But I mean what I say, I shan’t change. This is the last time he shall lock me out.”
“Has he ever done so before?”
“Yes; sometimes he has kept me a long time calling and knocking, but I’ve always been able to wake him up, till tonight. If you hadn’t been there what would have become of me? I must have looked for a policeman, and, as you say, if one wants a policeman, one can never find one. There’s no knowing what might have happened to me but for you.”
Tears filled her eyes while she spoke, and a sob ended the sentence.
“Wherever you go, you will let me be your friend?” he asked.
“Oh yes! you are the only friend I have.”
“You have never had a lover?”
“Of course not! Why, you asked me that once before.”
“Nor a friend? I mean a man friend?”
“No, never. Why do you want to know?”
“Never mind. Finish the whisky, and then you shall go to bed. You look half asleep now.”
He smoked on in silence, glancing from time to time at Connie and thinking of the strange fact that a few weeks previously he had been unaware of her existence.
“I’m glad Grey’s away,” he said to himself, “for he might have misunderstood all this perhaps. When I told him how I heard screams the other night and found Connie in the clutches of a tipsy brute, he only laughed and shrugged his shoulders. He’s such a cynic! He doesn’t know that I have met her at the stage door and seen her safely home every night since that happened. How could I let the poor little thing go home alone through that wretched neighbourhood? She’s only a child. I guessed her father drank, and she had no mother, poor little thing! But I did not foresee she would be locked out; and I’m glad Grey’s away, for he had been here, I could not have brought her home with me, I must have given her to a policeman, or have walked up and down with her all night.”
“Connie, Connie,” he said aloud, “I’ll light the gas for you in Grey’s room.”
The girl rose up and followed him into a small bedroom.
“You can lock the door,” he told her, “and no one will disturb you till the housekeeper brings you a cup of tea in the morning. Good-night.”
“Good-night,” she said, as she glanced timidly round the room.
When he was gone, she did not stop to undress, but threw herself on the bed and covered herself over with her black cloak.
“Oh, father!” she sobbed, “how could you do it?”
EARLY the following morning she woke up. The dim grey light showed the strange furniture in an unfamiliar room, and for a minute she wondered where she was and what had happened. Then the memory of the previous evening came back to her, and she started up, saying:
“I must go home.”
A few minutes later she opened the door of the room, and went quietly out into the little hall.
Here all was still, but for the ticking of the clock, the hands of which pointed to half past six.
“If I can open the door downstairs without noise, and get out of the house, I shall be all right,” she thought, while softly closing the door of the flat. Her heart beat fast, for she was afraid that someone would meet her on the staircase. But no one was about, and in a few seconds she was outside the house and in the street, where she gave a sigh of relief.
The cold morning air cut her like a knife, for she was but lightly dressed. She pulled the hood of the cloak over her head, and wrapped it carefully about her dress, then set off quickly for Drury Lane. On the way there she met milkmen, who noisily rattled their cans, men going to their work, and others, who looked suspiciously at her satin slippers. She hurried along with her eyes fixed on the dirty, greasy pavement.
Why she had left the flat so early she hardly knew; but fear of the strange housekeeper, and the knowledge that she was in evening dress, had combined to make her nervous.
“He will come to the stage door to-night, and then I can explain all about it,” she thought. “If he had been alone I would have waited; but I could not let a strange woman see me in this dress.”
After walking ten minutes she reached the house outside which she had stood so long with Munro the night before. An old woman was scrubbing the doorstep, and the door was wide open.
Connie went in and up the steep staircase to the door of her father’s room. There she waited for a minute, listening to his heavy breathing. The door was ajar. She pushed it open and walked in.
He lay in bed with his arms stretched out His face was red, his features swollen, and he slept the heavy sleep of a man who had been intoxicated. She went to the bed, and stood beside him, with her large, mournful eyes fixed on his face. Soon he moved uneasily, turning his head on the pillow, and when she pulled up the blind, and let the light fall on his face, he awoke.
“You,” he muttered.
“Yes, me, father,” she said.
“When did you come in?”
He turned round to go to sleep again.
“Father,” she said, speaking quickly and looking earnestly at him, “you went to sleep last night, and left me out of doors. I knocked and shouted, but you did not hear me. You were drunk. It shan’t happen again; to-day I am going into lodgings to live by myself. Do you understand?”
He stared stupidly at her.
“Look,” she said, pointing to a gin bottle on a chair beside the bed. “You drank and drank until you forgot all about me. You left me out of doors all night.”
“Where have you been?” he asked.
“Never mind where I have been,” she said. “I’ll give you ten shillings a week from my salary; but come what will, I’ll never live with you any more.”
Slowly he took in the meaning of her words: but the effort to understand them was too great an exertion for his stupefied brain.
“Damn your nonsense!” he muttered, turning on the pillow. “Let me go to sleep.
She made no reply, but walked away from the bed to the door. There she stood looking at the untidy room. The man’s clothes lay in a heap on the floor, and beside them was a broken glass that had fallen off the chair. Empty bottles were on the table and the remains of some bread and cheese. A lamp was burning dimly, for he had forgotten to turn it out when he had tumbled into bed intoxicated.
There was some good furniture in the room, an armchair and a sofa; but the place showed signs of debauch and smelt of spirits.
After one more look at her father, Connie went out of the room into the passage. There a big box stood under the window on the landing. She pulled this box into her own room—a dark little place—and opened it. Then she began to pack with feverish haste, throwing into the box boots, shoes, and clothing. She emptied the contents of drawers and cupboards on to the floor, and when all was in confusion she paused and pressed her hands to her forehead.
“After rehearsal this morning I must find lodgings,” she said, “and before then I must pack and change my dress and get some breakfast. And I must not cry,” she added, passing her hands quickly over her face; “it’s no use crying now!”
(To be continued.)