Harkives Summer Serial: ‘Connie’, Instalment II

Labour Elector header

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.

CHAPTER II

CONNIE’S FATHER

Early the following morning she woke up. The dim grey light showed the strange furniture of 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 second 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.

When 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 along 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?”

“This minute.”

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 drink. 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 the chair beside the bed. “You drank and drank until you forgot all about my. 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 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 baste, 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.)

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