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, July 1893, pp. 11-12. 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.
ALONE IN LODGINGS
A week later, at about five o’clock in the afternoon, Connie say in the little sitting-room she had engaged for herself. She was mending a long silk stocking. She held the stocking on her left hand and tried to darn what she called a “ladder” in it. “Ladders gave her more trouble than any other repairs, and silk stockings are expensive. She looked tired, and said to herself that the gas in the theatre had affected her head, the footlights had made her feel sleepy. But the gas did not deserve all the blame she put upon it.
“Where’s your gentleman lover?” a girl had asked her with a laugh the night previously.
She had pretended not to hear the question, and had hurried home alone.
Mr. Munro had not been to meet her at the stage door for a week; in fact, she had neither seen him nor heard from him since she had spent the night in his flat. Wash he ill? Was he offended?
He had brought a something into her life that had not been there before, a depth, a warmth, she did not know what to call it, a something that she missed very much now that it had apparently vanished as suddenly as it had come. She tried to find a name for this something, and at last she christened it “Kindness.” He had been very kind, and possibly he had thought her disappearance without a word of thanks ungrateful conduct, and that was why he had ceased to meet her at the door of the theatre.
“After all, why should he come?” she asked herself. “He is rich, and he lives in a place like a little palace; why should he trouble about a dancer in a theatre, whose salary is only thirty shillings week, and whose home is a garret?”
So Connie argued with herself, looking at the dingy room with its faded furniture, and common ornaments, and contrasting it with the flat she had visited.
“I’m a goose to expect to see him again,” she said aloud. “But he was kind to me, and he asked to be my friend, so I can’t help feeling disappointed.”
Then she turned her undivided attention to the “ladder” she was mending, and as she had no lamp, she sat down beside the fire, on the hearthrug to make the most of the firelight. She had thrown off her dress, and “made herself comfortable” (so she expressed it) in a blue wrapper. Her hair was loose, and she would not put it up until she dressed for the theatre. She was alone, and she expected no one.
Suddenly the door of the room was thrown open by the lodging-house servant.
“You’re father’s coming, miss,” the girl said. “He’s on the staircase.”
Connie rose quickly and stood waiting for her father to come into the room. Her face grew pale and determined, and she remained silent until he had shuffled up to the fireplace.
“Well, Connie,” he said, after the servant had gone away, “how are you, my dear? Cold night, isn’t it? You don’t seem pleased to see me,” he continued, after waiting for her to speak. “It’s a week since you left me, and I’ve got no money.”
Without a word she went to fetch a little money box, and took out of it ten shillings.
“I was going to send you this,” she said, as she gave him the money. “Remember, it’s all I have to give you till next week.”
“Do you call yourself a dutiful daughter?” he grumbled. She took no notice.
“If your mother was alive, you’d act differently,” he said.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Why, you wouldn’t take up with a lover and leave your home, “ he told her. “You’d stay with me.”
“With mother, you mean,” said the girl, whose voice trembled. “Listen! You lived on mother, and now you live on me, but won’t give you more than ten shilings a week, and I won’t let you have another chance of locking me out at night.”
“You’d like me to die in the workhouse, I dare say,” he said.
She made no reply, but fixed her eyes on him, making him shift his feet, and twirl his hat on his hand.
“When will you come home?” he asked.
“Not to your father!”
“You are my father,” she said in a low voice, “but you are a drunkard. I can’t love you, but for mother’s sake, I’ll keep you out of the workhouse. More than that I won’t do, and if you come here again – ”
“If you come here again, I’ll call a policeman.”
“You speak like that to your father, do you?” he whimpered.
“What sort of a father have you been to me?” she asked. “I’ve slaved for you ever since I can remember, and now mother’s dead, I’ll not do it any more. Don’t talk to me of a lover. I have no lover. I haven’t even a friend. You killed mother, but shan’t kill me. Go, or you shall be turned out.”
She looked very young with her yellow hair falling over the blue wrapper, but her eyes were full of determination, and her voice shook with suppressed scorn and anger.
This man, with sodden features and matted hair, was her father; she could not deny it; but he had no rights over her, and he should not come to her again, he should be content with the ten shillings a week she would give him. The night that he had left her at the mercy of a stranger, she had determined to break away from the miserable surroundings in which she had lived so many years. For her mother’s sake she had put up with this man, worked hard, lived without friends, and buried the shame of their home; but not that her mother was dead, she would be free from him. Ten shillings a week was all he should have from her and if he wanted more money he should go to work for it, or get it from someone else.
“I’m going,” he said sullenly, as she laid her hand on the bell. “You might shake hands, Connie.”
But she shrank away with such evident disgust, that he slunk out of the room, putting the ten shillings in his pocket.
When he was gone she sat down on the hearthrug, and buried her face in her hands. A reaction set in, and she realised the loneliness of her position. She must prepare for the theatre, and there must smile and dance to amuse the audience; and when the performance was over, must come back to this place – alone.
“I THOUGHT YOU WERE OFFENDED”
A few hours afterwards she was on the stage of the theatre, lost in a crowd of girls and women. She had danced before the public from her childhood upwards, and dancing had become a habit. Sometimes she took pleasure in it; but that night her feet seemed to be weighted with lead; the people in the theatre made a great blur of colour before her eyes, and she could not distinguish the gallery from the pit.
She danced with the music in a sort of dream, thinking of her father and his visit to her lonely lodgings.
At last the performance was over and she could wash the rouge from her cheeks and take off her gauze petticoats. She went to the dressing-room, and finding it full of dancers, sat down to rest. Beside her lay a pewter-pot and the crusts of a sandwich – the remains of a feast indulged in by one of the dancers between the acts. She pushed the things away, and laid her head on the table.
“You’re not well this evening,” remarked the dressed.
“Oh, I’m all right,” she said; “but I think the gas gives me a headache.”
The dancers took little notice of her, for they thought her “stuck up,” so she was not a favourite. They hurried away, and soon she was alone in the dressing-room. Then she put on her hat and jacket, and went through the theatre and out of the door.
“Connie!” said a voice in the darkness.
“Oh, Mr. Munro!” said Connie.
“I did not think I should see you again,” she said when he came to her holding out his hand, “I thought you were offended.”
“Because I ran away without saying goodbye. But I was afraid to stop.”
“No, but of meeting your housekeeper.”
“I was not offended,” he said, “of course not.”
He did not say that he had told his friend Grey about her visit, and that the cynic had advised him not to meet her again. He had stayed away for a week, but that evening his resolution had broken down, and he had come to see how she was getting on and what she was doing.
“Where are you going now?” he asked, as they walked away from the theatre.
“Home,” she said, “to my news lodgings.”
“So you have left your father?”
“Yes. I told you he should not lock me out again. I took lodgings for myself the day after I slept in your flat, and I’ve been in them ever since. They are rather far from the theatre, but that can’t be helped. You know it’s not easy for a girl to get rooms by herself.”
“I want to hear all about it,” he said. “Let us go somewhere , and have some supper.”
“Won’t you come home with me?” asked Connie, shyly.
“But your landlady?”
“Oh, she won’t mind! The front door isn’t locked till twelve, and you can go then. I don’t want to go anywhere for supper.”
“Because I might meet some of the theatre people. The Boss asked me to go to supper with him once.”
“Yes, and I wouldn’t go. If he saw me with you he might be angry; and then – “
“Oh, never mind! Here we are. Will you come in?”
“Well, for a few minutes.”
She unlocked the door, and led the way upstairs, feeling that it was all like a story book.
“It’s not a grand place like your flat” she said when they reached her room.
“It looks very nice and comfortable,” he told her.
Then she went away to take off her hat and jacket, and t fetch the supper. She had only bread and cheese to offer her visitor; but she brought the tray to him herself and placed it beside the fire that blazed in the grate.
The room was furnished in the usual style of the cheap lodging-housing, with horse-hair sofa and horse-hair chairs, faded curtains and gay antimacassars. Munro examined the ornaments on the mantlepiece. Some large black hens sitting on white china nests, paper roses in a vase, a china shepherd with a dog and crook. Over the mantlepiece hung a picture of a church, surrounded by gravestones. This was not cheerful to look at, so he turned his eyes away from it to Connie.
She was dressed in black lace, which suited her yellow hair and her delicate, place face. Her big eyes had lost their sadness, and shone with pleasure and excitement as she moved about the room preparing the supper.
“Oysters and champagne are what I ought to give him,” she said to herself. “I don’t suppose he can eat bread and cheese.”
But, hungry on not, he did the supper justice. Perhaps he guessed she was anxious about the fare she had placed before him; at any rate he ate the bread and cheese with apparent relish, while Connie told him about the pantomime she was engaged in, the length of the run it was likely to have, and the value of her engagement.
“Let us push back the table and come to the fire,” he said.
The he drew her towards him, putting his arm around her waist. His friend Grey would have smiled, perhaps but the cynic was absent. A rosy colour flooded Connie’s cheeks, and she looked shyly at him while he talked to her about herself.
“You must be very lonely here,” he said.
“Yes, I am,” she admitted.
“And so the Boss wanted to take you out to supper, did he?”
“And you wouldn’t go?|
“Good child!” he said, drawing her golden head on his shoulder. “You won’t go with him if he asks you again?”
The neighbouring clock struck twelve. He touched her cheek softly with his lips, and then went away, leaving her very happy.
(To be continued.)