Harkives Summer Serial: ‘Connie’, Instalment IV

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, September 1893, pp. 9–12. Microfilm available via the British Library.

CONNIE.

BY JOHN LAW,

Author of “A City Girl,” “Captain Lobe,” “Little Tim’s Christmas,” “His First Day’s Wages,” etc., etc.

CHAPTER VIII

THE BOSS REVENGES HIMSELF

“Humphrey is very late,” said Connie, looking at the little clock on the mantlepiece. “I hope he will come, for I must tell him everything.”

She looked pale and tired.

“It’s all the Boss,” she said to herself. “It’s his fault I’ve been sent away. I knew if he saw me at supper with anyone he’d not forgive it. He made the manager keep me on after the pantomime was over, and now he’s made the manager giver me a week’s notice.”

She thought of the diamond merchant who financed the theatre, a Jew, who had taken a fancy to her from the very first, and offered her presents.

How the diamonds glistened on his fingers when he ran them through his greasy hair! How he leered at her when he stood at the wings with “Master” written on his ugly face!

For months she had avoided him, and had refused his presents. If he had not seen her at supper with Humphry Munro, his attention might perhaps have been drawn away from her by some new dancer; but the night after Munro’s return to London, she had been persuaded by him to go to supper at a restaurant; and there she had been seen by the Jew who was prowling up and down between the supper tables. She felt so glad to see Humphry Munro again, that to refuse to go to supper with him seemed to her quite impossible: but while in the restaurant she looked uneasily up and down the room.

“Who are you looking for?” asked Munro.

“The Boss,” she replied.

And then, even while she was speaking, the head of the diamond merchant appeared from behind a screen.

“It’s he! He’s coming!” she said shrinking into her chair.

“Who?” asked Humphrey.

“The Boss. He’ll never forgive me,” she said. “I shall loose my engagement.”

The Jew did not see her at first. He prowled around, looking at the girls, in low-necked dresses, watching a new face, leering at one, whispering to another. At last she stood still, fixing his eyes on Connie. She grew pale, and her heart seemed to stop beating, but she whispered to Humphry, “Take no notice!”

Then the Jew came close to her chair, walking slowly with his eyes fixed on her face. She dropped the knife and fork on her plate and gazed back at him fascinated. Her tongue seemed glued to her mouth, and she was only sable to say when he moved off:

“I shall loose my place.”

Munro said: “Nonsense!” But the next day after rehearsal the Jew came to her and asked: “Will you come to supper with me to-night? You had better come,” he continued, with a smile, as he drew near to her and tried to seize her hand.

She could see a little diamond ring in his fingers, one he intended to slip into her hand if she allowed him to take it.

“No, I will not come,” she sad.

Then she ran away quickly, saying to herself: “Let him mash some girl who cares for a diamond ring and a supper!” But all the time she felt certain the Jew would revenge himself, for she had heard of his ways, and she knew he was master in the theatre.

That night she danced with a heavy heart and went home tired and restless. Sleep only came to her by fits and starts, and in her dreams she saw the Boss talking to the manager of the theatre. S the next morning she was not astonished to hear that her services were no longer required, that she must look out for another engagement.

“I only kept you on until I could fill your place,” the manager said, but way of excuse, “I dare say I can find room for you again next Christmas.”

To say anything about the Boss would have been worse than useless, so she went to the dressing-room, after wishing the manager “Good morning.” There she gave the dresser a shilling for a sick husband, but she did not tell anyone that the manager had giver her notice. On the way out of the theatre, she passed the Boss, and he turned his back on her, being busy with the manager.

She must tell Humphry Munro about all this, and she did not know how to put it; for she did not want him to blame himself. He did not belong to the profession, s he could not understand the importance of the Boss. But he must be told, for to-morrow she must see the agents and try to get a new engagement. In London she had no chance; she must go into the provinces. Into the provinces! Leave Humphry! Oh, she could not do that! What should she do? Her face grew paler each minute and tears came into eyes; but she would not cry. She walked up and down the room holding her hands clasped tightly together behind her back.

The clock struck six.

If Humphry was coming that afternoon he could not delay much longer. Perhaps he would not come.

She had been on tour with her mother, but never by herself; and she dreaded the new surroundings and the loneliness. Surely her life was harder than the lives of most girls, for her only friend was a man she had known but a few weeks, and leaving London would be absolutely friendless.

The door bell rang, and she knew that Munro was coming. She heard him on the staircase. Perhaps she had better tell him everything just as it had taken place; for then he would realise that the Boss was really master in the theatre, with power to have her salary raised or get her dismissed.

“Why, Connie!” said Munro, when he came into the room, “you look as if you had seen a ghost.”

“The ghost won’t walk for me much longer,” she said, trying t laugh.

“What! The theatre shut up?”

“No, but I’ve got a week’s notice.”

“Nonsense!”

“It’s true,” said Connie. “Come to the fire, I’m so cold.”

He say down in the armchair and tried to draw her on to his knee. But she shook her head saying: “I’m must talk to you.”

She leant against the mantelpiece and told him all that had happened.

“I must go into the provinces,” she said. For a minute he was silent. Then he came to her and drew her gently to him.

“It’s all my fault,” he said; “I’m so sorry Connie.”

“I knew you would be sorry,” she said. “But you must not blame yourself, for you don’t belong to the profession, so you can’t understand how angry it made the Boss to see me with you at supper.”

“I should only make matters worse by interfering,” he said, as if to himself.

“Yes,” said Connie.

Both were silent. She rested her head on his shoulder and looked down into the fire, so he could not see her face, only her golden hair.

“Connie,” he said at length, “if I ask you to do something for me and you don’t want to do it, you won’t be angry with me, will you?”

“Angry!”

“Well, vexed?”

She lifted her head to look at him, and an incredulous smile came over her face.

“We have only known one another a few weeks,” he said, “but it seems a long time to me. I love you, Connie.”

She hid her face.

“When I was at home, my sister told me I must marry a girl with money because my old home is going to pieces. I don’t want to marry. For one thing, I cannot afford it, and for another – ”

He stopped.

“Well, never mind,” he continued. “I love you, Connie; I can’t let you go into the provinces for you have become so dear to me. Let us take a cottage somewhere and be happy together. I will be faithful to you and take care of you. You are such a little thing to be all by yourself.”

He bent over her and kissed her hair.

“Will you trust me?” he whispered.

She raised her head slowly and looked at him.

“If I did this, should I be with you always?” she asked.

“Yes – always!”

She gave a deep sigh, then she said:

“Let me think of it, Humphry.”

CHAPTER IX

A COTTAGE AT KEW

Winter was over at last. Ut was early spring, and the first crocus had made its appearance in the garden of the little cottage at Kew, where Humphry had established Connie. The cottage stood by itself some way off the public road, surrounded by trees and shrubs that shut it away from the gaze of the curious. It was a bijou place that had been built for a well-known actress. She had grown tired of Kew, so Humphry Munro had taken it from her much below its worth, but at a high figure considering his income. He had done the thing in a hurry, intending at the time to make up for the extravagance by selling a horse; but the horse happened to be a favourite, so it remained in the stables.

He decided on letting the flat and living at his club when in town. His friend Grey had been obliged to leave him, so the furniture of the flat had been moved to the cottage Thus Connie found herself surrounded by all the things she admired so much the night that her father forgot her existence. The parrot arrived at Kew with the chairs, sofas, and photographs, and soon made himself at home in his new quarters, for the cottage now so closely resembled the flat it was scarcely possible to distinguish between the two places. One thing only was tabooed by Connie, that was the photograph of Diana in the plush frame. The Squire, however, had still the place of honour on the mantelpiece.

“Why does your father look so sad?” Connie asked Humphry Munro.

“Oh, he’s worried,” Munro replied. “Besides, he has no home life. A man must centre his affections on something, and no one can possible care for my sister Diana. He was devoted to my mother, and has never got over her death, although it happened so long ago. Come into the garden Con., and see the new flower bed.”

The little cottage at Kew suited Munro so well, be could not understand the change in himself. He had become quite industrious.

“Munro will do something yet!” his friends said.

Feeling free to stay away from the cottage, he was, in fact, nearly always there. He thought that he did not like to leave Connie by herself, and she refused to have a regular servant.

“Give me the ten shillings a week it would cost you for a servant,” she said, “and the I can keep my promise to my father. I should not like him to go to the workhouse.”

So Munro bought some dogs to protect her when he was absent, and, not feeling them sufficient protection, he went to the cottage almost every day. Saturday and Sunday he spent at Kew, working in the garden or strolling by the river. He did just as he pleased in the house, fr Connie was more like a child than a wife. “It’s bachelor life without its drawbacks,” he said to himself.

He like to see Connie at the gate waiting for him, when he came from the station, and to go with her into the little dining-room where she had prepared dinner; and after dinner, when he had locked the doors and come back to the fire, he liked to make himself comfortable in his armchair and smoke while Connie talked about the dogs, the chickens, the parrot, and the rest o the things that belonged to him. She belonged to him too, and he said to himself that she grew prettier every day. He was very fond of her, and began to realise that the change he experienced in himself was the result of having some one to care about. The flat had felt empty sometimes, even after his friend had come to live with him, and he had never cared for other people’s houses. The cottage at Kew suited him to perfection; and when Connie’s little head lay on his shoulder, he called himself the happiest man in London.

The only thing that troubled him was want of money. His father wrote dismal letters about the property, and occasionally he received a curt not from his sister on the subject of extravagance. The farms remained without tenants, and Diana said that it would be necessary to find a more competent bailiff if he did not settle at home.

He put the letters in his pocket, and tried not to think about them, for he was more than ever determined to go on at the Bar. He had influence, and the restlessness that had made work so odious to him had disappeared. He began to talk of what he would do later on as a barrister, and to believe that he had brains enough to become a success. Connie thought him a great man already, and could not understand what more he wanted. Would he he a judge and hang people? “It was nice to plead for prisoners, and get them off, but horrid to pass sentence upon poor men and women,” she said. She looked so pretty, with he great eyes wide open, while listening to his stories, that one day he put on his wig and gown for her special benefit.

The days passed into weeks, and the weeks became months, and still he was perfectly happy at Kew.

May came in its fresh green dress, and Kew looked its loveliest. The horse chestnuts by the river dropped their blossoms on the young grass, among the daisies and buttercups. Red may and white may, lilac and laburnum, came out in the cottage garden. Soon the view of the river was shut out by the foliage of the trees, and the cottage was enclosed by thick green leaves.

No visitor came to disturb them. When Humphry was in town Connie did her shopping. People looked hard at her, but what did she care? She bought the things that were wanted, and then went back to her little home with the dogs, her faithful companions. The theatre and the boss seemed to belong to a past existence, the memory of them became dim, and she lived entirely in the present. The dogs, the birds, the garden filled up her time when she had finished the housework, and if Humphry did not come one day, she knew that he would do so the next. She was not afraid of being by herself. Her father had his ten shillings a week, so she had nothing to trouble about so far as she was concerned.

But sometimes she looked wistfully at the Squire’s likeness on the mantlepiece. She felt that only a part of Humphry’s life belonged to her, that from much of it she was shut out. Did his family know of her existence. Probably not. Would he grow tired of her, and go back to his relations? He had promised never to leave her, but if she saw that he was tired of her she would leave him. Now he was happy, she knew that. Sometimes she lay awake at night, thinking, thinking, and he lay peacefully asleep and his dreams were pleasant.

There was something she must tell him before long. Would that make any difference? Well, she would never let him guess that she would like things to be different. But would he think of it himself when he knew her secret Spring passed into summer, and the roses began to bloom in the garden. Honeysuckle twined itself about the little rustic arbour, and mignonette grew among the sweet-peas that Humphry had planted beside the entrance. The days were hot, but the evenings were pleasant. Connie had grown rather pale and languid, and after her house-work was finished she was glad to rest in the arbour. The dogs told her when Humphry was in the sight or hearing.

One sultry July evening she say thus in the arbour, and the dogs lay near her on the grass. Suddenly they sprang up and barked, for they heard their master’s footsteps.

Connie went with them to the gate, and stood beside it in her light summer dress, waiting for Humphry.

“To-night I will tell him,” she said to herself.

“You look pale,” Munro said when he reached the gate. “Are you ill, Con?”

“Oh no, I’m all right. It has been very close here. I suppose it was hot in London?”

“Baking.”

He put his arm round her as they went back to the cottage, and looked anxiously at her.

“I’m sure you’re not well,” he said; “and the worst of it is,” he continued, “I have to go home. Diana is going to give a ball. She must have some reason for it, or she would not be so extravagant. Perhaps she thinks it is time Sir George McCannow came up to the scratch.”

“When must you go?” asked Connie.

“Oh, I’ll tell you presently. I have the letter in my pocket.”

After dinner Connie carried the coffee to the arbour, and Humphry followed with his pipe. Then he took the letter out of his pocket and began to read it. Connie watched his face.

“Well, I must go, I suppose,” he said. It will be rather fun. The old hall is a splendid place to dance in.”

He began to describe the hall, gallery, and staircase. Connie listened in silence.

“I can’t tell him now,” she thought. “I will write a letter and post it to him after he is gone; then he will know about it before I see him again.”

“But I don’t like to leave you alone, even for two nights,” said Humphry. “Are you sure you are not nervous?”

“No, not a bit.”

“What a plucky little thing you are!” he said. “Most girls would be frightened out of their sense if they were left alone like this.”

He looked admiringly at her, and then he noticed that she was much paler than usual. Perhaps it was the shadow of the honeysuckle that made her eyes look so large and dark, for they seemed to shine like stars in her white face.

He came to her and drew her head on his shoulder and kissed her golden hair. “Shall I tell him?” she asked herself.

But he began again to talk about himself.

“I shall only be away two nights,” he said. “Nothing shall make me stay longer. You see I must go, Con; I can’t help it; but I shall want to be back here, you may be sure of that. ‘There’s no place like home,’ and this is our home, is it not?”

A soft breeze moved the honeysuckle and carried to them the scent of mignonette. All was quiet in the garden; a lamp in the sitting-room gave a homelike look to the cottage.

“We are happy, Con, are we not?”

“Yes, perfectly happy.”

“You see, our life is so natural,” he continued. “we are young and love one another, and are together. That is how things were meant to be from the beginning; but men have spoilt things with their silly regulations and prejudices.”

A bat flew into the arbour and then back into the garden while Munro was speaking; months fluttered in and out, and solitary cricket chirped under the garden seat. Night came quickly on, and all was quiet, He drew Connie on his knee, and they sat there together in the dark watching the light in the cottage and thinking of their happiness.

“I can’t tell him to-night,” Connie said to herself. “We are so happy, and I don’t know how he will take it.”

She shivered and clasped her arms round his neck.

“You are getting cold,” he said. So he carried her into the cottage.

CHAPTER X

CONNIE’S LETTER

Munro had gone home and Connie was alone in the sitting-room. The window was open, so looking out she could see the arbour, the flower-beds and the shady trees. The scent of roses came to her with the warm air, filling the room with a delicious perfume. Again and again she looked up from the sheet of note paper that lay before her on the table, and her eyes wandered to the garden where nature seemed to revel in the brilliant sunshine. She had helped Munro pack his portmanteau in the room upstairs that morning, and while they were busy there together he had done a strange thing He had taken a small gold ring out of a case – his mother’s wedding ring – and tried to fit it on his own little finger. Then he had hesitated for a minute, put the ring back in the case, taken it out again, and at last said to her:

“Look here, Con, you must wear this for me. My father gave it to me when I came of age, but it is much too small for me. You must wear it for me, Connie.”

So saying, he had slipped the ring on her finger and run downstairs whistling.

Now she was writing a letter to him and her tears fell on the ring. She did not wipe them away because no one could see that she was crying.

“I wish I had told him last night, or he had guessed it,” thought Connie. “I don’t know how to put it in a letter. But he must be told, and I want him to have time to think about it before I see him again. He is with his father and sister by this time, I suppose. I don’t know what I am afraid of his sister, but I am. I believe if she knew about me, she would be angry. Humphry does not love her, but she is his sister.”

Connie went to a drawer and took out of it Diana’s likeness in the plush frame. For some minutes she looked at the photograph, then she replaced it in the drawer and returned to her letter.

DEAR, DEAR HUMPHRY,

You will be surprised to get this letter from me, as you only left to-day and are coming back tomorrow; but this is something I must tell you and I want you to think about it before I see you again. I wanted to tell you days ago, and I hoped you would guess. Dear Humphry, I shall be a mother before Christmas. We have been so happy here together, I am afraid our happiness has made me selfish, for I dread anything coming between you and me to make us less happy. But I think you will love it, I mean our child. The words are strange to me, I don’t understand them. They will seem stranger yet to you. Do you remember the little boy we found last week all by himself on the towing-path? You were good to him; and you sat up all night with Rolf, when the poor dog hurt his foot. I think of all this, and say to myself you will be good to it – I mean to our child. I shall meet you to-morrow at the station, and I shall know by your face before you get out of the train, if you are glad or sorry about it. – Your loving CONNIE.

“It’s too late to post the letter in the pillar box,” she said, when her task was finished; “I must take it to the post-office. Then I will go to the gardens, to the palm house.”

She went softly out of the house, for the dogs must not follow her to Kew Gardens; and soon she was walking on the soft, springy grass towards the palm house, thinking of the letter she had dropped into the letter-box at the post office. Bees wandered lazily among the flower beds, birds sang in the trees, and not dar off a band was playing. The gardens wore their usual holiday aspect, nevertheless a feeling of melancholy came over Connie as she went towards the palm house. There she found a seat in a secluded spot under a fern tree, and she soon became drowsy. In her dreams she saw Humphry place his mother’s wedding ring on her finger, and heard him say:

“You must wear this for me, Connie!”

(To be continued.)

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