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, October 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.
A SISTER’S KINDNESS.
“THE little fool!” exclaimed Diana Munro. “I knew that there was some sort of entanglement,” she added; “I felt quite sure of it.”
A leather bag lay beside her on the dressing-table, and upon her knew was an open letter.
“Some shop-girl, I suppose,” she said, pushing back her hair impatiently, and looking at an envelope that had fallen on the floor. “It is really too bad of Humphry! I wonder what father would say if he knew of it?”
She took up the letter and read it a second time, then put it down on the dressing table, and went to ring the bell.
“Give the letter-bag to Price,” she said to her maid who answered the summons; “I have taken out my letters.”
The July sun streamed into the bedroom, for it was ten o’clock; but she did not attempt to dress herself. She sat down again before the glass, and looked at Connie’s letter to her brother.
“It is a good thing I sent for the letter-bag,” she thought. “If breakfast had not been late on account of the ball last night, Humphry would have had this thing himself. I could tell by the handwriting there was something wrong in it. I did not like to open the envelope, but I am thankful now that I did so. Humphry must be saved from this entanglement. If he finds out the girl is going to have a child, he may marry her. He is capable of doing anything foolish. Now he does not realise what he is about. The thing must be stopped.”
She crossed her arms behind her head and gazed into the looking-glass as though the reflection there could help her.
“It is too bad,” she said. “Humphry never thinks of anyone but himself. I suppose he is in love with the girl. What a silly letter she writes.”
The gong sounded for breakfast, and Diana began to coil up her hair, thinking all the time about the girl whose letter lay on the dressing-table.
“I know what I must do,” she said at length when her hair was finished. “I must go to London and see this girl. If I can make her understand that she is doing harm to Humphry, perhaps she will give him up. Anyhow, I can try to bribe her. – But whatever I do must be done at once, for Humphry wants to return to London to-day. I must persuade him to stay with father until tomorrow, and meanwhile I must see this ‘Connie,’ and do my best to get Humphry out of the scrape. If he finds out—no, he shall not find out! I will take care that he shall not guess I have interfered with his arrangements.”
She dressed quickly, and rang the bell.
“I shall want you to go with me to London by the morning train,” she told the maid. “Pack my things at once. I shall only be away one night.”
Ten minutes later all her arrangements were finished, and she was downstairs at breakfast.
Her father and brother began to talk about the ball, but she cut them short.
“I am going to London by the eleven o’clock train,” she said. “I shall come home to-morrow. You will stay with father, of course?” she remarked to Humphry.
“I am sorry, Di, but I can’t.”
“Because I am due at the Temple.”
“Can’t you spare me another day?” the Squire asked. “I have a good deal to show you, Humphry. I thought we would ride over to the Home Farm together this morning.”
“Are you sure you will be back the day after tomorrow?” Humphry said to his sister.
“Quite sure. I’m only going to Mrs. de Burgh to do some shopping.”
“Then you will stop, Humphry?” the Squire said.
Humphry was obliged to acquiesce.
The Squire hurried out to order the horses, and Humphry left the room thinking, “I will telegraph to Connie.”
Then Diana went to see about her household arrangements. She had locked up Connie’s letter in her jewel-case, and the little gold key of it was hanging from a bracelet on her wrist. The letter was safe, she said to herself. Now she must think how it would be best to deal with this girl. She could tell better when she had seen “Connie.” Probably the girl was vulgar and commonplace. Very likely “Connie” had other lovers. The letter did not show much intelligence.
At half-past ten she left the house for the station, and after she was gone her father and brother went to the Home Farm. The roads were thickly coated with dust, so they trotted their horses on the grass under the hedges. The corn had begun to change colour in some of the fields, and an after-make of hay was being carted. The ride was pleasant, and Humphry noticed that the Squire was in good spirits.
At the Home Farm they put up their horses and went with the bailiff to examine some new cowsheds. Humphry understood farming, although he preferred the Bar, and he owned to himself that he would make a better farmer than barrister.
The Home Farm wanted capital, but, as his father said, farmers were taking their money out of land and putting it into business.
The Squire left him for a few minutes, and he stood looking at the farm-house, picturing Connie at the door, just as he had so often seen her in the Kew Cottage.
The idea was absurd, of course; but suppose he took this farm himself, and brought Connie to it! But capital was wanted, not only for this farm but for the whole estate.
The Squire came back and they rode on, stopping at the nearest post office for Humphry to send his telegram. When they reached the belt of trees that enclosed the park, they walked their horses slowly under the beeches and discussed Diana’s possible marriage.
“I shall be very lonely here if she goes away,” the Squire said.
“Oh, well!” said Humphry, “Sir George McCannon has not even proposed as yet!”
DIANA VISITS KEW.
THAT afternoon Connie sat in the arbour thinking about the telegram she had received from Munro. Her house work was finished, everything was ready for him, but he was not coming. Had her letter anything to do with his lengthened visit to the country? He made no reference to the letter in the telegram, he only said it was impossible for him to reach Kew sooner than the following evening.
“I almost wish I’d spoken to him before he went home,” she said to herself. “The letter has taken him by surprise. Perhaps he wants to think it over before he comes back.”
She had fed the chickens and the parrot, and had now brought her sewing into the arbour, because it was so hot in the house. The dogs lay beside her with their tongues out, for the weather was sultry. Some drops of rain had fallen, but not enough to be called a shower. The garden was parched and the creepers drooped from the walls of the cottage. There was thunder in the air, and the grey sky looked sullen.
Suddenly the bell at the garden gate gave a loud peal, and the dogs jumped up with angry growls to answer it.
“Who can it be?” Connie wondered, while she followed the dogs to the front of the cottage, for visitors were rare, and tradesmen did not peal the bell when they came to solicit orders. She called the dogs, and they came to her growling.
At the gate stood Diana Munro. Connie recognised her instantly from the photograph.
“Is he ill?” she asked, hurrying forward. “Oh, tell me, is he ill?”
“Who are you speaking about?” inquired Diana.
“Then you know who I am?”
“Oh, yes, you are Miss Munro. Is he ill?”
“No, my brother is not ill,” replied Diana. “My brother is quite well. Be good enough to open the gate.”
Connie slowly turned the key, and Diana passed into the garden.
“Please come into the house,” said Connie.
So saying, she led the way into the little sitting-room where Humphry’s things were littered about—pipes, papers, and photographs. The sitting-room had folding doors, and through the open window Diana could see the garden and the arbour. Nothing escaped her notice. The parrot, the dogs, the piano, the expensive furniture, and the luxurious carpet. All these things she noticed before Connie could ask her to sit down; but most of all she noticed the girl she had come to visit.
“I wonder who the girl can be?” she said to herself. “Pretty! One of those soft little things, all curves and no angles, that a man likes to pet and kiss. She moves well, and is graceful—almost a lady, I should say. Where did Humphry find her?”
“Please sit down,” said Connie, pointing to a chair.
She had steadied herself against the mantelpiece, for a strange sort of dizziness had crept over her. She was waiting for Miss Munro to speak.
Diana sat down on a sofa and thought for a minute.
Connie’s great mournful eyes followed her, and she was not sure how it would be best to deal with this little thing whose face was white like her simple dress, whose golden hair curled so simply about her head and neck. This was no pewter-pot that she could batter to bits, but something frail that she could break. So she took Connie’s letter out of her pocket.
“You sent this to my brother,” she said slowly, while holding out the little note in its envelope.
“I believe this is your letter?” said Diana.
“How did you get it?” asked Connie.
“My brother gave it to me,” replied Diana.
“He gave you my letter!” said Connie, grasping the mantelpiece with both hands, and speaking with a painful effort.
“Yes. The things you wrote distressed him very much; he was very much upset. I have come to see what can be done for him, how he can be saved from this—this entanglement.”
“Why did he not come himself?”
“My brother is young and thoughtless,” continued Diana, ignoring the question. “You may think, perhaps, that he has money because he keeps you here in idleness and luxury, but I can assure you that is not the case. He has not a penny of his own; he is entirely dependent on my father. I do not know your name. What is it?”
“My name is Connie Ufindel.”
“Well, Miss Ufindel, if money can be of any service to you—”
“Did he tell you to say that?” interrupted Connie.
“My brother has no money of his own, not a farthing! but my father makes him an allowance—and we—”
“Oh!” said Connie, “don’t!”
Her head had fallen on the mantelpiece beside the Squire’s likeness, and Diana could not see her face.
“If you care for my brother,” said Diana, “if you have any real affection for him, you will listen to me.”
Connie did not speak.
“This house is furnished with my father’s money,” continued Diana. “The money you have received from my brother has come out of my father’s pocket, Your child will be dependent on my father if you stay here. You are my brother’s mistress, a woman of no reputation, whose proper place is the workhouse. Living here, you do harm to my brother, whose duty lies at home. Before he met you he was about to marry a girl in his own position—a lady. His entanglement with you has kept him from making an honourable marriage. If you really care for him you will leave this house at once; you will go away before he returns to London.”
Connie raised her head to look at Miss Munro. She did not speak, but she seemed to be reading the face of her visitor. Diana’s likeness to Humphry was great; she could not fail to see it. But Diana’s face was cold like stone, and her eyes were pitiless. Connie looked at her faultless dress, small bonnet, neat boots, and shivered as if a cold wind had come through the open window.
The dogs wandered up and down the room, whining and sniffing at Diana. It had begun to rain, and thunder rumbled in the distance.
Diana looked at Connie, but Connie remained silent. She was thinking of Humphry. So he had given her letter to his sister, and sent his sister here to help him out of what they called “an entanglement”! He had brought her here for his amusement, and all the time he had wanted to marry a lady—some one in his own position. His promise to remain with her always had been a lie. He had kept her until she was going to have a child, and then he had sent his sister to offer her money! Money! money that was not his, that would make her dependent on his father and on this sister who had come here to insult her.
Diana rose from the sofa.
“I have left my maid in the cab,” she said. “What message shall I take to my brother, Miss Ufindel?”
“You can tell him he will never see me again.”
“I am going away to day,” continued Connie.
“You will be gone when he returns to London?”
Diana drew a purse out of her pocket and laid it on the mantelpiece.
“You can take that back,” said Connie; “I do not want your father’s money.”
“You are very proud, Miss Ufindel.”
“And tell your brother,” continued Connie, “tell him to marry this lady in his own position; tell him that I wish it.”
Her eyes flashed.
“You must think of yourself,” said Diana. “In your condition you will need money.”
“I can go to the workhouse,” said Connie.
“I am sure that my brother—”
“Don’t speak to me of your brother,” Connie interrupted. “And now, Miss Munro, you can go. You have insulted me long enough. If you do not go, the dogs shall make you.”
She stood up, shaking like a leaf, but with determination in her voice, and she laid her hand on the head of the nearest dog.
The game was won; but this girl’s eyes haunted her with their strange mournfulness, and made her feel that she could not go away without applying a salve to her conscience.
“Go!” said Connie.
“My brother would like to know that you are provided for,” said Diana.
“I will take care of that myself.”
“You will not accept any money?”
“Not one penny.”
“Then, good-bye, Miss Ufindel.”
Connie made no reply.
“Shall you write to my brother?” asked Diana.
“No, I shall not! He will never see me or hear from me again. Go! and give him my message.”
Diana went slowly out of the house into the rain, and Connie followed. The dogs growled angrily, but she held out her hand and let them lick it. She unlocked the gate and Diana passed through it into the road. Then Connie went back with the dogs into the cottage. The rain fell heavily, thunder rolled and grumbled, and Diana was wet through before she reached the cab.
“The most unpleasant thing I have ever done in my life,” she said to herself, as the cab rattled away from Kew. “But I have saved Humphry. I wonder who the girl is, and where she comes from! I daresay he is very fond of her. How angry he would be if he knew what I have done! But he will never know, for she will never forgive him.”
CONNIE LEAVES THE COTTAGE.
AN hour passed by, and yet another, and still Connie lay on the sofa with her face buried in the cushions. The dogs walked up and down, they whined, they licked her hands, but she took no notice of them. She did not cry; what was the good of crying?
“How could he do it?” she asked herself. “To send his sister to her with the open letter, what woman with the cruel face; how could he be so heartless?”
The thought of Humphry Munro as he had been only two nights before—her lover. Now he was gone, and it was as though she had never known him. She was alone—no, not alone!—she could not now go back to the old life, but must live on, and face what was coming. That woman had called her his mistress, and had said that her proper place was in the workhouse. She had been his plaything. All his gentleness and kindness had been a sham; all his promises deceitful. Now he had left her, and he would marry this “girl in his own position,” “this lady,” and never think of her again. Oh, it was cruel!
Rain beat against the windows and thunder rolled over the cottage, and she knew that a storm had come. The atmosphere seemed to press her down; her mouth was parched, her head was hot, she felt stifled. Words repeated themselves in her brain, but they made no sense; she was only conscious of a heavy pressure that seemed to keep her down on the sofa. When she got up it would be time to go away; for she would not spend another night in the cottage. But she need not go until the storm was over. At last the thunder rumbled in the distance, and the rain stopped beating against the windows.
“I must feed the chickens,” she said to herself.
It would be a relief to do something commonplace. Diana’s visit seemed like a dream, but she knew it had really happened, for quick thoughts presented themselves, cutting like knives into her consciousness, thoughts of the woman who had brought back her letter, of Humphry, and of her father, the drunken man who was her only relation, who would now blame her because she had no means to help him further. She sat up and put her arms round the dogs. They looked up lovingly at her. If only she might take them with her, it would be less lonely, for they loved her, and would protect her. But they belonged to him! She buried her face in their hair, kissing first one and then the other.
“They are hungry!” she said at last.
So she called them into the kitchen and fed them. Afterwards she prepared the food for the chickens and the parrot. All this she did as if in a dream, and when it was done she went into the garden, where the trees looked bright and refreshed and a delicious scent of earth came from the flower-beds. The grass seemed to be drinking up the rain that had fallen; drops of water trembled on the bowed heads of the roses. She stood for a few minutes looking at the place in which she had been happiest; then went back into the cottage to complete the arrangements she had to make.
Humphry would return the following day, so the animals would not starve if she left plenty of food in the parrot’s cage, the chickens’ coops, and the dogs’ troughs. The dogs would guard the house until their master came back to take possession of all that belonged to him. She would carry nothing of his with her, not a penny, nor a bit of clothing. The dress she had worn when she came to Kew had been laid aside; she would put on that and wrap herself in the old cloak she had used to cover her theatrical dresses.
She went upstairs to the bedroom and there took off the white dress Humphry had liked so much, and put on her old frock, the last she had bought with her own money.
“Father can’t have his ten shillings a week any longer,” she thought; “But I can’t help it now. I have kept him while I could, and as that woman said: ‘There is the workhouse.’”
Humphry’s likeness was on the dressing-table. Should she take that with her? No; she would never forget him, so she would not need his photograph to recall what he looked like; his voice would sound in her ears, his eyes would follow her until death brought forgetfulness.
(To be continued.)