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, December 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.
THEY went upstairs with Connie and made her lie down on the sofa.
Then they talked to her about themselves. Bess had been a governess, Flora had been in a shop. They had met by accident and had become fast friends. So they had taken a house together.
“We had another girl here,” Bess said; “but she’s gone away for a bit. You can have her bed to-night, if you like.”
“Do you think I can get work?” asked Connie.
“What sort of work?”
“I was in the Profession, but it’s no good my trying for an engagement in a theatre before Christmas.”
“I told Flora you were a pantomime girl,” Bess said. “I was sure of it. Why did you give it up?”
“I lost my place.”
“Through some man?”
“And he’s chucked you up?”
“Just like ’em!”
“I hate men, and I love beasts,” remarked Flora, who had let Bess carry on the conversation.
“What’s more,” said Bess, “you’re in trouble, I guess. That’s why he’s bolted.”
Connie covered her face.
“Look here, dear,” said Bess, “you stay with us. We want someone to look after the house, and that’s about all you’re fit for. You won’t get any sort of work, depend on that. You stay with us, and we’ll look after you. The girl that’s gone used to keep the house. You take her place. When you’re well, you can pay us back, supposing you don’t cover your expenses; but you will, for it saves a lot to have someone to do the housekeeping. If you leave us you will only find yourself in the workhouse.”
THE EMPTY COTTAGE.
THE same evening Humphry Munro returned to Kew. He left his portmanteau at the station with a friendly porter, who promised to bring it later to the cottage, and walked home by the river, thinking about Connie, and congratulating himself that he was back at home again.
The grass looked fresh after the heavy rain that had fallen, and the trees had renewed their youth with Nature’s tonic. All was life and jollity on the river; canoes and boats passed up and down with girls and men in them, either busy with oars and paddles, or lazily enjoying the cool summer evening. The pedestrians looked cheerful, for a cloudless sky had enticed many people on to the towing path.
“There’s no place like home,” he said to himself, when he came in sight of the garden gate.
He wondered why Connie was not there to welcome him, and why the dogs had not heard his footsteps? When the gate fell back with a grating noise, and he passed into the garden, he heard loud barking in the cottage.
“Is she ill?” he asked himself.
Directly he opened the door the dogs jumped upon him in wild excitement.
“Connie!” he called loudly.
“Where can she be?” he wondered, when no one answered. He looked for her in the sitting-room and the garden, then he searched the kitchen.
“She must be upstairs,” he said.
The dogs followed him to the bedroom, and they sniffed at Connie’s white dress on the bed, and at her shoes on the floor.
Humphry Munro looked round the room; everything was just as usual there, everything was in order.
“She must have gone out to do some shopping,” he said; “but I wonder she did not stay in for me. I told her I should be home by half-past seven.”
The cottage felt strangely empty, for Connie had always been there to welcome him before this; he had never found the place deserted until this evening. So he went into the garden and sat down in the arbour with his pipe to possess his soul in patience.
It grew dark while he waited in the summer-house, and each minute he became more anxious; but he said to himself:
“Nothing can have happened to her; she will be here directly.”
The porter came from the station with his portmanteau; and after the man had gone away he went to the larder to find supper. He carried some bread and meat to the sitting-room and put the cellaret on the table, but he did not feel hungry. When he had emptied his glass and swallowed some cold beef, he strolled to the cottage gate, and leant on it, waiting for Connie.
“Where can she be?” he asked himself.
At last he went back to the cottage, listening to every noise, hoping to hear the gate open. But all was quiet. A light wind blew a rose branch against the window, no other sound broke the stillness.
“She might have left a note to explain it,” he thought.
Then he began to blame himself for leaving her alone in the cottage.
“I ought to have made her keep the charwoman here while I was in the country,” he said. “But no one has been here, everything is as usual; she must have left the place for some reason or other. I don’t understand it.”
The hours were creeping on towards midnight; so he lit the gas, leaving the blinds up that she might see the light from a distance; and he sat down in the sitting-room, where the dogs lay on the floor, watching his movements, and the parrot blinked its round eyes while it ruffled its green and yellow feathers.
“I’ll go to town by the first train and see if she is at the old lodgings,” he said.
He threw himself on the sofa and tried to go to sleep, but could not; and when the dim light of early morning came through the windows, he was walking up and down in the sitting-room and the passage.
The first sound that he heard was the milkman’s voice at the gate, and he went quickly into the garden to inquire if the man had seen Connie.
No, the man had not seen the lady. The milk-can had been left outside the garden gate the previous day, and there it was still, for no one had emptied it. Munro turned away, wondering if he had better go to the Police Station.
Drops of water were hanging on the blades of grass in the garden, and sparrows shook the dew from the leaves while they jumped about, looking for their breakfast. A tame robin had perched itself on an acacia tree to watch the chickens peck the corn up. The place looked so peaceful and homelike that Munro said to himself:
“Connie must come soon, and things will go on as usual.”
But the words did not make him feel any the less anxious; so he dressed and went to the station. The porters stared at him when he arrived on the platform, for he was well-known there, but he did not often put in an appearance so early in the morning. For a minute he thought it might be worth while to question the porters about Connie, but he decided that it would be best to make the first inquiries at the lodging-house. So he went to Hammersmith, and on to Charing Cross, and then he walked to the house where she had lodged after leaving her father.
He knocked. When the door was opened he was told that the former landlady had let the house and gone into the country.
“Miss Ufindel! I know no such person,” said the new woman. “I believe the lady who had this house before me wasn’t particler, but I take only single gentlemen.”
Mr. Munro turned away without heeding the stony stare of the British Matron.
“The idea of his coming here to ask for a girl at this time o’ day,” she said; “and a gentleman, too! He ought to be ashamed of hisself.”
She watched him call a cab, and wondered much where he was going next.
“Polly,” she said to the dirty servant who was toiling upstairs with the lodgers’ boots, “what was the name of the young girl that called here the night before last? Wasn’t it Ufindel?”
“Well, I never!” said the British Matron, as she went downstairs, “and quite a gentleman! I wonder where he went in that cab he got into? I’d like to know the ins and outs of it.”
The cab stopped at a house in a street facing the park, and Munro got out. He rang the bell, and when the door was opened he went upstairs to a room where his friend Grey was sitting at breakfast.
“Well, Munro, what’s up?” asked the cynic.
“She’s gone!” said Humphry.
“Who the deuce is Connie?”
“Don’t you remember the girl I told you about, who slept in your room one night when we had the flat?”
“Well, she’s gone.”
“Where was she?”
“In a cottage I took for her at Kew.”
“Oh! it came to that, did it?”
“I went home for a ball, and when I returned to Kew last night I found her gone.”
“With some other fellow?”
“No; hang it!”
“Suppose she found out you’re hard up.”
“I tell you that had nothing to do with it.”
“My dear fellow, these girls are all alike How long has she been with you?”
“Five months.” (To be continued.)