Harkives Summer Serial: ‘Connie’, Instalment VIII

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, January 1894, pp. 11-12. 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 XV. – Continued

“HAD another lover all the time most likely, and has now gone off with a richer man than yourself.”

Munro’s face blanched.

“Look here, Grey,” he said; “I love the girl. I am not in love. You understand the difference?”

The cynic’s eyebrows met together, and a sharp, short line came in his forehead.

“Perhaps she’ll come back,” he said presently.

“She has not left a line to explain her absence,” said Munro. “She was all right when I went away on Thursday. She was alone, because she would not keep a servant; she used to send ten shillings a week to her father, a drunken wretch in Drury Lane.”

“Have you seen the old toper?” his friend interrupted.

“No. I have been to the house where she lodged after she left her father, but they know nothing about her.”

“Her father is the most likely person to find her for you. He must know her friends and habits.”

“I’ll go to him at once.”

“Wait! I’ll go for you. She was in a pantomime, if I remember right. I’ll let him think I am manager of a theatre, that I can give her an engagement. If you go he will be suspicious. I will take a cab from Drury Lane to my chambers, so you can meet me there, after you have had some breakfast. Give me the man’s address.

Mr. Grey started on his errand, throwing a remorseful glance at The Times as he left the room. Twenty minutes later he was in a street leading out of Drury Lane, where a small crowd of women and children gathered to look at the rare sight of a cab stopping before a common lodging-house. He found Mr. Ufindel in a neighbouring public-house, enjoying a glass with some kindred spirits. Ragged, with sodden features and matted hair, Connie’s father looked a miserable object when the fashionably dressed barrister singled him out with the help of a boy whose wits had been sharpened by the payment of a sixpence for his services.

Mr. Ufindel had not seen his daughter for six months, he said. She sent him ten shillings a week, and that was only twenty-six pounds a year, little enough for a man to live on who had once taken leading parts in the provinces. Mr. Grey had a shilling to spare, perhaps.”

He shuffled to the cab and stood abjectly by the door until his fashionable visitor departed.

“I believe Munro really cares for this girl,” Grey said to himself. “But how he could place his affections on anything in Drury Lane is surprising.”

Then he bent forward to read the morning’s news on the posters, and his thoughts travelled from Connie to the House of Commons.

“It’s no good,” he said, when he arrived at the Temple and found Munro waiting for him in a room full of papers and law books. “The old toper knows nothing about his daughter. I have promised him five pounds if he finds her and sends her address here, so he will do his best. Depend upon it, Munro, the girl has gone off with some other man. You are well rid of her. How can any good thing come out of such miserable surroundings?”

“You don’t know Connie,” said Munro.

“I could tell you dozens of cases – ”

But Munro thanked him and left the room with an abrupt “Good morning,” before he could finish the sentence.

CHAPTER XVI

“YOUR WIFE MUST BE MY DAUGHTER”

“I must go to the police,” said Munro.

He returned to Kew, and went to the nearest police-station. But there he learnt nothing about Connie; he only received promises that inquiries should be made for her, and was advised to employ a private detective.

He turned away saying he would think the matter over and call again, and after leaving the police-station he went slowly towards the cottage. Presently he heard footsteps behind him, and turning round, saw a policeman hurrying to catch him up.

“Beg pardon, sir,” said the man, “but I’m Told you’re looking for someone you’ve lost from your cottage?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I saw two ladies go there the day before yesterday, about three o’clock in the afternoon. A cab pulled up a little way from the gate: one lady got out and rang the bell; the other stopped in the cab. A young girl in a white dressed opened the gate and the lady went in with her. It was raining hard, so I stood under a tree opposite for a bit; that’s how I come to see it. Presently the lady came out again with the girl and drove away in the cab. The girl looked very much upset. Is it her that you’re looking for, sir?”

“What was the lady like, the one who came in the cab?” inquired Munro.

“Well, she was tall and dark, and not unlike you, sir, in appearance.”

“Diana!” Exclaimed Munro.

“Beg pardon, sir?” “Never mind. After the lady drove away in the cab, what happened?”

“Why, the girl went back into the cottage and shut the door. I left the tree then, but I saw her again a few hours afterwards.”

“Where?”

“On Kew bridge.”

“What was she doing there?”

“Nothing in particular. She had on a dark dress then, and a long black cloak; but I knew her all the same. She stood on the bridge quite ten minutes; then she went towards Hammersmith. I passed by the cottage late that night, and the dogs were barking and whining, but all was dark inside. I’ve seen the girl about Kew this last four months. Is it her you’ve lost, sir?”

“Yes.”

“Well, my belief is the lady who came in the cab could tell you most about the business. I’ll keep a look out for the girl, and come round at once if I hear or see anything of her. I suppose there is someone in charge of the place?”

“Yes.”

Munro pressed a sovereign into the man’s hand and turned away, with the blood throbbing in his veins and his heart full of bitterness. He did not doubt for a moment that the lady thus described was Diana, who had somehow or other found out about Connie, and had taken advantage of his absence to pay her a visit. What his sister had said and done to Connie he did not know yet, but he would soon, he said to himself, for he would go home that morning. He forgot about Connie in his anger, and thought only of Diana, who had dared to go to his house and interfere with his arrangements.

He strode on to find the charwoman, and place her in charge of the cottage, and as he went he vowed that nothing should make him forgive his sister if any harm came to Connie through her interference.

Within an hour he was at Waterloo Station, where he snatched a hasty lunch, and took the first train home. His anger grew more intense as time wore on. He tried to read the newspapers, but could make no sense of the telegrams and leading articles, so he threw them away and stared out of the window until the train stopped at Chatbury. Then he hurried past the guard who opened the door of the carriage, took no notice of the station-master and the porters, but went quickly through the station to the high road and on to the hall.

The drawing-room windows were open, and he heard voices when he approached.

“I asked the Princess to come on my ‘At Home’ day. She did not know, of course, and visitors were impressed by the fact that Royalty barred the entrance.”

“It’s Mrs. de Burgh,” he said to himself; “no one else could be so snobbish.”

Then he came suddenly to the nearest window.

“Humphry!” Exclaimed Diana, “I suppose you have come to congratulate me on my engagement to Sir George McCannon?” she continued, growing very pale when she spoke. “How did you know about it?”

“No, I did not come for that purpose,” said Munro. “Mrs. de Burgh, will you allow me to speak to my sister alone? It is urgent.”

Mrs. de Burgh rose languidly and went out upon the terrace.

“Now, Diana, explain yourself!” said Munro as he came through the window and walked straight up to his sister.

“What do you mean?” inquired Diana.

“You went to my house,” said Munro, “and Connie has left it. Why did you go there? What did you do there? Answer me, or by God I’ll-”

“Hush!” said his sister; “Sir George McCannon is with father in the library.”

“I don’t care! Answer my questions!” “There was a letter-” faltered Diana. “Where is it?”

“I will fetch it.”

“You opened my letter!” said Munro, with horror and disgust written on his face.

“I did it for the best,” replied his sister. “Indeed I did, Humphry. I wanted to save you from the consequences of your own folly. I knew you did not realise what you were doing. I thought you might marry the girl if you had her letter.”

“Fetch it!”

Diana was not gone long, She returned in a few minutes with Connie’s note.

Munro took it from her without a word and read it. Then followed a long silence.

“Marry her!” he said at last. “Yes, of course!” His sister did not speak, and he stared vacantly at the carpet.

Presently the door opened and the Squire came into the room.

“Humphry!” he exclaimed, “you here! What’s the matter?”

“Read this, sir,” said Humphry, holding out to him Connie’s note. “This came for me two days ago and was opened by Diana. She has been to my cottage at Kew and driven away Connie.”

“Who is Connie?”

“The girl I am going to marry.”

The squire looked from his son to his daughter, then prepared to read the letter. He read it twice. Afterwards he said to Diana:

“Go to Sir George McCannon, my dear, and order tea for Mrs. de Burgh at once – on the terrace.”

“Well, Humphry,” he asked when they were alone, “what do you propose to do?”

“I don’t know, sir,” said Humphry. “You see, I had no idea of it – no idea of it.” The Squire walked to the window.

“She is such a little thing to be alone,” continued Humphry. “I must return to London at once, and look for her. I suppose if I find her I may bring her to the Home Farm?”

He looked wistfully at his father while speaking, and put Connie’s letter in his pocket.

The Squire did not answer for minute. Then he came to his son and laid his hand on the young man’s arm.

“No, Humphry,” he said; “you must bring her here. Your wife must be my daughter.”

(To be continued.)

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