Lisa of Lambeth
As soon as Liza had recovered herself she started examining the people on the brake; and first of all she took stock of the woman whom Jim Blakeston had with him.
'This is my missus!' said Jim, pointing to her with his thumb.
'You ain't been dahn in the street much, 'ave yer?' said Liza, by way of making the acquaintance.
'Na,' answered Mrs. Blakeston, 'my youngster's been dahn with the measles, an' I've 'ad my work cut out lookin' after 'im.'
'Oh, an' is 'e all right now?'
'Yus, 'e's gettin' on fine, an' Jim wanted ter go ter Chingford ter-day, an' 'e says ter me, well, 'e says, "You come along ter Chingford, too; it'll do you good." An' 'e says, "You can leave Polly"—she's my eldest, yer know—"you can leave Polly," says 'e, "ter look after the kids." So I says, "Well, I don't mind if I do," says I.'
Meanwhile Liza was looking at her. First she noticed her dress: she wore a black cloak and a funny, old-fashioned black bonnet; then examining the woman herself, she saw a middle-sized, stout person anywhere between thirty and forty years old. She had a large, fat face with a big mouth, and her hair was curiously done, parted in the middle and plastered down on each side of the head in little plaits. One could see that she was a woman of great strength, notwithstanding evident traces of hard work and much child-bearing.
Liza knew all the other passengers, and now that everyone was settled down and had got over the excitement of departure, they had time to greet one another. They were delighted to have Liza among them, for where she was there was no dullness. Her attention was first of all taken up by a young coster who had arrayed himself in the traditional costume—grey suit, tight trousers, and shiny buttons in profusion.
'Wot cheer, Bill!' she cried to him.
'Wot cheer, Liza!' he answered.
'You are got up dossy, you'll knock 'em.'
'Na then, Liza Kemp,' said his companion, turning round with mock indignation, 'you let my Johnny alone. If you come gettin' round 'im I'll give you wot for.'
'Arright, Clary Sharp, I don't want 'im,' answered Liza. 'I've got one of my own, an' thet's a good 'andful—ain't it, Tom?'
Tom was delighted, and, unable to find a repartee, in his pleasure gave Liza a great nudge with his elbow.
''Oo, I say,' said Liza, putting her hand to her side. 'Tike care of my ribs; you'll brike 'em.'
'Them's not yer ribs,' shouted a candid friend—'them's yer whale-bones yer afraid of breakin'.'
''Ave yer got whale-bones?' said Tom, with affected simplicity, putting his arm round her waist to feel.
'Na, then,' she said, 'keep off the grass!'
'Well, I only wanted ter know if you'd got any.'
'Garn; yer don't git round me like thet.'
He still kept as he was.
'Na then,' she repeated, 'tike yer 'and away. If yer touch me there you'll 'ave ter marry me.'
'Thet's just wot I wants ter do, Liza!'
'Shut it!' she answered cruelly, and drew his arm away from her waist.
The horses scampered on, and the man behind blew his horn with vigour.
'Don't bust yerself, guv'nor!' said one of the passengers to him when he made a particularly discordant sound. They drove along eastwards, and as the hour grew later the streets became more filled and the traffic greater. At last they got on the road to Chingford, and caught up numbers of other vehicles going in the same direction—donkey-shays, pony-carts, tradesmen's carts, dog-carts, drags, brakes, every conceivable kind of wheel thing, all filled with people, the wretched donkey dragging along four solid rate-payers to the pair of stout horses easily managing a couple of score. They exchanged cheers and greetings as they passed, the 'Red Lion' brake being noticeable above all for its uproariousness. As the day wore on the sun became hotter, and the road seemed more dusty and threw up a greater heat.
'I am getting 'ot!' was the common cry, and everyone began to puff and sweat.
The ladies removed their cloaks and capes, and the men, following their example, took off their coats and sat in their shirt-sleeves. Whereupon ensued much banter of a not particularly edifying kind respecting the garments which each person would like to remove—which showed that the innuendo of French farce is not so unknown to the upright, honest Englishman as might be supposed.
At last came in sight the half-way house, where the horses were to have a rest and a sponge down. They had been talking of it for the last quarter of a mile, and when at length it was observed on the top of a hill a cheer broke out, and some thirsty wag began to sing 'Rule Britannia', whilst others burst forth with a different national ditty, 'Beer, Glorious Beer!' They drew up before the pub entrance, and all climbed down as quickly as they could. The bar was besieged, and potmen and barmaids were quickly busy drawing beer and handing it over to the eager folk outside.
THE IDYLL OF CORYDON AND PHYLLIS.
Gallantry ordered that the faithful swain and the amorous shepherdess should drink out of one and the same pot.
''Urry up an' 'ave your whack,' said Corydon, politely handing the foaming bowl for his fair one to drink from.
Phyllis, without replying, raised it to her lips and drank deep. The swain watched anxiously.
''Ere, give us a chanst!' he said, as the pot was raised higher and higher and its contents appeared to be getting less and less.
At this the amorous shepherdess stopped and handed the pot to her lover.
'Well, I'm dashed!' said Corydon, looking into it; and added: 'I guess you know a thing or two.' Then with courtly grace putting his own lips to the place where had been those of his beloved, finished the pint.
'Go' lumme!' remarked the shepherdess, smacking her lips, 'that was somethin' like!' And she put out her tongue and licked her lips, and then breathed deeply.
The faithful swain having finished, gave a long sigh, and said:
'Well, I could do with some more!'
'For the matter of thet, I could do with a gargle!'
Thus encouraged, the gallant returned to the bar, and soon brought out a second pint.
'You 'ave fust pop,' amorously remarked Phyllis, and he took a long drink and handed the pot to her.
She, with maiden modesty, turned it so as to have a different part to drink from; but he remarked as he saw her:
'You are bloomin' particular.'
Then, unwilling to grieve him, she turned it back again and applied her ruby lips to the place where his had been.
'Now we shan't be long!' she remarked, as she handed him back the pot.
The faithful swain took out of his pocket a short clay pipe, blew through it, filled it, and began to smoke, while Phyllis sighed at the thought of the cool liquid gliding down her throat, and with the pleasing recollection gently stroked her stomach. Then Corydon spat, and immediately his love said:
'I can spit farther than thet.'
'I bet yer yer can't.'
She tried, and did. He collected himself and spat again, further than before, she followed him, and in this idyllic contest they remained till the tootling horn warned them to take their places.
At last they reached Chingford, and here the horses were taken out and the drag, on which they were to lunch, drawn up in a sheltered spot. They were all rather hungry, but as it was not yet feeding-time, they scattered to have drinks meanwhile. Liza and Tom, with Sally and her young man, went off together to the nearest public-house, and as they drank beer, Harry, who was a great sportsman, gave them a graphic account of a prize-fight he had seen on the previous Saturday evening, which had been rendered specially memorable by one man being so hurt that he had died from the effects. It had evidently been a very fine affair, and Harry said that several swells from the West End had been present, and he related their ludicrous efforts to get in without being seen by anyone, and their terror when someone to frighten them called out 'Copper!' Then Tom and he entered into a discussion on the subject of boxing, in which Tom, being a shy and undogmatic sort of person, was entirely worsted. After this they strolled back to the brake, and found things being prepared for luncheon; the hampers were brought out and emptied, and the bottles of beer in great profusion made many a thirsty mouth thirstier.
'Come along, lidies an' gentlemen—if you are gentlemen,' shouted the coachman; 'the animals is now goin' ter be fed!'
'Garn awy,' answered somebody, 'we're not hanimals; we don't drink water.'
'You're too clever,' remarked the coachman; 'I can see you've just come from the board school.'
As the former speaker was a lady of quite mature appearance, the remark was not without its little irony. The other man blew his horn by way of grace, at which Liza called out to him:
'Don't do thet, you'll bust, I know you will, an' if you bust you'll quite spoil my dinner!'
Then they all set to. Pork-pies, saveloys, sausages, cold potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, cold bacon, veal, ham, crabs and shrimps, cheese, butter, cold suet-puddings and treacle, gooseberry-tarts, cherry-tarts, butter, bread, more sausages, and yet again pork-pies! They devoured the provisions like ravening beasts, stolidly, silently, earnestly, in large mouthfuls which they shoved down their throats unmasticated. The intelligent foreigner seeing them thus dispose of their food would have understood why England is a great nation. He would have understood why Britons never, never will be slaves. They never stopped except to drink, and then at each gulp they emptied their glass; no heel-taps! And still they ate, and still they drank—but as all things must cease, they stopped at last, and a long sigh of content broke from their two-and-thirty throats.
Then the gathering broke up, and the good folk paired themselves and separated. Harry and his lady strolled off to secluded byways in the forest, so that they might discourse of their loves and digest their dinner. Tom had all the morning been waiting for this happy moment; he had counted on the expansive effect of a full stomach to thaw his Liza's coldness, and he had pictured himself sitting on the grass with his back against the trunk of a spreading chestnut-tree, with his arm round his Liza's waist, and her head resting affectionately on his manly bosom. Liza, too, had foreseen the separation into couples after dinner, and had been racking her brains to find a means of getting out of it.
'I don't want 'im slobberin' abaht me,' she said; 'it gives me the sick, all this kissin' an' cuddlin'!'
She scarcely knew why she objected to his caresses; but they bored her and made her cross. But luckily the blessed institution of marriage came to her rescue, for Jim and his wife naturally had no particular desire to spend the afternoon together, and Liza, seeing a little embarrassment on their part, proposed that they should go for a walk together in the forest.
Jim agreed at once, and with pleasure, but Tom was dreadfully disappointed. He hadn't the courage to say anything, but he glared at Blakeston. Jim smiled benignly at him, and Tom began to sulk. Then they began a funny walk through the woods. Jim tried to go on with Liza, and Liza was not at all disinclined to this, for she had come to the conclusion that Jim, notwithstanding his 'cheek', was not ''alf a bad sort'. But Tom kept walking alongside of them, and as Jim slightly quickened his pace so as to get Liza on in front, Tom quickened his, and Mrs. Blakeston, who didn't want to be left behind, had to break into a little trot to keep up with them. Jim tried also to get Liza all to himself in the conversation, and let Tom see that he was out in the cold, but Tom would break in with cross, sulky remarks, just to make the others uncomfortable. Liza at last got rather vexed with him.
'Strikes me you got aht of bed the wrong way this mornin',' she said to him.
'Yer didn't think thet when yer said you'd come aht with me.' He emphasized the 'me'.
Liza shrugged her shoulders.
'You give me the 'ump,' she said. 'If yer wants ter mike a fool of yerself, you can go elsewhere an' do it.'
'I suppose yer want me ter go awy now,' he said angrily.
'I didn't say I did.'
'Arright, Liza, I won't stay where I'm not wanted.' And turning on his heel he marched off, striking through the underwood into the midst of the forest.
He felt extremely unhappy as he wandered on, and there was a choky feeling in his throat as he thought of Liza: she was very unkind and ungrateful, and he wished he had never come to Chingford. She might so easily have come for a walk with him instead of going with that beast of a Blakeston; she wouldn't ever do anything for him, and he hated her—but all the same, he was a poor foolish thing in love, and he began to feel that perhaps he had been a little exacting and a little forward to take offence. And then he wished he had never said anything, and he wanted so much to see her and make it up. He made his way back to Chingford, hoping she would not make him wait too long.
Liza was a little surprised when Tom turned and left them.
'Wot 'as 'e got the needle abaht?' she said.
'Why, 'e's jealous,' answered Jim, with a laugh.
'Yus; 'e's jealous of me.'
'Well, 'e ain't got no cause ter be jealous of anyone—that 'e ain't!' said Liza, and continued by telling him all about Tom: how he had wanted to marry her and she wouldn't have him, and how she had only agreed to come to Chingford with him on the understanding that she should preserve her entire freedom. Jim listened sympathetically, but his wife paid no attention; she was doubtless engaged in thought respecting her household or her family.
When they got back to Chingford they saw Tom standing in solitude looking at them. Liza was struck by the woebegone expression on his face; she felt she had been cruel to him, and leaving the Blakestons went up to him.
'I say, Tom,' she said, 'don't tike on so; I didn't mean it.'
He was bursting to apologize for his behaviour.
'Yer know, Tom,' she went on, 'I'm rather 'asty, an' I'm sorry I said wot I did.'
'Oh, Liza, you are good! You ain't cross with me?'
'Me? Na; it's you thet oughter be cross.'
'You are a good sort, Liza!'
'You ain't vexed with me?'
'Give me Liza every time; that's wot I say,' he answered, as his face lit up. 'Come along an' 'ave tea, an' then we'll go for a donkey-ride.'
The donkey-ride was a great success. Liza was a little afraid at first, so Tom walked by her side to take care of her, she screamed the moment the beast began to trot, and clutched hold of Tom to save herself from falling, and as he felt her hand on his shoulder, and heard her appealing cry: 'Oh, do 'old me! I'm fallin'!' he felt that he had never in his life been so deliciously happy. The whole party joined in, and it was proposed that they should have races; but in the first heat, when the donkeys broke into a canter, Liza fell off into Tom's arms and the donkeys scampered on without her.
'I know wot I'll do,' she said, when the runaway had been recovered. 'I'll ride 'im straddlewyse.'
'Garn!' said Sally, 'yer can't with petticoats.'
'Yus, I can, an' I will too!'
So another donkey was procured, this time with a man's saddle, and putting her foot in the stirrup, she cocked her leg over and took her seat triumphantly. Neither modesty nor bashfulness was to be reckoned among Liza's faults, and in this position she felt quite at ease.
'I'll git along arright now, Tom,' she said; 'you garn and git yerself a moke, and come an' jine in.'
The next race was perfectly uproarious. Liza kicked and beat her donkey with all her might, shrieking and laughing the white, and finally came in winner by a length. After that they felt rather warm and dry, and repaired to the public-house to restore themselves and talk over the excitements of the racecourse.
When they had drunk several pints of beer Liza and Sally, with their respective adorers and the Blakestons, walked round to find other means of amusing themselves; they were arrested by a coconut-shy.
'Oh, let's 'ave a shy!' said Liza, excitedly, at which the unlucky men had to pull out their coppers, while Sally and Liza made ludicrously bad shots at the coconuts.
'It looks so bloomin' easy,' said Liza, brushing up her hair, 'but I can't 'it the blasted thing. You 'ave a shot, Tom.'
He and Harry were equally unskilful, but Jim got three coconuts running, and the proprietors of the show began to look on him with some concern.
'You are a dab at it,' said Liza, in admiration.
They tried to induce Mrs. Blakeston to try her luck, but she stoutly refused.
'I don't old with such foolishness. It's wiste of money ter me,' she said.
'Na then, don't crack on, old tart,' remarked her husband, 'let's go an' eat the coconuts.'
There was one for each couple, and after the ladies had sucked the juice they divided them and added their respective shares to their dinners and teas. Supper came next. Again they fell to sausage-rolls, boiled eggs, and saveloys, and countless bottles of beer were added to those already drunk.
'I dunno 'ow many bottles of beer I've drunk—I've lost count,' said Liza; whereat there was a general laugh.
They still had an hour before the brake was to start back, and it was then the concertinas came in useful. They sat down on the grass, and the concert was begun by Harry, who played a solo; then there was a call for a song, and Jim stood up and sang that ancient ditty, 'O dem Golden Kippers, O'. There was no shyness in the company, and Liza, almost without being asked, gave another popular comic song. Then there was more concertina playing, and another demand for a song. Liza turned to Tom, who was sitting quietly by her side.
'Give us a song, old cock,' she said.
'I can't,' he answered. 'I'm not a singin' sort.' At which Blakeston got up and offered to sing again.
'Tom is rather a soft,' said Liza to herself, 'not like that cove Blakeston.'
They repaired to the public-house to have a few last drinks before the brake started, and when the horn blew to warn them, rather unsteadily, they proceeded to take their places.
Liza, as she scrambled up the steps, said: 'Well, I believe I'm boozed.'
The coachman had arrived at the melancholy stage of intoxication, and was sitting on his box holding his reins, with his head bent on his chest. He was thinking sadly of the long-lost days of his youth, and wishing he had been a better man.
Liza had no respect for such holy emotions, and she brought down her fist on the crown of his hat, and bashed it over his eyes.
'Na then, old jellybelly,' she said, 'wot's the good of 'avin' a fice as long as a kite?'
He turned round and smote her.
'Jellybelly yerself!' said he.
'Puddin' fice!' she cried.
She was tremendously excited, laughing and singing, keeping the whole company in an uproar. In her jollity she had changed hats with Tom, and he in her big feathers made her shriek with laughter. When they started they began to sing 'For 'e's a jolly good feller', making the night resound with their noisy voices.
Liza and Tom and the Blakestons had got a seat together, Liza being between the two men. Tom was perfectly happy, and only wished that they might go on so for ever. Gradually as they drove along they became quieter, their singing ceased, and they talked in undertones. Some of them slept; Sally and her young man were leaning up against one another, slumbering quite peacefully. The night was beautiful, the sky still blue, very dark, scattered over with countless brilliant stars, and Liza, as she looked up at the heavens, felt a certain emotion, as if she wished to be taken in someone's arms, or feel some strong man's caress; and there was in her heart a strange sensation as though it were growing big. She stopped speaking, and all four were silent. Then slowly she felt Tom's arm steal round her waist, cautiously, as though it were afraid of being there; this time both she and Tom were happy. But suddenly there was a movement on the other side of her, a hand was advanced along her leg, and her hand was grasped and gently pressed. It was Jim Blakeston. She started a little and began trembling so that Tom noticed it, and whispered:
'You're cold, Liza.'
'Na, I'm not, Tom; it's only a sort of shiver thet went through me.'
His arm gave her waist a squeeze, and at the same time the big rough hand pressed her little one. And so she sat between them till they reached the 'Red Lion' in the Westminster Bridge Road, and Tom said to himself: 'I believe she does care for me after all.'
When they got down they all said good night, and Sally and Liza, with their respective slaves and the Blakestons, marched off homewards. At the corner of Vere Street Harry said to Tom and Blakeston:
'I say, you blokes, let's go an' 'ave another drink before closin' time.'
'I don't mind,' said Tom, 'after we've took the gals 'ome.'
'Then we shan't 'ave time, it's just on closin' time now.' answered Harry.
'Well, we can't leave 'em 'ere.'
'Yus, you can,' said Sally. 'No one'll run awy with us.'
Tom did not want to part from Liza, but she broke in with:
'Yus, go on, Tom. Sally an' me'll git along arright, an' you ain't got too much time.'
'Yus, good night, 'Arry,' said Sally to settle the matter.
'Good night, old gal,' he answered, 'give us another slobber.'
And she, not at all unwilling, surrendered herself to him, while he imprinted two sounding kisses on her cheeks.
'Good night, Tom,' said Liza, holding out her hand.
'Good night, Liza,' he answered, taking it, but looking very wistfully at her.
She understood, and with a kindly smile lifted up her face to him. He bent down and, taking her in his arms, kissed her passionately.
'You do kiss nice, Liza,' he said, making the others laugh.
'Thanks for tikin' me aht, old man,' she said as they parted.
'Arright, Liza,' he answered, and added, almost to himself: 'God bless yer!'
''Ulloa, Blakeston, ain't you comin'?' said Harry, seeing that Jim was walking off with his wife instead of joining him and Tom.
'Na,' he answered, 'I'm goin' 'ome. I've got ter be up at five ter-morrer.'
'You are a chap!' said Harry, disgustedly, strolling off with Tom to the pub, while the others made their way down the sleeping street.
The house where Sally lived came first, and she left them; then, walking a few yards more, they came to the Blakestons', and after a little talk at the door Liza bade the couple good night, and was left to walk the rest of the way home. The street was perfectly silent, and the lamp-posts, far apart, threw a dim light which only served to make Lisa realize her solitude. There was such a difference between the street at midday, with its swarms of people, and now, when there was neither sound nor soul besides herself, that even she was struck by it. The regular line of houses on either side, with the even pavements and straight, cemented road, seemed to her like some desert place, as if everyone were dead, or a fire had raged and left it all desolate. Suddenly she heard a footstep, she started and looked back. It was a man hurrying behind her, and in a moment she had recognized Jim. He beckoned to her, and in a low voice called:
She stopped till he had come up to her.
'Wot 'ave yer come aht again for?' she said.
'I've come aht ter say good night to you, Liza,' he answered.
'But yer said good night a moment ago.'
'I wanted to say it again—properly.'
'Where's yer missus?'
'Oh, she's gone in. I said I was dry and was goin' ter 'ave a drink after all.'
'But she'll know yer didn't go ter the pub.'
'Na, she won't, she's gone straight upstairs to see after the kid. I wanted ter see yer alone, Liza.'
He didn't answer, but tried to take hold of her hand. She drew it away quickly. They walked in silence till they came to Liza's house.
'Good night,' said Liza.
'Won't you come for a little walk, Liza?'
'Tike care no one 'ears you,' she added, in a whisper, though why she whispered she did not know.
'Will yer?' he asked again.
'Na—you've got to get up at five.'
'Oh, I only said thet not ter go inter the pub with them.'
'So as yer might come 'ere with me?' asked Liza.
'No, I'm not comin'. Good night.'
'Well, say good night nicely.'
'Wot d'yer mean?'
'Tom said you did kiss nice.'
She looked at him without speaking, and in a moment he had clasped his arms round her, almost lifting her off her feet, and kissed her. She turned her face away.
'Give us yer lips, Liza,' he whispered—'give us yer lips.'
He turned her face without resistance and kissed her on the mouth.
At last she tore herself from him, and opening the door slid away into the house.