Lisa of Lambeth


Next morning on her way to the factory Liza came up with Sally. They were both of them rather stale and bedraggled after the day's outing; their fringes were ragged and untidily straying over their foreheads, their back hair, carelessly tied in a loose knot, fell over their necks and threatened completely to come down. Liza had not had time to put her hat on, and was holding it in her hand. Sally's was pinned on sideways, and she had to bash it down on her head every now and then to prevent its coming off. Cinderella herself was not more transformed than they were; but Cinderella even in her rags was virtuously tidy and patched up, while Sally had a great tear in her shabby dress, and Liza's stockings were falling over her boots.

'Wot cheer, Sal!' said Liza, when she caught her up.

'Oh, I 'ave got sich a 'ead on me this mornin'!' she remarked, turning round a pale face: heavily lined under the eyes.

'I don't feel too chirpy neither,' said Liza, sympathetically.

'I wish I 'adn't drunk so much beer,' added Sally, as a pang shot through her head.

'Oh, you'll be arright in a bit,' said Liza. Just then they heard the clock strike eight, and they began to run so that they might not miss getting their tokens and thereby their day's pay; they turned into the street at the end of which was the factory, and saw half a hundred women running like themselves to get in before it was too late.

All the morning Liza worked in a dead-and-alive sort of fashion, her head like a piece of lead with electric shocks going through it when she moved, and her tongue and mouth hot and dry. At last lunch-time came.

'Come on, Sal,' said Liza, 'I'm goin' to 'ave a glass o' bitter. I can't stand this no longer.'

So they entered the public-house opposite, and in one draught finished their pots. Liza gave a long sigh of relief.

'That bucks you up, don't it?'

'I was dry! I ain't told yer yet, Liza, 'ave I? 'E got it aht last night.'

'Who d'yer mean?'

'Why, 'Arry. 'E spit it aht at last.'

'Arst yer ter nime the day?' said Liza, smiling.

'Thet's it.'

'And did yer?'

'Didn't I jest!' answered Sally, with some emphasis. 'I always told yer I'd git off before you.'

'Yus!' said Liza, thinking.

'Yer know, Liza, you'd better tike Tom; 'e ain't a bad sort.' She was quite patronizing.

'I'm goin' ter tike 'oo I like; an' it ain't nobody's business but mine.'

'Arright, Liza, don't get shirty over it; I don't mean no offence.'

'What d'yer say it for then?'

'Well, I thought as seeing as yer'd gone aht with 'im yesterday thet yer meant ter after all.'

''E wanted ter tike me; I didn't arsk 'im.'

'Well, I didn't arsk my 'Arry, either.'

'I never said yer did,' replied Liza.

'Oh, you've got the 'ump, you 'ave!' finished Sally, rather angrily.

The beer had restored Liza: she went back to work without a headache, and, except for a slight languor, feeling no worse for the previous day's debauch. As she worked on she began going over in her mind the events of the preceding day, and she found entwined in all her thoughts the burly person of Jim Blakeston. She saw him walking by her side in the Forest, presiding over the meals, playing the concertina, singing, joking, and finally, on the drive back, she felt the heavy form by her side, and the big, rough hand holding hers, while Tom's arm was round her waist. Tom! That was the first time he had entered her mind, and he sank into a shadow beside the other. Last of all she remembered the walk home from the pub, the good nights, and the rapid footsteps as Jim caught her up, and the kiss. She blushed and looked up quickly to see whether any of the girls were looking at her; she could not help thinking of that moment when he took her in his arms; she still felt the roughness of his beard pressing on her mouth. Her heart seemed to grow larger in her breast, and she caught for breath as she threw back her head as if to receive his lips again. A shudder ran through her from the vividness of the thought.

'Wot are you shiverin' for, Liza?' asked one of the girls. 'You ain't cold.'

'Not much,' answered Liza, blushing awkwardly on her meditations being broken into. 'Why, I'm sweatin' so—I'm drippin' wet.'

'I expect yer caught cold in the Faurest yesterday.'

'I see your mash as I was comin' along this mornin'.'

Liza stared a little.

'I ain't got one, 'oo d'yer mean, ay?'

'Yer only Tom, of course. 'E did look washed aht. Wot was yer doin' with 'im yesterday?'

''E ain't got nothin' ter do with me, 'e ain't.'

'Garn, don't you tell me!'

The bell rang, and, throwing over their work, the girls trooped off, and after chattering in groups outside the factory gates for a while, made their way in different directions to their respective homes. Liza and Sally went along together.

'I sy, we are comin' aht!' cried Sally, seeing the advertisement of a play being acted at the neighbouring theatre.

'I should like ter see thet!' said Liza, as they stood arm-in-arm in front of the flaring poster. It represented two rooms and a passage in between; in one room a dead man was lying on the floor, while two others were standing horror-stricken, listening to a youth who was in the passage, knocking at the door.

'You see, they've 'killed im,' said Sally, excitedly.

'Yus, any fool can see thet! an' the one ahtside, wot's 'e doin' of?'

'Ain't 'e beautiful? I'll git my 'Arry ter tike me, I will. I should like ter see it. 'E said 'e'd tike me to the ply.'

They strolled on again, and Liza, leaving Sally, made her way to her mother's. She knew she must pass Jim's house, and wondered whether she would see him. But as she walked along the street she saw Tom coming the opposite way; with a sudden impulse she turned back so as not to meet him, and began walking the way she had come. Then thinking herself a fool for what she had done, she turned again and walked towards him. She wondered if she had seen her or noticed her movement, but when she looked down the street he was nowhere to be seen; he had not caught sight of her, and had evidently gone in to see a mate in one or other of the houses. She quickened her step, and passing the house where lived Jim, could not help looking up; he was standing at the door watching her, with a smile on his lips.

'I didn't see yer, Mr. Blakeston,' she said, as he came up to her.

'Didn't yer? Well, I knew yer would; an' I was witin' for yer ter look up. I see yer before ter-day.'

'Na, when?'

'I passed be'ind yer as you an' thet other girl was lookin' at the advertisement of thet ply.'

'I never see yer.'

'Na, I know yer didn't. I 'ear yer say, you says: "I should like to see thet."'

'Yus, an' I should too.'

'Well, I'll tike yer.'


'Yus; why not?'

'I like thet; wot would yer missus sy?'

'She wouldn't know.'

'But the neighbours would!'

'No they wouldn't, no one 'd see us.'

He was speaking in a low voice so that people could not hear.

'You could meet me ahtside the theatre,' he went on.

'Na, I couldn't go with you; you're a married man.'

'Garn! wot's the matter—jest ter go ter the ply? An' besides, my missus can't come if she wanted, she's got the kids ter look after.'

'I should like ter see it,' said Liza meditatively.

They had reached her house, and Jim said:

'Well, come aht this evenin' and tell me if yer will—eh, Liza?'

'Na, I'm not comin' aht this evening.'

'Thet won't 'urt yer. I shall wite for yer.'

''Tain't a bit of good your witing', 'cause I shan't come.'

'Well, then, look 'ere, Liza; next Saturday night's the last night, an' I shall go to the theatre, any'ow. An' if you'll come, you just come to the door at 'alf-past six, an' you'll find me there. See?'

'Na, I don't,' said Liza, firmly.

'Well, I shall expect yer.'

'I shan't come, so you needn't expect.' And with that she walked into the house and slammed the door behind her.

Her mother had not come in from her day's charing, and Liza set about getting her tea. She thought it would be rather lonely eating it alone, so pouring out a cup of tea and putting a little condensed milk into it, she cut a huge piece of bread-and-butter, and sat herself down outside on the doorstep. Another woman came downstairs, and seeing Liza, sat down by her side and began to talk.

'Why, Mrs. Stanley, wot 'ave yer done to your 'ead?' asked Liza, noticing a bandage round her forehead.

'I 'ad an accident last night,' answered the woman, blushing uneasily.

'Oh, I am sorry! Wot did yer do to yerself?'

'I fell against the coal-scuttle and cut my 'ead open.'

'Well, I never!'

'To tell yer the truth, I 'ad a few words with my old man. But one doesn't like them things to get abaht; yer won't tell anyone, will yer?'

'Not me!' answered Liza. 'I didn't know yer husband was like thet.'

'Oh, 'e's as gentle as a lamb when 'e's sober,' said Mrs. Stanley, apologetically. 'But, Lor' bless yer, when 'e's 'ad a drop too much 'e's a demond, an' there's no two ways abaht it.'

'An' you ain't been married long neither?' said Liza.

'Na, not above eighteen months; ain't it disgriceful? Thet's wot the doctor at the 'orspital says ter me. I 'ad ter go ter the 'orspital. You should have seen 'ow it bled!—it bled all dahn' my fice, and went streamin' like a bust waterpipe. Well, it fair frightened my old man, an' I says ter 'im, "I'll charge yer," an' although I was bleedin' like a bloomin' pig I shook my fist at 'im, an' I says, "I'll charge ye—see if I don't!" An' 'e says, "Na," says 'e, "don't do thet, for God's sike, Kitie, I'll git three months." "An' serve yer damn well right!" says I, an' I went aht an' left 'im. But, Lor' bless yer, I wouldn't charge 'im! I know 'e don't mean it; 'e's as gentle as a lamb when 'e's sober.' She smiled quite affectionately as she said this.

'Wot did yer do, then?' asked Liza.

'Well, as I wos tellin' yer, I went to the 'orspital, an' the doctor 'e says to me, "My good woman," says 'e, "you might have been very seriously injured." An' me not been married eighteen months! An' as I was tellin' the doctor all about it, "Missus," 'e says ter me, lookin' at me straight in the eyeball. "Missus," says 'e, "'ave you been drinkin'?" "Drinkin'?" says I; "no! I've 'ad a little drop, but as for drinkin'! Mind," says I, "I don't say I'm a teetotaller—I'm not, I 'ave my glass of beer, and I like it. I couldn't do withaht it, wot with the work I 'ave, I must 'ave somethin' ter keep me tergether. But as for drinkin' 'eavily! Well! I can say this, there ain't a soberer woman than myself in all London. Why, my first 'usband never touched a drop. Ah, my first 'usband, 'e was a beauty, 'e was."'

She stopped the repetition of her conversation and addressed herself to Liza.

''E was thet different ter this one. 'E was a man as 'ad seen better days. 'E was a gentleman!' She mouthed the word and emphasized it with an expressive nod.

''E was a gentleman and a Christian. 'E'd been in good circumstances in 'is time; an' 'e was a man of education and a teetotaller, for twenty-two years.'

At that moment Liza's mother appeared on the scene.

'Good evenin', Mrs. Stanley,' she said, politely.

'The sime ter you, Mrs. Kemp.' replied that lady, with equal courtesy.

'An' 'ow is your poor 'ead?' asked Liza's mother, with sympathy.

'Oh, it's been achin' cruel. I've hardly known wot ter do with myself.'

'I'm sure 'e ought ter be ashimed of 'imself for treatin' yer like thet.'

'Oh, it wasn't 'is blows I minded so much, Mrs. Kemp,' replied Mrs. Stanley, 'an' don't you think it. It was wot 'e said ter me. I can stand a blow as well as any woman. I don't mind thet, an' when 'e don't tike a mean advantage of me I can stand up for myself an' give as good as I tike; an' many's the time I give my fust husband a black eye. But the language 'e used, an' the things 'e called me! It made me blush to the roots of my 'air; I'm not used ter bein' spoken ter like thet. I was in good circumstances when my fust 'usband was alive, 'e earned between two an' three pound a week, 'e did. As I said to 'im this mornin', "'Ow a gentleman can use sich language, I dunno."'

''Usbands is cautions, 'owever good they are,' said Mrs. Kemp, aphoristically. 'But I mustn't stay aht 'ere in the night air.'

''As yer rheumatism been troublin' yer litely?' asked Mrs. Stanley.

'Oh, cruel. Liza rubs me with embrocation every night, but it torments me cruel.'

Mrs. Kemp then went into the house, and Liza remained talking to Mrs. Stanley, she, too, had to go in, and Liza was left alone. Some while she spent thinking of nothing, staring vacantly in front of her, enjoying the cool and quiet of the evening. But Liza could not be left alone long, several boys came along with a bat and a ball, and fixed upon the road just in front of her for their pitch. Taking off their coats they piled them up at the two ends, and were ready to begin.

'I say, old gal,' said one of them to Liza, 'come an' have a gime of cricket, will yer?'

'Na, Bob, I'm tired.'

'Come on!'

'Na, I tell you I won't.'

'She was on the booze yesterday, an' she ain't got over it,' cried another boy.

'I'll swipe yer over the snitch!' replied Liza to him, and then on being asked again, said:

'Leave me alone, won't yer?'

'Liza's got the needle ter-night, thet's flat,' commented a third member of the team.

'I wouldn't drink if I was you, Liza,' added another, with mock gravity. 'It's a bad 'abit ter git into,' and he began rolling and swaying about like a drunken man.

If Liza had been 'in form' she would have gone straight away and given the whole lot of them a sample of her strength; but she was only rather bored and vexed that they should disturb her quietness, so she let them talk. They saw she was not to be drawn, and leaving her, set to their game. She watched them for some time, but her thoughts gradually lost themselves, and insensibly her mind was filled with a burly form, and she was again thinking of Jim.

''E is a good sort ter want ter tike me ter the ply,' she said to herself. 'Tom never arst me!'

Jim had said he would come out in the evening; he ought to be here soon, she thought. Of course she wasn't going to the theatre with him, but she didn't mind talking to him; she rather enjoyed being asked to do a thing and refusing, and she would have liked another opportunity of doing so. But he didn't come and he had said he would!

'I say, Bill,' she said at last to one of the boys who was fielding close beside her, 'that there Blakeston—d'you know 'im?'

'Yes, rather; why, he works at the sime plice as me.'

'Wot's 'e do with 'isself in the evening; I never see 'im abaht?'

'I dunno. I see 'im this evenin' go into the "Red Lion". I suppose 'e's there, but I dunno.'

Then he wasn't coming. Of course she had told him she was going to stay indoors, but he might have come all the same—just to see.

'I know Tom 'ud 'ave come,' she said to herself, rather sulkily.

'Liza! Liza!' she heard her mother's voice calling her.

'Arright, I'm comin',' said Liza.

'I've been witin' for you this last 'alf-hour ter rub me.'

'Why didn't yer call?' asked Liza.

'I did call. I've been callin' this last I dunno 'ow long; it's give me quite a sore throat.'

'I never 'eard yer.'

'Na, yer didn't want ter 'ear me, did yer? Yer don't mind if I dies with rheumatics, do yer? I know.'

Liza did not answer, but took the bottle, and, pouring some of the liniment on her hand, began to rub it into Mrs. Kemp's rheumatic joints, while the invalid kept complaining and grumbling at everything Liza did.

'Don't rub so 'ard, Liza, you'll rub all the skin off.'

Then when Liza did it as gently as she could, she grumbled again.

'If yer do it like thet, it won't do no good at all. You want ter sive yerself trouble—I know yer. When I was young girls didn't mind a little bit of 'ard work—but, law bless yer, you don't care abaht my rheumatics, do yer?'

At last she finished, and Liza went to bed by her mother's side.

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