Lisa of Lambeth


Two days passed, and it was Friday morning. Liza had got up early and strolled off to her work in good time, but she did not meet her faithful Sally on the way, nor find her at the factory when she herself arrived. The bell rang and all the girls trooped in, but still Sally did not come. Liza could not make it out, and was thinking she would be shut out, when just as the man who gave out the tokens for the day's work was pulling down the shutter in front of his window, Sally arrived, breathless and perspiring.

'Whew! Go' lumme, I am 'ot!' she said, wiping her face with her apron.

'I thought you wasn't comin',' said Liza.

'Well, I only just did it; I overslep' myself. I was aht lite last night.'

'Were yer?'

'Me an' 'Arry went ter see the ply. Oh, Liza, it's simply spiffin'! I've never see sich a good ply in my life. Lor'! Why, it mikes yer blood run cold: they 'ang a man on the stige; oh, it mide me creep all over!'

And then she began telling Liza all about it—the blood and thunder, the shooting, the railway train, the murder, the bomb, the hero, the funny man—jumbling everything up in her excitement, repeating little scraps of dialogue—all wrong—gesticulating, getting excited and red in the face at the recollection. Liza listened rather crossly, feeling bored at the detail into which Sally was going: the piece really didn't much interest her.

'One 'ud think yer'd never been to a theatre in your life before,' she said.

'I never seen anything so good, I can tell yer. You tike my tip, and git Tom ter tike yer.'

'I don't want ter go; an' if I did I'd py for myself an' go alone.'

'Cheese it! That ain't 'alf so good. Me an' 'Arry, we set together, 'im with 'is arm round my wiste and me oldin' 'is 'and. It was jam, I can tell yer!'

'Well, I don't want anyone sprawlin' me abaht, thet ain't my mark!'

'But I do like 'Arry; you dunno the little ways 'e 'as; an' we're goin' ter be married in three weeks now. 'Arry said, well, 'e says, "I'll git a licence." "Na," says I, "'ave the banns read aht in church: it seems more reg'lar like to 'ave banns; so they're goin' ter be read aht next Sunday. You'll come with me 'an 'ear them, won't yer, Liza?"'

'Yus, I don't mind.'

On the way home Sally insisted on stopping in front of the poster and explaining to Liza all about the scene represented.

'Oh, you give me the sick with your "Fital Card", you do! I'm goin' 'ome.' And she left Sally in the midst of her explanation.

'I dunno wot's up with Liza,' remarked Sally to a mutual friend. 'She's always got the needle, some'ow.'

'Oh, she's barmy,' answered the friend.

'Well, I do think she's a bit dotty sometimes—I do really,' rejoined Sally.

Liza walked homewards, thinking of the play; at length she tossed her head impatiently.

'I don't want ter see the blasted thing; an' if I see that there Jim I'll tell 'im so; swop me bob, I will.'

She did see him; he was leaning with his back against the wall of his house, smoking. Liza knew he had seen her, and as she walked by pretended not to have noticed him. To her disgust, he let her pass, and she was thinking he hadn't seen her after all, when she heard him call her name.


She turned round and started with surprise very well imitated. 'I didn't see you was there!' she said.

'Why did yer pretend not ter notice me, as yer went past—eh, Liza?'

'Why, I didn't see yer.'

'Garn! But you ain't shirty with me?'

'Wot 'ave I got to be shirty abaht?'

He tried to take her hand, but she drew it away quickly. She was getting used to the movement. They went on talking, but Jim did not mention the theatre; Liza was surprised, and wondered whether he had forgotten.

'Er—Sally went to the ply last night,' she said, at last.

'Oh!' he said, and that was all.

She got impatient.

'Well, I'm off!' she said.

'Na, don't go yet; I want ter talk ter yer,' he replied.

'Wot abaht? anythin' in partickler?' She would drag it out of him if she possibly could.

'Not thet I knows on,' he said, smiling.

'Good night!' she said, abruptly, turning away from him.

'Well, I'm damned if 'e ain't forgotten!' she said to herself, sulkily, as she marched home.

The following evening about six o'clock, it suddenly struck her that it was the last night of the 'New and Sensational Drama'.

'I do like thet Jim Blakeston,' she said to herself; 'fancy treatin' me like thet! You wouldn't catch Tom doin' sich a thing. Bli'me if I speak to 'im again, the ——. Now I shan't see it at all. I've a good mind ter go on my own 'ook. Fancy 'is forgettin' all abaht it, like thet!'

She was really quite indignant; though, as she had distinctly refused Jim's offer, it was rather hard to see why.

''E said 'e'd wite for me ahtside the doors; I wonder if 'e's there. I'll go an' see if 'e is, see if I don't—an' then if 'e's there, I'll go in on my own 'ook, jist ter spite 'im!'

She dressed herself in her best, and, so that the neighbours shouldn't see her, went up a passage between some model lodging-house buildings, and in this roundabout way got into the Westminster Bridge Road, and soon found herself in front of the theatre.

'I've been witin' for yer this 'alf-hour.'

She turned round and saw Jim standing just behind her.

''Oo are you talkin' to? I'm not goin' to the ply with you. Wot d'yer tike me for, eh?'

''Oo are yer goin' with, then?'

'I'm goin' alone.'

'Garn! don't be a bloomin' jackass!'

Liza was feeling very injured.

'Thet's 'ow you treat me! I shall go 'ome. Why didn't you come aht the other night?'

'Yer told me not ter.'

She snorted at the ridiculous ineptitude of the reply.

'Why didn't you say nothin' abaht it yesterday?'

'Why, I thought you'd come if I didn't talk on it.'

'Well, I think you're a —— brute!' She felt very much inclined to cry.

'Come on, Liza, don't tike on; I didn't mean no offence.' And be put his arm round her waist and led her to take their places at the gallery door. Two tears escaped from the corners of her eyes and ran down her nose, but she felt very relieved and happy, and let him lead her where he would.

There was a long string of people waiting at the door, and Liza was delighted to see a couple of niggers who were helping them to while away the time of waiting. The niggers sang and danced, and made faces, while the people looked on with appreciative gravity, like royalty listening to de Reské, and they were very generous of applause and halfpence at the end of the performance. Then, when the niggers moved to the pit doors, paper boys came along offering Tit-Bits and 'extra specials'; after that three little girls came round and sang sentimental songs and collected more halfpence. At last a movement ran through the serpent-like string of people, sounds were heard behind the door, everyone closed up, the men told the women to keep close and hold tight; there was a great unbarring and unbolting, the doors were thrown open, and, like a bursting river, the people surged in.

Half an hour more and the curtain went up. The play was indeed thrilling. Liza quite forgot her companion, and was intent on the scene; she watched the incidents breathlessly, trembling with excitement, almost beside herself at the celebrated hanging incident. When the curtain fell on the first act she sighed and mopped her face.

'See 'ow 'ot I am.' she said to Jim, giving him her hand.

'Yus, you are!' he remarked, taking it.

'Leave go!' she said, trying to withdraw it from him.

'Not much,' he answered, quite boldly.

'Garn! Leave go!' But he didn't, and she really did not struggle very violently.

The second act came, and she shrieked over the comic man; and her laughter rang higher than anyone else's, so that people turned to look at her, and said:

'She is enjoyin' 'erself.'

Then when the murder came she bit her nails and the sweat stood on her forehead in great drops; in her excitement she even called out as loud as she could to the victim, 'Look aht!' It caused a laugh and slackened the tension, for the whole house was holding its breath as it looked at the villains listening at the door, creeping silently forward, crawling like tigers to their prey.

Liza trembling all over, and in her terror threw herself against Jim, who put both his arms round her, and said:

'Don't be afride, Liza; it's all right.'

At last the men sprang, there was a scuffle, and the wretch was killed, then came the scene depicted on the posters—the victim's son knocking at the door, on the inside of which were the murderers and the murdered man. At last the curtain came down, and the house in relief burst forth into cheers and cheers; the handsome hero in his top hat was greeted thunderously; the murdered man, with his clothes still all disarranged, was hailed with sympathy; and the villains—the house yelled and hissed and booed, while the poor brutes bowed and tried to look as if they liked it.

'I am enjoyin' myself,' said Liza, pressing herself quite close to Jim; 'you are a good sort ter tike me—Jim.'

He gave her a little hug, and it struck her that she was sitting just as Sally had done, and, like Sally, she found it 'jam'.

The entr'actes were short and the curtain was soon up again, and the comic man raised customary laughter by undressing and exposing his nether garments to the public view; then more tragedy, and the final act with its darkened room, its casting lots, and its explosion.

When it was all over and they had got outside Jim smacked his lips and said:

'I could do with a gargle; let's go onto thet pub there.'

'I'm as dry as bone,' said Liza; and so they went.

When they got in they discovered they were hungry, and seeing some appetising sausage-rolls, ate of them, and washed them down with a couple of pots of beer; then Jim lit his pipe and they strolled off. They had got quite near the Westminster Bridge Road when Jim suggested that they should go and have one more drink before closing time.

'I shall be tight,' said Liza.

'Thet don't matter,' answered Jim, laughing. 'You ain't got ter go ter work in the mornin' an' you can sleep it aht.'

'Arright, I don't mind if I do then, in for a penny, in for a pound.'

At the pub door she drew back.

'I say, guv'ner,' she said, 'there'll be some of the coves from dahn our street, and they'll see us.'

'Na, there won't be nobody there, don't yer 'ave no fear.'

'I don't like ter go in for fear of it.'

'Well, we ain't doin' no 'arm if they does see us, an' we can go into the private bar, an' you bet your boots there won't be no one there.'

She yielded, and they went in.

'Two pints of bitter, please, miss,' ordered Jim.

'I say, 'old 'ard. I can't drink more than 'alf a pint,' said Liza.

'Cheese it,' answered Jim. 'You can do with all you can get, I know.'

At closing time they left and walked down the broad road which led homewards.

'Let's 'ave a little sit dahn,' said Jim, pointing to an empty bench between two trees.

'Na, it's gettin' lite; I want ter be 'ome.'

'It's such a fine night, it's a pity ter go in already;' and he drew her unresisting towards the seat. He put his arm round her waist.

'Un'and me, villin!' she said, in apt misquotation of the melodrama, but Jim only laughed, and she made no effort to disengage herself.

They sat there for a long while in silence; the beer had got to Liza's head, and the warm night air filled her with a double intoxication. She felt the arm round her waist, and the big, heavy form pressing against her side; she experienced again the curious sensation as if her heart were about to burst, and it choked her—a feeling so oppressive and painful it almost made her feel sick. Her hands began to tremble, and her breathing grew rapid, as though she were suffocating. Almost fainting, she swayed over towards the man, and a cold shiver ran through her from top to toe. Jim bent over her, and, taking her in both arms, he pressed his lips to hers in a long, passionate kiss. At last, panting for breath, she turned her head away and groaned.

Then they again sat for a long while in silence, Liza full of a strange happiness, feeling as if she could laugh aloud hysterically, but restrained by the calm and silence of the night. Close behind struck a church clock—one.

'Bless my soul!' said Liza, starting, 'there's one o'clock. I must get 'ome.'

'It's so nice out 'ere; do sty, Liza.' He pressed her closer to him. 'Yer know, Liza, I love yer—fit ter kill.'

'Na, I can't stay; come on.' She got up from the seat, and pulled him up too. 'Come on,' she said.

Without speaking they went along, and there was no one to be seen either in front or behind them. He had not got his arm round her now, and they were walking side by side, slightly separated. It was Liza who spoke first.

'You'd better go dahn the Road and by the church an' git into Vere Street the other end, an' I'll go through the passage, so thet no one shouldn't see us comin' together,' she spoke almost in a whisper.

'Arright, Liza,' he answered, 'I'll do just as you tell me.'

They came to the passage of which Liza spoke; it was a narrow way between blank walls, the backs of factories, and it led into the upper end of Vere Street. The entrance to it was guarded by two iron posts in the middle so that horses or barrows should not be taken through.

They had just got to it when a man came out into the open road. Liza quickly turned her head away.

'I wonder if 'e see us,' she said, when he had passed out of earshot. ''E's lookin' back,' she added.

'Why, 'oo is it?' asked Jim.

'It's a man aht of our street,' she answered. 'I dunno 'im, but I know where 'e lodges. D'yer think 'e sees us?'

'Na, 'e wouldn't know 'oo it was in the dark.'

'But he looked round; all the street'll know it if he see us.'

'Well, we ain't doin' no 'arm.'

She stretched out her hand to say good night.

'I'll come a wy with yer along the passage,' said Jim.

'Na, you mustn't; you go straight round.'

'But it's so dark; p'raps summat'll 'appen to yer.'

'Not it! You go on 'ome an' leave me,' she replied, and entering the passage, stood facing him with one of the iron pillars between them.

'Good night, old cock,' she said, stretching out her hand. He took it, and said:

'I wish yer wasn't goin' ter leave me, Liza.'

'Garn! I must!' She tried to get her hand away from his, but he held it firm, resting it on the top of the pillar.

'Leave go my 'and,' she said. He made no movement, but looked into her eyes steadily, so that it made her uneasy. She repented having come out with him. 'Leave go my 'and.' And she beat down on his with her closed fist.

'Liza!' he said, at last.

'Well, wot is it?' she answered, still thumping down on his hand with her fist.

'Liza,' he said a whisper, 'will yer?'

'Will I wot?' she said, looking down.

'You know, Liza. Sy, will yer?'

'Na,' she said.

He bent over her and repeated—

'Will yer?'

She did not speak, but kept beating down on his hand.

'Liza,' he said again, his voice growing hoarse and thick—'Liza, will yer?'

She still kept silence, looking away and continually bringing down her fist. He looked at her a moment, and she, ceasing to thump his hand, looked up at him with half-opened mouth. Suddenly he shook himself, and closing his fist gave her a violent, swinging blow in the belly.

'Come on,' he said.

And together they slid down into the darkness of the passage.

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