W. PETT RIDGE
"THREE WOMEN AND MR. FRANK CARDWELL," ETC., ETC.
C. ARTHUR PERSON LIMITED
HENRIETTA STREET, W.C.
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THE members of the Gilliken Gang, who, in the slow, thick stream of traffic in
Walworth Road, had been noticeable only for the peculiar whistle given when one
happened to be for the moment out of sight of her colleagues, turned into
Trafalgar Street, and the leader, a round, white-faced young woman of fifteen,
upset a sieve of Brussels sprouts from a stall, with calm, methodical air, as
though she were performing a duty for which she received generous State payment.
Some of her followers had less than her years; all wore black braided jackets
(pinned), maroon skirts, hats with plush decorations, and smart boots. It was
near to being a uniform.
[-2-] " Seen anything of them Bermondsey bahnders? "
"Not yet I ain't," replied Mord Em'ly. Mord Em'ly was a short girl, with a green plush bird in her hat, that nodded as she hurried up to the leader of the Gilliken Gang. She seemed pleased at being thus singled out for notice.
"You know a bit, Mord Em'ly," remarked Miss Gilliken, in complimentary tones. " Seepose you do a scoot round near the Paragon, and see if there's any of 'em about. D'you mind?"
"I'll do it," said Mord Em'ly, re-pinning her jacket, "like a shot."
"Don't let 'em see you," said a red-headed girl warningly.
"What d'you take me for, Ginger?" demanded Mord Em'ly, with some indignation. " A soft?"
"In 'arf a hour," ordered Miss Gilliken, " be back at St. Peter's by the r'ilings. If they're comin' over to - night, they'll cut across the Old Kent Road, along the New, and down by one of them turnings near Rodney Street. I'll get two of you other gels to go 'long East Street"
"I'm off," said Mord Em'ly.
"'Urry," suggested Miss Gilliken. " I sha'n't be 'appy till we've give 'em what-for."
Mord Em'ly started off at a run. At the corner of South Street she stopped for a moment to give [-3-] the whistle of the gang. The other members answered, and Mord Em'ly, flushed with the proud joy that comes to a young scout sent by his officer on a matter involving the existence of his country, gave a wild shriek, snatched the cap of a small boy as he sipped at the supper beer he was carrying home, threw the cap high in the air, and, taking the middle of the street, ran swiftly.
She gave and answered many salutations as she hastened towards the Paragon, being, indeed, a young woman with many acquaintances, although with few friends. She had ever a certain defensive manner; and when other girls, as she ran swiftly, called out, "Where y' off?" she answered, "Fine-out"—a reply that in no way compromised her or the gang. Once a lad jumped off the pavement and tried to catch her arm, and, by adroitly swinging round, she hit him so hard that, although he had the sturdy figure of a boxing-man, he staggered back to the kerb.
"Nice menners," said the repulsed youth satirically; "nice menners, I don't think. Best of being well brought up, that is!"
At the Paragon end of New Kent Road she stopped to take breath. There is a decorum about New Kent Road, with its tree-bordered pavements and calm dwelling-houses, that constitutes a silent [-4-] reproach to its noisy, restless, elder relative, and even on this Saturday night it was not without repose. Middle-aged couples, out for the purpose of buying forage for the home, and accompanied by the newest baby in order that it might thus early study economy, were going east to Old Kent Road, or west to the Elephant, as their fancy or their traditions dictated. Younger people walked arm-in-arm, and in these cases the lady had an ecstatic, far-away look that puzzled Mord Em'ly more than most things in this world.
There was a very fine hoarding near the point at which she had to remain on duty, and she looked at this with a critical eye. She liked best of all the poster for next week's drama at the Elephant and Castle Theatre, where a gentleman, who was obviously no gentleman, stood, with uplifted dagger, over a kneeling lady in evening dress, her hair down and her hands clasped, whilst a masked lady in black stood at the doorway, covering him with a pistol.
"Looks as though the toff's got hisself in a bit of a corner," said Mord Em'ly, cheerfully. "Dessay, if the truth was known— Now then, clumsy!"
"Who are you calling clumsy?" asked the young policeman who had accidentally stumbled against [-5-] her. He stepped to the kerb; their dispute went on over the heads of the intervening passers-by.
"Why, you," said Mord Em'ly aggressively. "It's your name, ain't it?"
"I'll let you know what my name is, shouted the young constable hotly, "if I have any of your lip. Move along, and don't block up the pathway.'
"Never merried that gel, did you?" asked Mord Em'ly loudly. The young constable was new to the L Division, and she had not seen him before. "I s'pose, as a matter of fact, she couldn't stand your fice. 'Tain't what you'd call 'andsome, is it now?"
A few people stopped and listened. One man advised Mord Em'ly, with great relish, to continue.
"She told me," said the small girl to the now scarlet-faced young constable—"of course, I don't know—but she told me that the sight of you used to turn the milk sour. That's what she said, mind. But, as I said, we're none of us perfect, and no doubt it was all the result of an accident. I s'pose when you was a lad you fell down and trod on your fice, and--"
The young constable, goaded to desperate action, stepped forward. In a moment Mord Em'ly had slipped dexterously aside, through the crowd, and by the time he had extricated himself from the [-6-] people and had returned to the side of the pavement, she was away on the footboard of a tram going west, snatching a ride whilst the conductor was taking fares above.
"I sha'n't forget you, my girl," cried the young constable fiercely; "you mark my words."
Stepping off the tram as the conductor descended the stairs, Mord Em'ly turned pale with a sudden fear. Near to the wall of a side street, on the south side, were a dozen young girls marching in irregular single file. They were very quiet, and the most precise moralist could find no cause for complaint in regard to their behaviour; occasionally one of them would call to the other by name, but the rest of their conversation was carried on in an undertone. Mord Em'ly watched them for a few moments, her mind full of self-reproof at having failed to intercept the enemy. Then, with the alertness of the London-bred girl, she bethought herself of a nearer way to the church. where the main body of her comrades waited, and holding her hat and its nodding green bird with one hand, she flew along the main road, took the next turning, and ran, although her side pained her, until she reached the railings of St. Peter's.
"Seen 'em?" asked Miss Gilliken, taking her cigarette from her lips.
Mord Em'ly gave her news breathlessly and Miss Gilliken, pinching the lighted end of her cigarette, placed it with care in the pocket of her coat. She whistled for the others, and they came round with a proud air of mystery.
"The forring foe," said Miss Gilliken grimly, "is approaching. The forring foe is going to get what-for within the space of fifteen minutes. The forring foe is going to get such a welting that in future it'll keep to its own n'i'bourhood, and not come interfering with other people."
"Good!" remarked one of the girls approvingly.
"Pull their 'eads of 'air," said Miss Gillikcn advisingly, " so that it 'urts; scratch for all you're worth; write your 'nitials on their faces. And if I give the whistle, run off 'ome separate like mad. J'ear? "
The members of the Gilliken Gang re-tied their back hair in knots, fixed their hats, and secured the laces of their boots. Then, keeping well in the shade of the houses, they walked quietly, but briskly, eastward. The bright moon cast a shadow half- way across the pavement; the rest of the roadway it illuminated brightly. The gang sniffed now and again when some appetising scent of frying came from the small houses, but nothing was permitted to arrest the gang's progress. Miss [-8-] Gilliken communicated her further instructions in a whisper, and the members repeated them to each other, pulling up their sleeves as they did so, and aiming blows at the air for the sake of practice. When, at one or two corners, they had to pass by a constable, the gang broke up and became, individuals, with no knowledge, and certainly no interest, concerning each other's existence, to become once more a gang when they were out of the policeman's sight. The warning for the temporary disbandment was always given quietly by Miss Gilliken herself
And there was no other word in the English language which could produce on the gang such an instantaneous effect.
Near South Street, Miss Gilliken, quick of eye, suddenly darted across the roadway, disappeared for a moment in the dark recess made by the entrance to a stable, and returned quickly, propelling a young lady of Bermondsey by the device of holding the prisoner's wrists at the back, and kicking her heels.
"Lemme go! " howled the Bermondsey girl. "Lemme go, I tell you. Lemme go, or else I'll—"
"You'll do a lot," said Miss Gilliken calmly, [-9-] "with me 'olding your wrists like this. Where's the others?"
"Ome in bed," answered the prisoner sulkily, and received as reward for the information a sounding slap. "That's my fice when you've done with it," said the Bermondsey lady. " Leggo, 'r else I'll kick."
"Why not be a sensible gel? " said Mord Em'ly to the prisoner. "You've on'y got to say where they're 'iding, and— Stiddy on! Whose shins are you 'urting of?" ,
"How many streets off are they?" demanded one of the others impatiently. "Are they 'andy, or ain't they 'andy?"
"You'll know whether they're 'andy or not when you come across 'em," said the prisoner boldly. "You'll know then. Don't expect me to send a wreaf to your funeral, because I sha'n't."
"As a matter of fact," said Mord Em'ly speciously, "we know all about it, and how many there are, and—"
"If you know all about it," said the prisoner, "why, there's precious little left for you to learn, and— 'Ere they are at last!"
This was a strategic and a thoughtful, but not a truthful, exclamation on the part of the young lady from Bermondsey. The Gilliken Gang faced [-10-] round affrightedly; Miss Gilliken herself was so far deluded by the announcement, that she loosened her hold of the prisoner's wrists. In an instant the prisoner was no prisoner, but one enjoying the advantages of liberty; the first of these advantages being that she could scud away out of range ere the Gilliken Gang discovered that they had been fooled. Mord Em'ly was the only one who recovered from her surprise with sufficient promptness to run after her, and Mord Em'ly returned quickly.
"They're just round the corner," screamed Mord Em'ly, " a-'iding-."
Three of the gang, obeying a wave of Miss Gilliken's hand, went down the first street. The other three under her command went forward with determination. At the corner they suddenly turned and rushed swiftly down the narrow roadway that the moon was lighting up from end to end. At the doorways black shadows had been waiting, and, when the wild scream of the offensive detachment was heard, these shadows stepped briskly out and became the Bermondsey Gang.
"Stick close to me, Mord Em'ly," shouted Miss Gilliken. " Don't want you to go and get 'urt,"
"Don't care if I am," cried Mord Emily, quite breathless. " Ah, would you, Jumbo? " This to [-11-] a stout enemy who had nearly caught her jacket. " I'll learn you, you—"
Instantly the battle became fierce. The upper windows in the street went up (those below were shuttered), and women looked out with great interest as the contestants pulled at each other, and tugged at each other's clothes; the manly punching of the air rehearsed by the Gilliken Gang seemed forgotten here. The girls yelled as they rushed about blindly; some of them were so vague in manner that they stood near and whirled their arms erratically, and for some time did nothing else. Others seized their opponents' hats, partly in order to throw them into the fray, where they could receive damage; partly that the owners' hair might be more easy of attack. Miss Gilliken was conspicuously adroit in the trick of getting two opponents together, so that it was possible for her to scratch, pommel, and assail them both at the same time, until a third opponent came to distract her attention. The shrill screams and oaths of the opposing forces filled the air.
"There's one for ye, ye—"
"Gimme back my 'at. Gimme back my 'at, I tell you. You won't? Then take that!"
"Coward, to hit anybody littler than yerself, [-12-] you— Touch me, and see what'll 'appen to you. Your lovin' parents won't know you when I've finished with you."
"Emmer, Emmer! come and 'elp! Emmer, I want you 'ere this minnit."
"Ah, would you? You pretty beauty! I'll Bermondsey you, you—"
"Gillikens to the rescue! Gillikens to the rescue!"
The ex-prisoner caught Mord Em'ly as she was shrieking for the other detachment (which seemed to be delayed), and, inserting her fist between the collar of Mord Em'ly's bodice at the nape of her neck, made her stop, and choke, and become purple of face.
"This is getting me own back again," said the ex-prisoner, through her teeth. 'Now we're getting a bit even, you—"
"It—it 'urts," gurgled Mord Em'ly piteously.
"That's the idea," said the Bermondsey girl. She called to one of her gang, " Scotchy, come and punch her nose."
The girl appealed to found herself intercepted by Miss Gilliken, who adroitly tripped her up, threw her down in the road, and kicked her. Miss Gilliken, her face aflame with anger, and with a broad scratch on the left side, from which [-13-] blood was coming slowly, turned and saw the large, bolting eyes, and the purple face of Mord Em'ly. As she started to Mord Em'ly's assistance, the girl on the ground seized her maroon skirt, and it tore with a harsh sound that could be heard above the fierce wrangling of voices.
"Want to kill anybody?" screamed Miss Gilliken furiously. "Why, you'll 'ave all the breath out of her body. Give over!"
A simple remedy. Miss Gilliken brought the side of her hand (and it was a good-sized hand) smartly down on the wrist of the hand which was holding the collar of poor Mord Em'ly's dress. The wrist was still painful from its recent twisting, and this sharp blow made the Bermondsey girl loosen her grip, with a howl. Released, Mord Em'ly staggered round and fell into Miss Gilliken's arms. The women at the windows above yelled to the excited girls to stop, and one at an open doorway, a large, red-faced woman, shuffled into the fray, and, rescuing the limp body of Mord Em'ly, dragged her across the pavement into her house. At that moment the missing detachment (which had taken a wrong turning) arrived at the rear of the now exhausted Bermondsey Gang; punched, scratched, and tore the Bermondsey [-14-] Gang; kicked, mauled, and buffeted the Bermondsey Gang; upbraided, condemned, and ridiculed the Bermondsey Gang; advised, warned, and threatened the Bermondsey Gang; and, finally, chased them down into East Street, where the defeated girls found refuge in the Saturday night crowd.
"If you was a daughter of miern," said the red-faced woman, as she patted Mord Em'ly's forehead with a flannel soaked in vinegar, " I'd punish you more for this than anything. You ain't strong enough for this rowdy, tomboy business. Why don't you stay at 'ome and 'elp mother?"
"That's my business," replied Mord Em'ly, with reserve.
"Yes, and you ought to look after it," said the woman. "You've got a nice face, and if you're sensible you'll be 'appy, and if you ain't you won't."
"I know what I'm up to," said Mord Em'ly.
"You think you know," said the woman acutely, "but you don't know. You're getting yourself mixed up— Does your neck 'urt, my girl, where this bruise is?"
"Your touching it with your clumsy paw don't improve it," she said gruffly.
"Mixed up with a rough set," said the motherly [-15-] woman, buttoning Mord Em'ly's blouse at the throat very gently, "and if I was you I should get shot of 'em as quick as ever you can. D'you go out to work?"
"I do a bit of step-cleanin';' she said sullenly, if you must know."
"How old might you be?"
"I might be a 'undred and forty-nine," said Mord Em'ly, looking at herself anxiously in a square of unframed looking-glass on the wall. "I am jest close upon thirteen."
"I had a little gel once," said the red-faced woman thoughtfully. "Born about the time you was, I expect."
"Norwood Cimet'ry," said the red-faced woman, looking at herself absently in the shuttered window. "Three p'un' ten I paid for her putting away." She pressed her eyes with the corner
of her apron. "And I've never begrudged at penny of it."
"Thank ye for bringin' me to," said Mord Em'ly.
"It's all right, my gel," said the motherly woman. "Take care of yerself, and remember what I've been telling ye."
Outside, Miss Gilliken, having dismissed her [-16-] followers, was, aglow with victory, waiting for Mord Em'ly. She had pinned up her maroon-coloured skirt, and had evidently been at some trouble to restore coherence to her black straw hat; the broad scratch on her face gave her no concern, and was, in truth, a mark in regard to which she felt some pride. The street, littered with odd strips of braid and broken feathers, showed signs of having been disturbed by shuffling boots and clogs.
"'How you comin' up? " asked Miss Gilliken, with some anxiety. "You was a silly to go and do a faint."
"I know!" said the girl apologetically.
"I'll see you 'ome to your place, if you like."
"P'r'aps it wouldn't be a bad idea. I feel a bit rocky still."
"You must try and be more grown up," recommended Miss Gilliken, putting her arm round Mord Em'ly's neck as they walked along. "Else a little set-to like this tells on you. I reckon we rather give 'em what-for, though. They won't come trespassing down 'ere again for a few weeks, I lay."
"I ain't first-class," admitted little Mord Em'ly, "in a tussle. I seem so noo to it, somehow."
[-17-] "You'll improve," said Miss Gilliken. "Sing some'ing "
The roads leading across Alvey Street were quiet now, for it was near to midnight, and some of the inhabitants were a bed, and some were packed in the bars of public-houses, endeavouring to get served before the church clocks sounded the hour. Miss Gilliken and Mord Em'ly went along, keeping step as they walked, and Mord Em'ly sang, in a shrill voice, a sentimental song, to which Miss Gilliken contributed now and again what she called "seconds," which consisted of growling the words an octave lower than the original air:-
"Kathleen O'Cleary, I love thee so dearly,
My 'cart is near brokun in twine ;
'Tis true I'm a-troublin' to leave ye in Dublin,
Perhaps I'll ne'er see thee agine."
Mord Em'ly sang the lugubrious ballad with the quavering inflection popular among out-of-door vocalists, and Miss Gilliken, coming in occasionally with her grumbled assistance, thought that Mord Em'ly's voice was delightful, and felt gratified to have the acquaintance of its gifted owner. This admiration was not universal. Some bemused passers-by begged Mord Em'ly to cease, on the grounds that her voice was putting out the gas-[-18-]lights; the young policeman of New Kent Road, waiting in the shadow of a public-house for the barman to bring the proprietor's offering, strode forward, and, tapping her on the shoulder, asked whether she particularly wanted to find herself in Rodney Road. Miss Gilliken, for the defence, argued with much volubility, and, in walking on, so overwhelmed the young constable with irony, and satire and contumely, that, had it not been for his appointment with the barman, the young constable would have felt bound to have taken serious notice of the matter.
"I've got me eye on you," called out the young constable threateningly.
"I'm getting tired of that remark of yourn," shouted Mord Em'ly. "Why don't you think of something fresh?"
At the entrance to Block C of Pandora Buildings, Miss Gilliken said good-night to Mord Em'ly. They did not kiss, but they gave each other friendly punches, and Mord Em'ly, having succeeded in shoving her companion against a woman carrying home an armful of firewood, with the result that the bundles fell and rolled in various directions, ran swiftly through the iron gates and up the narrow, white-tiled staircases leading to the third floor. There was always an odour of dis-[-19-]infectants in the buildings which remained victorious after conquering other scents; at each landing a passage led away to the left, with numbered doors on either side. Mord Em'ly's mother, who lived in two rooms, numbered 345, was a lady with a taste for disputes, whose voice was to be heard not infrequently complaining (to Mord Em'ly's regret) of the behaviour of neighbours. She was a thin, wiry, lean-faced, hardworking woman, who found her chief recreation on returning from work in thus reviewing loudly the conduct of her acquaintances. To this rule Saturday night was an exception. Then it was, to Mord Em'ly's great content, that her mother purchased the weekly treat of three-pennyworth of spirits, and the drinking of this acted upon Mord Em'ly's mother as a charm. It transformed her from a complaining, quarrelsome, world-harried woman into one with a tolerant eye for all, with a maternal affection for her daughter, with an intense desire to apologise to everybody. The key was in the door, and Mord Em'ly, going in found her mother rocking herself on a chair in front of the fireplace, and holding conversation with a suppostitious visitor.
"And if I've said anything at any time," said Mord Em'ly's mother to the fireplace, "that's'urt
[-20-] your feelings, Mrs. What-is-it, why, I can only assure you I'm humbly sorry. You mustn't take no notice of what I say. People think I'm serious when I'm only jokey, and 'ence there's what I may call misunderstandings and cross-purposes. As for you, Mrs. What-is-it, I'm perfectly aware that you're the only lidy in the buildings, and I've always said so, through thick and thin. Others 'ave complained because you didn't whiten the landing when it was your turn, but me — never!"
Mord Em'ly's mother closed her eyes, and opened them again.
"I must bring everybody back some cream next time I go down by the Great Western to my friends in Dorsetshire. I shall be going down next month, please Gawd. Always go down every year, mind you, to see where my poor dear rusband's berried. Ah! he was a good man, if there ever was one."
"The Kinservatives 'ave won, mother," said Mord Em'ly, as she unlaced her boots.
"'Ooray!" said Mord Emily's mother sleepily. "Sooner they got in than them blessed old Tories. Goo' gel to come and bring your poor old mother all the best news."
"Queen's got another great-gran'child."
[-21-] "Brayvo us! " said Mord Em'ly's mother. " What a 'appy world it is for those that's got 'ealth and strength t' enjoy it!"
"Draper's shop in the Kemberwell Road begins selling off a Monday."
"We'll both buy 'selves new rig-out from top to foot, my gel. Ready for when I take you down to Dorsetshire."
Mord Em'ly smiled at the nodding green bird as she hung her hat on the nail near the doorway. These promises were always made on Saturday nights, and there were times when, knowing quite well that there was no chance whatever of their realisation, she, nevertheless, felt joy in listening to her mother's dreamy projects.
"You'd look nice in a light pink silk, my dear," said her mother, opening one eye. " My eldest sis'r had a light pink silk once."
"I should look well in anything," said Mord Em'ly cheerfully. "Fine, tall, upstanding lady like me can't be off from it."
"You want new hat, too."
"Oh, I don't know," said Mord Em'ly critically. " This one's still in the 'ight of fashion. Why, I've only had it three year."
"Mord Em'ly," said her mother, with solemn benevolence, "you're my own gel, and I'm [-22-] going to find situation for you. I'm going to find you place as general."
"Of the meerines? " asked Mord Em'ly, at the door of the bedroom.
A harmonium in one of the adjacent rooms began to grunt a hymn.
"As general servant," said her mother. " In 'ighly respec'ble family. Good money. Everything found."
"'Cept your liberty," said Mord Em'ly. "I know what you mean. It ain't good enough."
ALL the members of the Gilliken Gang possessed the privilege which the London
girl demands—that of having their evenings for their very own. Some were engaged
in a large mineral water factory in Albany Road; two walked over Blackfriars
Bridge to the City every morning; the remainder did nothing of a definite
character. Mord Em'ly herself had vague ideas in regard to her future. She was
content to keep free of the School Board inspector, to earn about two shillings
on Saturday mornings by giving whiteness to doorsteps of villas in Camberwell,
to worship Miss Gilliken, and to enjoy life with great thoroughness. Her mother
left each morning at half-past seven, and Mord Em'ly was mistress of No. 345
Pandora Buildings for the day. She was by no means a lazy young woman, and,
feeling that she was responsible for No. 345, it gratified her to work hard; to
scrub floors for the sheer luxury of scrubbing, to re-arrange the furniture
simply for the sake of
[-24-] doing something difficult. Block C of Pandora Buildings, once its infants were
dispatched to school, gave itself up to being dusted, and washed, and sluiced,
and those of the women-folk who were not obliged to go out to earn their living
worked with something of frenzy until their duties were accomplished, ever with
the bright prospect of a gossip in front of them. Mord Em'ly had, by great
ingenuity, forced herself into one or two of these debating societies, and,
being content to preserve silence, was allowed to remain, listening open-mouthed
to revelations of life, and feeling sometimes, when the return of noisy children
from school broke up the meetings, that she was, at least, forty years of age,
and that the world had for her no secrets. Pandora Buildings, despite its bare
passages and blank, asphalted yard and drafty balconies, all suggesting that it
was a place where people were sent for some infraction of the law, was,
nevertheless, for its inhabitants sufficiently cheerful, and there were very few
of them who were not happy. To understand this fact, it was necessary to become
an inhabitant in Pandora, and not merely to come down on a hurried visit, as
lady philanthropists did, and sniff, and look sympathetic, and tell each other
that it was all quite too dreadful. Nothing privately amused
[-25-] Pandora more than the visits of these people, and Mord Em'ly gained much
applause by her very faithful imitation of one of these visitors.
"Oh, the poor, dear creatures!" Mord Em'ly would look at the diverted women on the landing with half-closed eyes and a glance of condescension. " How do you do, my poor women! What do your poor husbands do for a living, pray? Dear, dear! what dreadful occupations, to be sure! I'd really never heard of them before. And the poor, dear children—I do so hope you look after them. Our country's future, you must remember, lies in their hands, and— This is my daughter, Lady Ella. She, too, is going to be so interested in the poor. In fact, I may tell you that she is going to play the zither at a concert near here some evening."
"Ah, Mord Emily! " The women would laugh and wipe their eyes with aprons exhaustedly. "You can take the toffs off to a T."
It appeared, on the return of Mord Emily's mother for dinner, that her vague remark on the previous Saturday night concerning a situation was not without some grounds. During one of the recent evening arguments with neighbours, No. 340, after listening to caustic references to the conduct of No. 340's sister, had suggested ironi-[-26-]cally that Mord Em'ly's mother was a pretty woman to talk, and that, if she were so jolly clever, why in the world did she not look after Mord Em'ly? Anybody else, said 340, would have got the girl a berth, and put her in the way of earning an honest living, instead of letting her roam about the streets, mixing up in the company of Heaven alone knew who. (In point of fact, No. 340 rather admired Mord Em'ly, and would miss her more than anyone on the landing, but the argument was too good not to be used, and 340 made the most of it.) For answer, Mord Em'ly's mother said that 340 was an interfering old cat, and that for two pins— Nevertheless, Mord Em'ly's mother had considered the matter.
"Bacon all right, mother?" asked Mord Em'ly. "It's the streakiest rasher they'd got."
"Never mind about the bacon," said Mord Em'ly's mother brusquely. " You just attend to what I've got to tell you. Listenin'?"
"Fire away," said Mord Em'ly.
"Don't let me 'ave to say it all over again, like I sometimes do, because I've got to get back to me work, and time's money to me, as it ought to be to you at your age."
"Cut a long story short, why don't you?"
"The moment I've gone," said Mord Em'ly's [-27-] mother impressively, "the very moment, mind, that my back's turned, you on with your hat, and go off to this address what I've got written down ere."
"What to get?" asked Mord Em'ly.
"A place as a servant, my gel; and when you get it, mind you keep it, and don't let us 'ave any of your nonsense."
Well, but," stammered Mord Em'ly, " I'm all right as I am. What's the necessity for making a change?"
"Don't you ask questions," said Mord Em'ly's mother sharply. "Just do as you're told, or else you'll come to a bad end. Let me come 'ome to-night, miss, and find you 'aven't got that place, and you won't 'ear the last of it, I can promise you."
Mord Em'ly took the slip of paper regretfully, and read the address: "Lucella Road, Peckham." She swallowed something in her throat as she thought of the Gilliken Gang.
"And how're you going to manage, mother?"
"I shall 'ave a gel in sometimes to do the odd work," said Mord Em'ly's mother, "if you must know; when I go down for my two days' holiday to Dorsetshire, I shall lock up the place. And every other Sunday you'll get the afternoon off, and you [-28-] can come 'ome, and I'll give you good advice and a cup of tea. If your poor father was alive he—"
"And—and sha'n't you miss me, mother?"
"What of it? " asked Mord Emily's mother fiercely. Ain't I doing all this for your good? Wouldn't your poor dear father do the same if he was alive? Miss you, indeed! Course I shall miss ye." It seemed here to occur to Mord Emily's mother that she was unbending too much, and it was necessary, therefore, to say something to cancel this effect. " Miss ye more than I want ye."
Mord Emily combed her unruly hair into something like order, and ran, as soon as her mother had left, to Albany Road. It was of Miss Gilliken that she thought when in need of advice, and the present was one of those occasions that specially demanded counsel. The pavement in Albany Street was crowded with girls returning to their work in the mineral water manufactory; some of them wore clogs, and the street resounded with the clatter. Miss Gilliken, being signalled by Mord Em'ly, left the ranks and crossed the road. She listened to the news with gravity.
"Ho, ho I " said Miss Gilliken darkly. "That's the litest, is it? Deemestic service, aye? You'll be a jolly fine deemestic servant, you will, so 'elp my goodness." Miss Gilliken laughed ironically. [-29-] "You'll 'ave to wear a apron and a cap, and answer the door."
"No, but reely," said little Mord Em'ly appealingly. " What d'you think I'd best do? "
"It wouldn't take me long to settle what I should do. I should simply go off on me own, if it was me, and get a job in a ware'us'."
"I tried that once and they said I didn't look strong enough."
"Your appearance is against you," said Miss Gilliken, glancing at herself in a shop window. "Moreover, what I should do and what I should advise anybody else to do is two very different things."
"You know what mother is."
"Look 'ere," said Miss Gilliken suddenly, "tell ye what. Give it a trial Go down and try and get the situation—for my part, I 'ope you don't get it—but, at any rate, 'ave a shy at it; and if they take you on, put in a week there, and find out how it answers. See? "
"But," argued Mord Em'ly rather anxiously, "I sha'n't be able to come out with the rest of you a Saturday night, or any other night."
"It's a bit rough, I admit; but we can't 'ave it all our own way in this world. You 'ave to take the rough with the smooth, Mord Em'ly."
[-30-] Mord Em'ly dabbed at her eyes with the sleeve of her dress.
"I wouldn't take on about it," said the other, with a gulp. She looked up at the clock, and moved off. "Cheer up, old pal! It'll all dry straight. I sha'n't forget ye."
"Ta-ta! " said Mord Em'ly dolefully.
"Keep smilin'," called Miss Gilliken from the opposite side of the road. The last of the crowd of girls were clattering, with great good spirits and noise, into the open gateway.
"If I can," said Mord Em'ly.
She walked out into Camberwell Road, and found herself taking a new and special interest in the private houses, where maids, seated perilously on ledges, were cleaning windows. It depressed her to find how neatly and decorously attired they were; she foresaw that it would be one of the hardships of the future that she would have to reduce the fringe that nearly covered her forehead. At one house the servant was coming out to enjoy her afternoon's holiday, and it cheered Mord Em'ly slightly to notice that the young woman was drawing on, with an air of great nobility, gloves owning several buttons, and that she was accompanied by a fierce perfume of cheap lavender water. The servant being met by a youth in a [-31-] brown tweed suit, who was smoking a cigar of similar colour, he lifted his brown bowler hat as the servant approached, and said humorously, "Commong vous portez vous?" whereupon the servant (also affecting to belong to another nation) replied with much point and smartness, "Oui!" It occurred to Mord Em'ly that perhaps one day there might be somebody who would raise his hat to her, and she felt that once that were attained, ambition might well be graciously released. Her steps quickened, and she walked along to Peckham Rye so briskly, whistling as she went, that when she arrived at 18 Lucella Road her cheeks were flushed, and she looked much better than was usually the case. No. 18 was precisely like No. 17, and like No, 19, and like every other number in Lucella Road; the lace-curtained bow-windows, the venetian blinds half-way down, the row of yellow pots on the edge, the glimpse of oval mirrors and draped pianofortes within.
"Is this number 'i'teen?" asked Mord Em'ly, panting.
"Number eighteen," said the young lady at the door correctingly. "You shouldn't say'i'teen."
"I've come after a place." said Mord Em'ly; "place as servant. My mother told me to. I'm firteen."
[-32-] "No, no," said the young lady; "not firteen. Say thirteen. The word begins with th."
"I know I " said Mord Em'ly.
"Come inside, and wipe your boots very carefully," said the precise young lady, "and wait in the hall until my sisters are ready to see you."
"Where's the 'all, then? " asked Mord Em'ly, with some curiosity.
"You're in it now, my girl."
"This a 'all," said Mord Em'ly contemptuously. "This is what I call a passage."
She heard the sibilant whisper of women's voices, and presently down the stairs came in procession three rather thin and severe-looking middle-aged ladies, preceded by the young sister who had received Mord Em'ly. They looked at Mord Em'ly with a distant air, and filed into the front room. Then, after an interval, the youngest sister came to the door, and beckoned her to come in.
"This, dears," said the youngest sister, " is the little girl who has come after the place. She looks willing, and my idea is that we might take her for a month, at any rate. Her mother is a good worker."
"I expect Letty is right," said one of the elder sisters. "What is your name, my girl?"
[-33-] "Mord Em'ly."
Name interpreted by the youngest sister.
"Oh, you must really learn to pronounce distinctly. You should say Maud, and then wait for a moment, and then say Em-ily."
"All very well," said Mord Em'ly, " if you've got plenty of time."
"Are you a hard worker, my girl? "
"Fairish, miss. I ain't afraid of it, anyway."
"I think we shall decide to call you Laura if you stop with us."
"Whaffor?" demanded Mord Em'ly.
"We always call our maids Laura," explained the eldest of the ladies complacently. "It's a tradition in the family. And my youngest sister there, Miss Letitia, will look after you for the most part. My other sisters are engaged in — er — literature; I myself; if I may say so without too much confidence, am responsible for "—here the eldest sister looked in a self-deprecatory manner at the toe of her slippers—"art."
"I am sure," said the other sisters in a confused chorus, "that no one has a better right."
"My sister Fairlie," went on the eldest lady in a lecturing style, and pointing with her forefinger, "writes under the pen name of 'George Willoughby' and has gained several prizes, some of [-34-] them amounting to as much as one guinea. My sister Katherine pursues a different branch. Her specialité, to use a foreign expression, is the subject of epitaphs—queer epitaphs, ancient epitaphs, pathetic epitaphs, singular epitaphs, amusing—"
"Talking about epitaphs," interrupted Mord Em'ly, "how much do I get a year for playing in this piece?"
The offer made by the sisters was accepted by Mord Em'ly with some doubt; the desire of the London-bred girl to haggle on each and every question impelled her to try for £2 more than the amount suggested. If the sum had been £80 a year instead of £8, she would have taken up precisely the same attitude.
"There is another matter," said the eldest sister, after a whispered consultation with the other judges. " We don't like the way you arrange your hair, Laura. We prefer that you should brush it right back off the forehead."
"And a pretty fright I shall look," said Mord Em'ly indignantly. "Why not leave well alone? I always 'ave wore it like this—"
"Letitia," said the eldest sister placidly, "see that our requests are obeyed. We must return to our labours."
The three rose and marched out of the room, [-35-]and the youngest sister was alone with Mord Em'ly. The youngest sister waited until the door was closed, and then turned to the small girl good-temperedly.
"You mustn't mind," she said. "They won't interfere much."
"They better hadn't," declared Mord Em'ly doggedly. "Just because they wear their 'air brushed back off the fore'ead, they think everybody else must go Fifth of Novembering."
"I rather fancy you'll like it better that way after a while. Have you brought your box with you?"
"No," she said curtly,
"Oh! You can send for it, perhaps? '
"Yes," said Mord Em'ly, "I can send for it, but I sha'n't get it. I ain't got a box yet."
"I must write a note to your mother about that."
"I'll be off now," said Mord Em'ly. "I'll get back 'ome to Walworth."
"But can't you stay now?" The youngest sister appeared anxious. "I should so much prefer that you begin at once. A gentleman a friend of mine—is coming to meet my sisters this evening for the first time, and I don't want him to imagine for a moment that we don't keep a maid."
[-36-] "Oh, come on! " said Mord Em'ly recklessly, unpinning her hat and unpinning her jacket. " Find the cap and find the apern, and we'll 'ave a game at servants."
It was in this way that Mord Em'ly started on a new career; her fringe fixed back severely with curling-pins, she looked an exceptionally bright little woman. She entered with some zest into the plans for receiving the visitor to dinner, and when, at seven o'clock, that gentleman knocked at the door, she received him with great solemnity, and ushered him into the front room, announcing him in a voice somewhat louder than the one she had adopted during careful rehearsals in the kitchen.
For the youngest sister it was a busy and a trying evening; without the cordial assistance given by Mord Em'ly she could never have passed through it with so much credit. The visitor, a stolid, silent, spectacled youth, gave his services by day to an insurance office in the city; and the youngest sister had to make him talk (in itself no mean task), to prevent her three sisters from talking too much, to cook the chops and mash the potatoes, to coach Mord Em'ly in respect to the bringing in of plates, and all the time to appear cool and collected, as though she were really not [-37-] troubling to do any work at all. At one or two moments, when the conversation appeared specially difficult, the youngest sister did appear to be slightly hysterical; but Mord Em'ly growled a word of encouragement, and the youngest sister recovered, and applied herself again to the task.
After dinner, when Mord Em'ly brought in the coffee, which the youngest sister, hurrying into the kitchen, had made, she was interested to find that the visitor had suddenly commenced to talk with much volubility. By mere chance, whilst fishing anxiously with varied subjects as bait, the topic of his city work had been offered by the youngest sister, and the visitor, instantly rising to the offer, and taking off his spectacles, had started conversation. He explained the case of one Milton in the life department with much detail. Milton, it appeared, had an heroic and ingenious scheme of reform, consisting of a proposal to use blue ink instead of red for ruling lines, and the authorities were declining to listen to it; the office, it seemed, was rocked with the agony of this conflict. The visitor himself was on the side of blue, and so, it seemed, was the youngest sister, but the other three sisters were rather inclined to red, and the epitaph sister declared humorously that the [-38-] youngest sister and the visitor always agreed, and that it looked very suspicious, whereat they all laughed very much indeed, and Mord Em'ly, who was listening near the door, laughed too, and restrained herself from shouting badinage with great difficulty. Encouraged by this success, the visitor told a long story about another clerk, this time one in the guarantee department, who had been crossed in love, and this led to a spirited debate on the subject of the affections, in the course of which the art sister ventured the opinion that hearts were not mere playthings to be treated as idle toys, and that one's motto should be, "Love once, love always."
Mord Em'ly, on this, went back to the kitchen, feeling that the conversation was getting beyond her understanding, and had a little dance all to herself. Later, when the visitor had sung "The Bedouin's Love Song," in rather a weak tenor voice, to the youngest sister's accompaniment, Mord Em'ly, being quite alone in the kitchen, affected to be a lady of great dignity and a certain amount of haughtiness receiving, with bored, languid air and half-closed eyes, a large number of guests, and making, as she shook hands high in the air, polite inquiries after their health. After this diversion she found a story in a Ladies' Own [-39-] Favourite, left by her predecessor, and read the end, the middle, and the beginning.
The youngest sister paid a breathless, flying visit to the kitchen to warn Mord Em'ly that, when the visitor went, she was to be in evidence, as it were, at the rear of the hall.
"How's the evening going, miss?" asked Mord Em'ly.
"Turned out much better than I expected, Laura," said the excited youngest sister. "I was afraid at first it was going to fall flat."
"He ain't got what I call a tip-top voice," said Mord Em'ly critically; "but his moral kerricter may be pretty right for all that. Why don't he smoke?"
"I declare I forgot that, Laura. You are a clever girl to think of it. Of course, he'd like to smoke."
"All gents that are gents do," said Mord Em'ly. If it was my party, I should offer him a drop of something, too. Just before he left. Don't press it on him, but mention it in a casual way."
Mord Em'ly's advice was acted upon, with such excellent results that the insurance young man recalled several other capital stories about fellows in his office, and the prize-winning sister very nearly remembered a riddle, but, unfortunately, could [-40-] only recall the answer, and not the question. When he went, the three sisters stood at the doorway of the front room, and the youngest sister helped the insurance young man with his overcoat (Mord Em'ly at the back, on the lowest stair, representing the domestics of the establishment), and the insurance man, in going, was so far removed from the stolid youth who had arrived as to declare sportively that he knew of an old superstition to the effect that it was unlucky not to kiss a lady when she had helped you on with your overcoat; thus placing the youngest sister in a most awkward and confusing predicament. The elder sister, with much presence of mind, waved Mord Em'ly to retire to the kitchen, but she declined to see the signal, and, after the insurance young man had said good-night to the three sisters, watched the young couple go out to the gate; then she ran upstairs to inspect the farewell through the venetians of the front bedroom.
Mord Em'ly's own room was at the back of the others on the first floor. The window of the room looked north, and, as she gazed a long time in the direction of Walworth before she blew out her candle, she thought of Miss Gilliken and the other members of the gang. There had been a fine spirit of novelty about her first experience of [-41-]domestic service that had pleasantly disappointed her, and she was astonished to find that any other life but that into which Miss Gilliken entered was possible. She found herself pitying the gang, and resolved that, in relating the incidents of this evening, she would improve them with a little exaggeration in order that the gang might be sufficiently impressed. Then she thought of an attitude that the gang might adopt in regard to her position. She flushed hotly.
"'Ope to goodness," said Mord Em'ly, with apprehension, "they won't guy me about it!"
IF Number Eighteen, Lucella Road, had been able or had found it convenient, to keep up the fine excitement that attended Mord Em'ly's first evening, it would have met that young woman's demands. She was not long in discovering that, in effect, the sisters lived, for the most part, a monotonous, uneventful, economical life, and the wild diversions of receiving company, or of going to the play, or of visiting the Crystal Palace, were occurrences so rare that they were looked forward to and spoken of for weeks, and afforded careful and detailed retrospect for a period of months. To Mord Em'ly, accustomed to a life where incident and amusement called daily, this deliberate method of life gave amazement and something like indignation. That people should so carefully abstain from taking advantage of the happiness that life with both hands offers, appeared to her to be a minor form of insanity. In Walworth there was ever an alertness in making the most of even [-43-] small opportunities for distraction; here, it seemed, there was a determined wilfulness shown in evading them; a grim and deadly composure of manner was the condition to which the grown-up people had brought themselves; the lofty ideal which they held before children as a goal to which all efforts should be bent.
A whole day would pass, and no voice heard in the house which spoke above ordinary tones; out in the road nothing happened of greater moment than the slow-passing of a rare four-wheeler. Mord Em'ly spoke to the girl next door over the dwarfed wall that divided the gardens, and the girl next door, on being told that Mord Em'ly's mother went out charing, dropped the acquaintance hurriedly, and told the other girls in the road; so that when, by chance, Mord Em'ly saw any of them, they stared very hard just over her head. The three sisters complained that Mord Em'ly's singing interfered with their literary and artistic labours; and the youngest sister was requested, at the same time, to point out to Mord Em'ly that it was not considered good form for a general servant to whistle. The youngest sister, with an amiable desire to make the active little maid contented, lent her books; but Mord Em'ly read the last chapters of each of them, and found that, [-44-] without exception, they ended unhappily, with lovers parted, children hearing angels' voices fearful railway accidents, or doses of poison.
"If they don't end up 'appy," said Mord Em'ly, " I reely don't see, miss, what particular call they've got to go and write 'em for. What's the use of bragging about your misfortunes?"
"Well, Laura," explained the youngest sister, a little disappointed, "the idea is this. There is sorrow and there is misfortune in the world, and it is only natural that they should be written about."
"But why 'arp on the question?" demanded Mord Em'ly. " That's my argument Why make a song about it? This place ain't too lively as it is."
"You'll get used to it, after a bit," said the youngest sister, as she went to the doorway of the kitchen. "It's only at first that you find it strange." She sighed a little. "I find it dull myself sometimes. But if there's anything I can do—"
"You're all right," said Mord Em'ly awkwardly. " I ain't compl'inin' about you. It's what I call me surroundin's that's giving me the 'ump."
"It's only a question of time, Laura."
Mord Em'ly shook her head rather dolefully as the kitchen door closed.
[-45-] "If something don't 'appen soon," she said to herself, " I shall scream."
It seemed to Mord Em'ly that the people in the road led lives that were ordered by some precise and stringent Act of Parliament. By half-past eight in the morning every man in every house had come out, had pulled the doors to, and had run off to catch the train to the City, an exodus which also used to take place (at an earlier hour) at Pandora Buildings; but, whereas there it signalled opportunity for free conversation, in Lucella Road it seemed that the women-folk remained indoors, and kept themselves in rigid seclusion; when they did come cut, they wore, Mord Em'ly noticed, a reserved air, which they put on for out-door walking, and they looked up at the sky with an air of disparagement, as though it was not at all the kind of sky that they had been accustomed to before they were married, and they sneered at the pavement; the other houses seemed to excite in them a feeling of boredom and contempt; their manner generally was that of people who are by no means pleased with the world. There were no disputes in Lucella Road; nobody came home late and noisy; it appeared to Mord Em'ly that everybody carefully abstained from giving entertainment. Even the delights of shopping were denied to her, because [-46-] demure young men, with carts, called very quietly, and these, when they ventured to say a word outside the demands of business (being, in truth, in mortal fear of quick-eared mistresses), usually asked Mord Em'ly whether she favoured church or chapel. Mord Em'ly, getting through her housework briskly, and alone in her kitchen, had dark ideas of obtaining a pocketful of pebbles, and of rushing from one end of the road to the other, screaming loudly and breaking windows all the way.
"It'd 'liven 'em up, at any rate,"said Mord Em'ly grimly.
An evening came, compared with which all others seemed boisterous and amusing. The youngest sister, called for by the insurance clerk, had been borne off by that silent youth to a lecture in Rye Lane on " Spiders and their Habits "; the other three sisters had gone to bed, the hour being nine, and the epitaph sister unusually tired after an afternoon of hard hunting in Nunhead Cemetery. Mord Em'ly, in despair of finding something to do, had intentionally upset the kettle on the empty grate, and then, complaining very bitterly of her own carelessness, had cleaned the grate once more. The cat strolled in, and Mord Em'ly tried to engage it in conversation; but the cat had only called to see if there was any milk about, and, finding [-47-] this was not the case, it yawned slightly, and, slipping from Mord Em'ly's lap, stalked out into the garden. Mord Em'ly had been upstairs to her small bedroom twice, in order to look out of the window, and—it could be done by putting one foot on the end of the bed and the other on the dressing-table—to see the glare of the sky away north, beyond the grey, melancholy mist, a glare that she knew was the reflection of the lighted streets of London. In the kitchen, the little round American clock on the mantelpiece ticked loudly: for the rest, there was no sound except the occasional creak that restless houses in the suburbs give in the days of their youth. Mord Em'ly placed her slippered feet on the fender, and stared before her. In the fire-place were only pieces of paper, a few sticks of wood, and half a dozen lumps of coal; but, as Mord Em'ly looked, these changed into Walworth Road. The east side of Walworth Road at first, with the barrows stacked with yellow Lent lilies and scented violets, and giant bundles of wallflowers tied with twigs round their thick waists; pyramids of oranges, too, and huge cliffs of sweets, and men and women, their owners, exultantly calling attention to them; the slow crowd on the pavement stopping now and again to haggle, and, at infrequent intervals, to buy. There were [-48-] two butchers with their shop fronts afire with red joints; the men were chaffing each other, and each shouted his opinion of the other man's face. The drapery shop, selling off because it had nearly had a fire, or because its premises were not coming down, or on some other excuse, was frantic with placards; it had bargains in pale blue blouses and in gay bunches of linen flowers, that demanded attention, and would take no denial. In the roadway, the yellow and scarlet trams sailed along, with passengers continually boarding them and passengers continually disembarking; 'buses rocked about and played games of cup-and-ball with their passengers, or danced recklessly over the roadway. On the other side of the road, in Princes Street, a piano-organ was playing, and two ridiculous men were waltzing and behaving to each other with preposterous courtesy. Through Princes Street, and there, with four white globes, arch-fashion, over its entrance, was the Mont.
Mord Em'ly gave a quick gasp as she thought of the Mont.
You paid twopence to an old lady seated in a little sentry-box, and you went through a passage which had swing-doors at the end, and on the walls of the passage there were portraits and a poster of a very fine lady in fleshings, called Miss [-49-] Flo Macgomery, also known as Britain's Brilliant and Beautiful Brunette. You could hear faint music before you reached the doors opening into the rear of the long hall, and when you pressed open one of these, the singing and the music boxed you on the ears in rather a jovial, agreeable way. You were at the very back of the hall, but the floor sloped a little, and, away through the smoke, and over the heads of people, you could see, on the stage, Mr. Pat Foley, who was Ireland's Brightest Gem, and who, in view of that fact, might well have provided himself with a complete dress-suit, but had, up to the present, succeeded in obtaining the necktie only, and wore tweed trousers and a double-breasted jacket. No song of what is called questionable character was ever sung at the Mont., because the Mont.'s patrons had no appetite for that sort of thing; to vulgarity they had no deep-rooted objection, but even of this they desired less than did their similars in the West-end. They would always rather see a man dance intricate steps than watch furious whirling by girls; and damsels at the Mont. who kicked high and kicked often, and made themselves breathless in the effort, found their last ambitious skip received with casual interest; the hall allowed them to go in glum silence, with sometimes a few [-50-] derisive whistles. If you were late, the best twopenny seats were occupied, but Mord Em'ly's trick was calculated to meet the difficulty. It was this—You waited for the song to finish, and then called:
"Emily Ann! Emily Ann! your mother's outside a-lookin' for you."
Whereupon, as the one or two girls whose name happened to be Emily Ann gave up their seats and slipped, eel-like, through the crowd, and went out by the swing-doors to circumvent mothers (who were not there), you took one of the seats thus left free. And then, when the red-faced chairman down in front of the stage knocked the table with his black hammer, and rose and said, " La'i s and gen'lemen, Miss Patsie Sinclair will 'pear next," how the hall cheered—cheered because it knew that, although Miss Sinclair might come on first in a long baby-frock and sing:
"Wandaring by the meel-stream,
Close to the one that I love,
Al'wys togaither, in all sorts of waither,
A-watchin' the stars above";
yet, this access of sentiment over, they were sure that she would reappear in an astonishing military costume and sing, " The Boys of the [-51-] Knock-'em-out Brigade," with two rollicking verses, and one dramatic, with the green light on her, and looking so serious that she made you hold your breath:
"When Brittanier calls upon us
To give our fitheful aid,
The boys that die for glowry
Miss Sinclair, at lowered footlights, with outstretched arms, pointing two imaginary swords:
"—the Knock-'em-out Brigade."
Mord Em'ly started up from her chair. Her breath came erratically, her hand trembled as she unpinned her cap and loosened the tape of her apron. She turned the small oil-lamp low, and found her hat, and boots, and jacket.
"I shall be back in 'arf-a-hour," she whispered to the loud-ticking, little American clock, "if anybody asks for me."
She closed the front door gently, and, once out of the gate, ran with great swiftness, her heels clattering on the pavement of the silent road. About five minutes took her into Queen's Road, and, as she stood there breathless in the lighted [-52-] thoroughfare, a tram went by—a tram from New Cross to Waterloo. She felt hastily in her pocket, and found some coppers.
"Now then, kinductor!" said Mord Emily, as she swung herself on the platform of the tram. "Why don't you pull up when you see a lady like me 'ailing of you? "
SHE leaned forward, and watched the lighted shops, the crowded pavements, and
listened hungrily to the noise of traffic. She was so absorbed in doing this
that she gave the conductor absently the coppers for a twopenny ticket, and
omitted to answer his caustic reference to her outstretched foot. When he had
gone she gripped the protective bar with both hands, and continued to gaze at
the bustling movement of life below in the way of one who had been absent from
London for a space of years. There was the slight mist in the air that seems for
ever floating about South London, ready, if joined by auxiliary forces, to
become a fog; content, when alone, to remain reticent, and to mellow the tone
of the evening. When a stretch of private houses, with long, stubbly lawns, came
now and again, Mord Emily's eager interest relaxed, to become alive the moment
that lighted shops appeared in view. She noted everything with the alertness of
the London-bred [-54-] girl; a perfectly sober man slipped on the pavement, and staggered to recover
himself, and did nearly recover himself only to stagger again, and eventually,
after a great waste of time, to sit down. The whole of the passengers on the
outside of the tram stood up, with Mord Em'ly, to watch the finish of this
incident, and they all laughed very much, because, by a thoughtful provision,
the misfortune of one, in the London streets, invariably gives great enjoyment
to the many.
The tram swerved round the corner of Camberwell Green, and started on its straight journey to the Elephant. The bloated red bottle in a chemist's window threw a quaint coloured light on the face of a girl who, as she walked along, swung the hand of a frowning, white-neckerchiefed lad.
"Gilliken!" cried Mord Em'ly, with much excitement.
She ran quickly down the steps of the tram, and, jumping off, hurried back to catch the leader of the Gilliken Gang, deftly unpinning her fringe as she went, and combing it over her forehead. The unwritten rules of the gang prescribed odd modes of salutation, and Mord Em'ly conformed with these when she gave Miss Gilliken's back-hair a tug and said, in a bass voice, "Move along, there."
[-55-] "Ain't I a-movin' on?" demanded Miss Gilliken angrily. "What the— Why, so'p me bob, if it ain't Mord Em'ly!"
Miss Gilliken punched Mord Em'ly with great delight, and the frowning lad stood back, and untied and retied fiercely his neckerchief, rather as though he wanted to throttle himself with all despatch.
"Thought we was never going to see you again, Mord Em'ly."
"Don't you flatter yourself."
"Upper rousemaid, ain't you, at St. Jimes's Palace?" inquired Miss Gilliken, glancing at the frowning youth for approval. "'Ow do you get on with the Roy'l Fem'ly?"
"Look 'ere!" said Mord Em'ly definitely, "if you're going to begin chippin' me, I'll be off."
"Don't fly all to pieces," begged Miss Gilliken. "It was on'y a bit of chaff on my part."
"Drop it, then," commanded Mord Em'ly.
"Know this feller, don't you?" asked Miss Gilliken, jerking her head in the direction of the youth.
"Seen his mug before," said Mord Em'ly, looking at him casually. "Can't say I know his name."
"Name of 'Enery Barden," said the youth, in a [-56-] deep, hoarse voice, stepping forward, and introducing himself awkwardly. "Got a job at the Willer Walk Station; also to be met with, Saturday evenings, at the boxing-saloon of the Green Man."
"Where did ye find it?" asked Mord Emily of Miss Gilliken, with a satirical accent.
"Who are you calling 'it'? " demanded Mr. Barden aggressively. " P'r'aps you'll kindly call me "im ' and not 'it' "
"P'r'aps I shall do jest as I like," replied Mord Em'ly. She turned to Miss Gilliken. "Did you win it in a raffle? "
"I'll tell you presently," said Miss Gilliken.
"Sometimes they give 'em away," said Mord Em'ly thoughtfully, "with a packet of sweets. I 'ave seen 'em offered instead of a coker-nut or a cigar at one of these Aunt Sally—"
"Look 'ere!" interrupted Mr. Barden crossly. "You think you're jolly clever, no doubt."
"Think? " repeated Mord Em'ly. " Don't I know it?"
"But you ain't going to take a rise out of 'Enery Barden, nor more won't no one else neither. Unnerstand that!"
Mr. Barden tipped his bowler-hat over his eyes, and, taking a packet of cigarette papers from his [-57-] pocket, blew at them with a defiant air. Mord Em'ly laughed, and turned her back on him.
"Comin' for a bit of a run?"
"I must be back be 'alf-past ten."
"Got your key?" asked Miss Gilliken.
For the first time the difficulty of re-entering Lucella Road occurred to Mord Em'ly. She turned rather white, and her under-lip moved.
"I am a silly fool!" she said concernedly.
"That I could see," remarked Mr. Barden, rolling a cigarette, "from the very first."
"I never thought of the key," declared Mord Em'ly. " I'd better jump on a tram, and get off back. There's one of 'em coming 'ome at half-past ten, and I'll get her to let me in."
"How's the enemy?" asked Miss Gilliken of the frowning young gentleman. He took a large silver watch from the hip-pocket of his tight trousers, and replied that it wanted twenty-five to ten.
"Why, there's no 'urry," remarked Miss Gilliken. " Let us two walk back Walworth way, and see if we can run across any of the others."
"Think I got time?" asked Mord Em'ly, with some doubt.
"Rather fancy I'll look in and 'ave a punch at [-58-] the ball," said Mr. Barden, frowning at the lighted end of his cigarette. "I've got a seven stun' two metch a-coming off, Sat'day week, There's a Wandsworth chap for me to tackle, and it'll take a bit of doin'."
Mr. Barden struck out at the air in a scientific manner, and dodged an imaginary blow so smartly that two old ladies who were passing screamed with terror.
"They're putting some money on me, too." He continued to eye severely a supposititious opponent. "There's as much as a couple of dollars invested, to my certain knowledge, and—"
"Seems to be a kind of a mechanical toy," said Mord Em'ly, with faint interest. "Isn't there any plan for making it run away?"
"I don't remine," declared Mr. Barden gloomily, "where my comp'ny's not appreciated. I wish you good evening, and better manners."
"So long," said Miss Gilliken.
"Change that face of yours," called out Mord Em'ly, "before I see you again. It's old-fashioned."
"You change yourself altogether," cried Mr. Barden, with much acerbity. He walked off, and shouted over his shoulders, " Like some'ing silly off a Twelf-cake, you are."
[-59-] They bawled caustic advice to each other until they were out of hearing. Then Miss Gilliken took Mord Em'ly's arm and put the other hand on Mord Em'ly's right shoulder, and they walked briskly Walworth Road way. Miss Gilliken felt that some explanation was required.
"He pelted on to me first," she said excusingly. "I'd seen him about once or twice before you went away, but he'd never spoke till Tuesday night, up he comes, and he ses, "Ullo!' And I says, "Ullo' your own self, and see how you like it.'"
Mord Em'ly nodded her head in silent approval of this repartee
"And he ses, 'Where's that shortish gel,' he ses, 'with a round flee, and no colour to speak of, that used to be about with your set? Mother lives in Pandorer,' he says."
"So I says, 'What's it got to do with you?' and he says, 'Oh,' he says, 'I only ask' And goes off."
"What after that?" asked Mord Em'ly.
"Met him again to-night, and he comes up, and he says, 'There you are, then?' And I says, 'Well, what of it?' And he says, 'Seen anything of her?' And I says, 'Mind your own bis'ness.' [-60-]
And he says,' Come for a strowl down the Walworth Road "
"Did he talk about me again?"
"He didn't talk much 'bout anything," said Miss Gilliken; " but all he did say was 'bout you, and—"
"'Ere's a 'orse down," interrupted Mord Em'ly. " Let's stop and watch."
The horse had already been on the ground for several minutes, and it was quite natural, therefore, that three or four members of the gang should be in the crowd that had assembled on either side of it. These laughed when they saw Mord Em'ly, but their opening sentence was sharply stopped by Miss Gilliken, and no reference to the Peckham situation was permitted. Mord Em'ly, relieved at this, felt herself in excellent spirits, and when the horse had decided, after a sufficient rest, to stand up again, they found a set of negro minstrels who were rattling bones and twanging banjoes in a side street, to whom they listened until the tambourine came round to collect. To this followed instantly (because Walworth is a place where something is always happening) a duel between a large bemused man and his infuriated little wife. Mord Emily was on the side of the little wife, and urged her to new efforts with loudshouts of approval, her eyes brightening and her brain becoming heated with the excitement. When, at the end, the little wife led off her defeated captive homewards, Mord Em'ly screamed with a kind of new ecstasy, and ran blindly, furiously, out into the Walworth Road and back again, much as an Indian runs amuck in a bazaar.
"Simmer down, Mord Em'ly," commanded Miss Gilliken.
Miss Gilliken looked at her hard and reprovingly. The others also were surprised at Mord Em'ly's burst of recklessness. One of them suggested ginger-beer.
"I've got three d.," said Miss Gilliken, " and I ain't going to waste that on no drink; I'm going to buy pystry with it."
"I lay you are," remarked one of the gang satirically. " Sahnds like you."
"Come and watch me, then," said Miss Gilliken.
There was, indeed, no deception. Miss Gilliken walked into a smart-mirrored shop in Walworth Road, and when the stout young woman behind the cake and pastry-decorated counter said curtly, " No pieces to-night, my girl." Miss Gilliken replied that she was glad the stout young woman [-62-] had eaten up all the odd bits of bread, because a figure eight like hers took some keeping up. What Miss Gilliken required, however, was three of those jam puffs, if you please, and put them all in separate bags, mind; and be quick about it.
Now a strange thing!
As Miss Gilliken counted out the three pennies and took the three small bags, she noticed, for the first time, a pyramid of small meringues, filled with thick white cream; the tin flag stuck proudly into one of them announced the price as one penny each. To request an exchange (reflected Miss Gilliken), would be to give Figure Eight a chance of saying something caustic; if she had possessed another threepence, the solution would have been easy. Miss Gilliken went out of the shop, looking very longingly over her shoulder at the meringues. Outside, she explained the disappointment, and the gang flattened faces against the window, and gazed at the pyramid of flakey pastry and snowy cream.
"How'd it be," said one of the girls—the one with red hair, who was ever fruitful in suggestions—"how'd it be to pinch 'arf-a-dozen? "
"Go on, then! Do it! "
"Not me!" said the red-haired girl, hedging. "I didn't say I'd take the job on."
[-63-] The others turned regretfully away.
"What!" said the red-haired girl, with irony. "All afraid to?" The red-haired girl giggled at Mord Em'ly. "I know you are, cook," she said.
To Mord Em'ly it occurred that here was something to be done that would instantly rehabilitate her in the gang's esteem.
"We ain't all afraid to, Ginger. I ain't afraid to. Allow me to inform you that I'm going to nick—"
"Mord Em'ly!" said Miss Gilliken warningly.
"Shut up!" exclaimed Mord Em'ly. " You re always interferin'."
"You're off your 'ead to-night."
"Well," said Mord Em'ly defiantly, "it's me own 'ead, isn't it?"
She turned back to the confectioner's, and Miss Gilliken followed her. The stout young lady was engaged in close conversation with a white-faced youth sipping at some effervescent drink. The stout young lady turned to a small mirror, to fix with accuracy a large arum lily at her bodice, and Mord Em'ly, at the doorway, found herself suddenly flung aside by Miss Gilliken, who entered the shop quietly, with her body bent in a crouching attitude.
"I say!" cried the white-faced youth, putting [-64-] down his tumbler. "Look after your pastry, miss. It's running away."
"Not so much of your nonsense," said the stout young lady, without looking round.
Miss Gilliken was out of the doorway, with the lap of her skirt filled with the cream meringues, before the young woman had fixed the large lily to the satisfaction of her artistic eye.
"I never saw anybody like you for jokes. Do you think this suits—Hi! Police!"
The gang, spurred to instant action, snatched a share of the meringues from Miss Gilliken, and flew, in accordance with the rules, in various directions. Mord Em'ly, distracted for the moment ran half-way across the road. There came shouting from a street near, a bawling "Fah, fah, fah!" taken up and repeated by everyone, a shining brass fire-engine, with excited helmeted men atop, and drawn by wild-eyed, galloping horses, swung round into the main road; sparks flying from the funnel and giving the atmosphere a not displeasing scent of burning wood. Mord Em'ly stood still for a moment, and then, bewildered by the warning shouts, ran back to the pavement. As the fire-engine swirled by, the roaring, cheering crowd closed in behind, following it with unrestrained delight. Mord Em'ly forgot for the moment her [-65-] recent difficulty as she watched the scene; forgot it so far as to continue to hold the two meringues in one hand as she looked after the smoking, spitting, jolting fire-engine. The engine acted as a kind of pied piper, and from every side street that it passed it drew an unresisting troop of delirious children to add their shrill voices to the general roar, and their small persons to the hurrying crowd. Mord Em'ly, collecting her thoughts, had half decided to go with the crowd, when she found her shoulder gripped by a strong hand.
"Cheese it!" cried Mord Em'ly.
She tried to look round.
"That's my shou'der," she screamed. "Leggo this minute, or else I'll—"
The people on the pavement backed away from her. The strong hand propelled her to the doorway of the confectioner's shop, where the stout young woman, with the large arum lily at her breast, stood scarlet with indignation.
"Is this the one, miss?" asked the owner of the strong hand. Mord Em'ly moved her black straw hat, and saw that she was grasped by the young constable with whom she had once held spirited dispute in New Kent Road. "Is this the gel?"
"I identify her," said Figure Eight, promptly and breathlessly.
[-66-] "And are these your cakes, or whatever you call 'em? "
"I identify them, too, constable. There's more of them about, but those are two of them."
"That's good enough for me," said the young constable. " P'r'aps you'll follow us to Rodney Road Police Station, miss, as soon as you can get someone to mind your shop?"
"Seems to me," said the youth, who had finished his effervescent drink, "that the girl was older than this one. Bigger girl altogether, don't you know."
"Don't try to be stupid," begged the stout young woman impatiently. "Do you think I can't trust me own eyes?"
"Well, now," said the young constable to Mord Em'ly, "are you going quiet, or are you going to be spiteful?"
She did not answer. As they crossed the road the traffic stopped, warned by the danger signal of the young constable's disengaged hand; Mord Em'ly noted this in spite of her dazed sullenness. The hoarse butcher on the other side and his customer both ceased haggling to watch her; a stream of people, increasing in breadth as it went, followed. It seemed to Mord Em'ly that she had [-67-] suddenly grown deaf, for the voices sounded as though they were a long way off.
"What's she been up to?"
"Who is it? What's her nime?”
"'Tain't a murder, is it?" (In tones of hopefulness, modified by fear of disappointment.)
"Murder? Someone ses it's a murder. Very like she's put her parents aw'y. What a 'orrible thing, to be sure! Quite a child, too, as you may say!"
"This comes of your so-called School Board. Gels had more respect for their parents in our day."
"I'm sure! Wonder what she did it with?"
"Ah! " with the helpless tone of a person whose invention has run dry. "Now you're asking me something. That's best known to herself. We must look at the playcards in the morning; they're pretty sure to 'ave something about it."
Hearing the confused murmur of voices, in a dull, half-detached manner, there was still something of pride in Mord Em'ly's little head at the thought that she, and she alone, was the central lure; that everybody's eyes were straining to dud out how she was comporting herself
"Told you I'd nab you," said the young constable, tightening his grip on Mord Em'ly's elbow [-68-] as they went towards Rodney Road, "and I 'ave I rather fancy, miss, that this is my waltz."
Mord Em'ly, grim and dogged, said nothing. The clock of a church boomed out, in a half-regretful tone, the hour of half-past ten.
A LARGE, square, green-walled room, with a shuffling crowd at the back; before
her, a thoughtful, middle-aged gentleman, on a raised platform, seated at a
desk, and signing, with a noisy pen, some blue forms, for which a clerk waited;
at the side, two lads, with pencils, one telling the other, in a whisper, an
apparently excellent story; below, an impatient young solicitor, waiting for his
case, and unbuttoning his frock-coat and rebuttoning it for the sake of
something to do; a smell of cold iron from the bar on which she rested—these
were Mord Em'ly's impressions of the Police Court. Once or twice she had tried
to turn her head to see whether in the restless crowd behind her there were any
of her friends, but when she did this the tall sergeant tapped her on the arm.
"Face the magistrate!"
On the left she could see (without looking) those who had given evidence against her. The stout young Figure Eight from the confectioner's, [-70-] red and trembling with importance; the young constable, bare-headed, looking much wiser than the whole force could actually be; her own mother, grim, and dabbing eyes with shawl, and sighing now and again so vehemently that the form on which they were all seated shook and creaked. A man was in the witness-box, one with the look of a seaman out of uniform, whom Mord Em'ly guessed to be the Court missionary. She herself felt slightly bored with the slowness of the whole proceedings, and was, indeed, tired, for she had not slept during the previous night. She was disappointed, too, to find that the scene had not something more of melodrama about it; she would have felt more satisfied if the magistrate had been severe, elderly, and in wig and gown, instead of being a spruce, keen man of forty, in a morning-coat, and with a manner of great consideration. From sheer contentiousness, she had declined to accept the suggestion of the woman attendant to " tidy herself up "; she had made her fringe help her to look reckless and forbidding; when she remembered to do so, she scowled. Throughout, she had refused to ask any questions; responding gruffly, and at times impudently, to the questions that had been put to her.
The noise of the scratching pen ceased.
[-71-] "Now, then I " The spruce man on the raised platform shifted his chair. "Can't we get on to the next case?"
The clerk below him rose, and whispered.
"Oh, yes, of course! I had forgotten." He leaned on his desk, clasped his hands under his chin, and looked with interest at the short girl. "It's really very difficult to— Let me see the mother again."
Mord Em'ly's mother, with an immense sigh and a doleful look, rose, and took the place that had been vacated by the seafaring-looking man.
"Are you sure you have done your best to keep this girl under control? "
"If it's the last word I utter in this world," said Mord Em'ly's mother solemnly; "if I'm struck dead for it the next minute; if my words is took down, and appears in print; if I never—"
The usher, standing near the witness-box, keeping guard over Testaments, suggested that the question should be answered.
"Not so much jaw," recommended the usher.
"I've looked after her," said Mord Em'ly's mother, accepting the usher's advice, "'and and foot, night and day, ever since she was a biby."
"But I thought you said you were away at work all the day?"
[-72-] "So I am, sir I You wouldn't 'ave me be in two places at once, surely?"
"Then, it's very clear that she has not been looked after. I'm afraid you have, perhaps, neglected your duties as a parent, and you—"
"Oh," moaned Mord Em'ly's mother, weeping freely, " to think—to think that I should 'ave lived to 'ear that said of me. Me, that's devoted meself to her; me, that's gone without, so as she should 'ave every luxury; me, that got her a good place, fit for a countess—"
"Is it a fact, my girl, that you absconded from your situation?"
Mord Em'ly requested the sergeant to translate the question, and the sergeant complied. Did she do a bunk from the shop her mother got for her?
"You may take it at that," replied Mord Em'ly gruffly. " Please yourself."
"It seems to me that we must look on you as incorrigible,"
The sergeant obliged again. "His worship says that you're a bad nut."
"Settle it yourself," said Mord Em'ly recklessly. "It's your show."
The magistrate leaned back and looked at the skylight for a few moments, and tapped his forehead with his pen.
[-73-] "Only do, for goodness sake, 'urry," said Mord Em'ly, prompted by a desire to say something that should console her feelings of resentment. "Time's money to a lady of any position in life."
The magistrate directed his eyes towards her with a half-regretful look,
"Let her be sent to the Home," he said.
Mord Em'ly's mother gave a piercing shriek, which she had held in reserve for this moment, and which she would, in any case, have presented to the Court; Mord Em'ly, with only a vague idea of what was meant, turned to go, and the restless crowd at the back stood on tip-toe to catch a glimpse of her face. As she stepped down she bethought herself of an impudent remark that she might have made, but the sergeant hurried her through the doorway, pushed her into a whitewashed room, and went back into the court, with two acute-faced youths who had been passing money that the Mint knew not. The young constable came into the room and asked if she would care to see her mother.
"No!" said Mord Em'ly shortly.
"Better see her," recommended the young constable. He seemed, now that the case was over, a genial man, but Mord Em'ly could not forget that he had declared to the court that she had been [-74-] associated with rough characters. How dare he call Miss Gilliken and the rest rough characters " See the old woman," went on the young constable, "and 'ave a bit of a cry together, and it'll do you both good."
"I sha'n't see her," said Mord Em'ly obstinately. "I don't want to see no one, and I ain't going to see no one."
On this point Mord Em'ly was as a rock. The seafaring-looking man came into the room, and, in a clumsy, good-natured way, did his best to make her talk, with no success whatever.
"This'll make a woman of you, my girl," he said breezily. "Bless my soul, why, you'll be sixteen by the time we see you again. (Do you say your prayers at night, I wonder? It isn't a bad idea, mind you.) And you'll be trained up to some sort of occupation, so that, at the end of the time, you can earn your living, and be what you may call a credit to society. And healthy!" The seafaring-looking man laughed, and slapped his knee, and looked rather as though he were about to dance a hornpipe " Healthy isn't the word for it. You'll be grown up to that extent, my girl—(here's a few tracts you can read in the train, if you've got time) —to that extent, that you won't know yourself."
Sixteen! Sixteen years of age! Mord Em'ly, [-75-] without answering the breezy man's remarks, thought of it. What would Miss Gilliken and all the rest think of her at that time! Perhaps they would have forgotten her; perhaps there would not be one person then who would care to see her. Mord Em'ly's under-lip twitched. The whitewashed room seemed to grow misty.
"Buck up!" said Mord Em'ly to herself.
As she went, presently, with the constable to the railway station, she looked out, with some anxiety, for the members of the gang. They were probably quite ignorant of what had happened, and she was rather desirous of sending a cheerful farewell message, mainly in order that her reputation might be sustained in their memories. Mord Em'ly shuddered to think what they would say of her if they ever knew that she had been near to tears. On the way she saw, through the traffic, on the other side of the road, her mother walking along and talking to herself. So intent was Mord Em'ly's mother on her soliloquy that she did not notice Mord Em'ly until going up the steps of a tram. Then she shook very fiercely the rolled-up apron that she held in her hand.
"You're no daughter of mine," screamed Mord Em'ly's mother. " I disown ye. I'll 'ave no more truck with ye. You shall never no more—"
[-76-] The tram jerked, and stopped the piece of declamation, by causing Mord Em'ly's mother to slip. Mord Em'ly laughed at this, and, before she turned the corner, waved her hand cheerfully at her vanishing parent.
"We shall 'ave to wait a bit for the train," said the constable. " How'd it be, my girl, if I was to offer you a cup of tea?"
"Keep your tea," she muttered surlily.
"A nice cup of tea, with a couple of lumps of sugar in it," persisted the constable, "and a round of toast and butter. I don't s'pose you made much of a breakfast this morning."
"What if I didn't?"
"You sit 'ere," said the constable. "Give me your word you won't move, and I'll trot off and get it all."
"I sha'n't move," said Mord Em'ly.
There were only a few people on the platform. A porter came up and stared at her, rather as though she were some unique article of luggage, Mord Em'ly the while looking hard at a yellow advertisement board opposite; and when he went away it seemed that he told the other members of the staff about her, because these also strolled up, and, standing at a respectful distance, pretended to be studying time-tables, and instead took furtive [-77-] glances at her. The tea and the toast made Mord Em'ly feel slightly less vicious, and she thanked the constable in a grudging, reluctant way. A uniformed lad came up the steps, carrying a sack on his shoulders, and, when he had allowed this to slip on the platform, was immediately informed of the fact that there was on view a girl in charge of a copper.
"Mord Em'ly!" stammered the uniformed youth. "It ain't you!"
"Course not!" replied Mord Em'ly satirically. "It's my twin sister."
"But wha—what's up?" asked Master Barden. "What are you—"
Mord Em'ly explained.
"I say!" said Master Barden, turning the cuff of his sleeve back, "how about a rescue?"
"A rescue! Me pitch into the blooming copper; you cut and run—"
"No," said Mord Em'ly stoutly; "I don't want no more fuss, and I don't want no one to be getting into trouble on my 'count. All you've got to do is to tell the others that I sent word I didn't care. See?"
"How many years did you say? " asked Master Barden, working his peaked cap over his head with [-78-]a worried air. "My word, it's a bit thick! I thought p'r'aps me and you was going to be good friends."
"You thought wrong, then."
"And isn't there nobody you'd like me to pitch into?" inquired Master Barden appealingly. "You've on'y got to say the word, you know."
"I don't bear no grudge against nobody," said the little woman, looking across the lines at the yellow advertisement board. " It was to be."
"Think again," begged Master Barden. "Surely there's somebody whose 'ead I could go and punch?"
"Be off," said Mord Em'ly. "'Ere's the copper."
Master Barden's van was waiting in the street below, but he imperilled his character for regularity by waiting on the platform until the train came in. The constable found places in a crowded compartment, and mentioned to Mord Em'ly (with a consideration that ennobled him) that they were not bound to take any notice of each other on the journey. "No call," said the constable, "to let everybody know."
"Bye, Mord Em'ly!" Master Barden walked desolately along the platform with the train as it started. "And I say—"
"Now, what is it?"
[-79-] "I sha'n't forget you."
The constable was unable, as they walked from the small country station, to induce her to respond to his remarks concerning the relative advantages of village life and the life in town, and she obstinately declined either to look at the wild flowers growing on the banks, or to notice the two stone figures of Crusaders that guarded the entrance to a mansion near the Home. At the iron gates of the Home, a small girl, with a key not quite so large as herself, let them in, and led the way to the office. There, a young secretary, bright-eyed and alert, looked at Mord Em'ly, and, after examining the papers offered by the young constable, gave a signature for Mord Em'ly, who stood with her gaze fixed on the floor.
"She's not an ill-tempered girl, I hope," said the quick young secretary, as she handed the form to the constable.
"I don't think she's a bad girl at heart, miss," replied the constable judicially. "She's what I should call a little bit wild, if you understand what I mean. But you'll tame her, miss, I lay."
"Think we shall?" inquired the young secretary of Mord Em'ly, with good humour.
"Take you all your time," said Mord Em'ly.
ALTHOUGH, for some time, Mord Em'ly clung persistently to her attitude of
reserve, there was little in the Home that escaped her attention. Conducted on
the cottage system, the detached buildings bordered an oval, green space, with,
at one end, the school-rooms and the infirmary. Each cottage had a "mother" in
charge; usually a middle-aged woman who had been a servant, and had been
selected for her ability to make her ruling respected by the ten or twelve girls
under her care. When a girl defied the authority of the mother, and ran beyond
her management, she was transferred for a space to Pleasant Cottage, which so
far belied its title that its rules were harsher, its discipline more severe,
and its food less luxurious than those of the other cottages. Mrs. Batson, the
mother of Pleasant Cottage, had been a prison wardress. She was a large woman,
with large hands, and had no tolerance for the vagaries of youth; her ordinary
gaze was terrify-[-81-]ing and when it developed into a frown Pleasant
Mord Em'ly lived in Faith Cottage, where the mother, a buxom woman, with slight whiskers, had a pleasant way of boxing the ears of her boarders at regular intervals, whether they deserved it or not; arguing, with some reason, that you should administer punishment when your head was cool, and not when heated by annoyance; adding, moreover, that it did the girls good to be thus corrected, and helped to instil routine. Mrs. Wingham was never quite sure what routine meant, but she knew that it was something good, and she always told her girls that they ought to try and get as much of it as they could.
A fact that, in the early days, did not escape the silent Mord Em'ly was that the girls respected and admired those in authority who punished them, and spoke slightingly of those who were kind to them, placing these latter in the category of foolish persons. When at night the girls went to their room, in each of which were five small, scarlet-counterpaned beds with heads placed against the wall, the talk was usually self-congratulation on having fooled some adult person in the Home, or regret at having failed to do so. Veronica Hall, otherwise Ronicker, who had the bed next to [-82-] Mord Em'ly, was not entirely unsuccessful at this game, and could boast that, although nearly fifteen years of age, she had not yet passed the Second Standard. Other girls, who had been unable thus to restrain their desire for educational knowledge, envied Ronicker, and wondered how she managed to remain a poplar, high and gaunt, amongst shrubs, in the infant's class. Ronicker said it was a gift.
Mord Em'ly, for one, speedily gave up any intention that she may have had to emulate this procedure. When, after a viva voce examination, conducted, on her part, with great reticence, she found herself placed in a class where most of the girls, in their serge dresses and blue-striped pinafores, were about her own age, she discovered, after a few preliminary days of stubborn reserve, that the education she had already received was better than that of her fellows. The unexpectedness of her knowledge sometimes astonished the schoolmistress.
"The capital of Spain?"
(The ruler ready in the schoolmistress's hand.) "Meedrid, miss."
[-83-] "Wrong!" said the schoolmistress, and rapped her hand sharply.
"How'd you mean wrong?" complained Mord Em'ly. "If it ain't Meedrid, what—"
"I beg pardon," said the schoolmistress apologetically; " my mistake."
"I should think it was."
"I thought you were going to say Portugal. They generally do."
Well, I don't, miss," said Mord Em'ly. "Remember you've overpaid me a dab on the knuckles,"
Perhaps it was in mathematics that Mord Em'ly scored most. Doing mental sums was her great point, and she soon obtained such a reputation for this that several of the girls stared at her with reproach. One of the most painful gibes that a girl could offer to another in school was to point her finger, and inflect it slightly—an act called "letting your little finger laugh"; and Mord Em'ly, one day, looking round when she had given what to the others seemed a ridiculously prompt answer, found four little fingers indicating derisive amusement. This only made her the more dogged. The schoolmistress told her that she would have to improve her manners, and here, also, Mord Em'ly showed obstinacy, although it [-84-] was clear to the teacher and to the assistants that the matter was of urgent importance.
"Seven times five, Amelia Drum?"
"Seven times five, next girl?"
A pause, and an anxious look around at the Old Testament pictures on the walls.
"Seven times five, did you say, miss?"
"I said seven times five."
"Wrong. Maud Emily, can you tell us what's seven times five?"
"Good!" said the mistress.
"Good be blowed!" exclaimed Mord Emily, indignant at this moderate approval. " It's right!"
It was this attitude of independence, following the period of sullenness, that demanded all the efforts of the mistresses. They conspired to make a special effort; one or two of them were maladroit enough to let this be seen, with the result that Mord Em'ly, fearing that she had encouraged them by a too complaisant manner, broke out one summer afternoon, sang a comic song, and on the floor of the schoolroom, with the sun blazing through the windows upon her queer figure, danced a frenzied, excited solo. She thought that this [-85-] would clear the air, and place her in the position that she desired to occupy in the opinion of her fellows, and she looked forward to the congratulations that she would receive that night in the bedroom at Faith Cottage. In this she was disappointed. The directress held a special inquiry into the incident, and Mord Em'ly was sent for two weeks to Pleasant Cottage, where the large, severe Mrs. Batson took her in hand. She spent the first night in a small, solitary room, with Mrs. Batson sleeping a wide-awake sleep in the next; in the morning, a basin of bread and water was brought to her, which she promptly emptied out of the window; at dinner-time (when she began to experience a fierce hunger) the empty basin was brought to her. At four o'clock she begged for the bread and water.
"Are you goin' to be good " demanded Mrs. Batson sharply. "Because, if not—"
"I'll be good," said Mord Em'ly.
"Ain't I promised? "
"Ah!" said Mrs. Batson, " I know what some of you girls' promises are. You're as artful as a waggon-load of young monkeys."
"If I break my promise," said Mord Emily, " don't you never trust me again."
[-86-] "It's a bargain! " said Mrs. Batson, closing with the offer promptly.
There were one or two girls whose home in Pleasant Cottage was almost permanent, and these possessed a viciousness that appalled Mord Em'ly. They did things which assured her that they possessed some kink in the brain preventing them from applying reason to ordinary matters; it was one of these who had been found placing carbolic in the tea-urn at Pleasant Cottage, and had acknowledged, with perfect candour, that her only desire was to do for the whole blooming lot. Detection of such acts as these had a good effect on the other girls, and made them recognise the necessity of adhering to laws which had been made for the community's benefit. The amount of scrubbing done in Pleasant Cottage was enough to keep white the deck of a liner; Mrs. Batson had strong ideas in regard to the usefulness of labour to the labourer, and enforced them with a persistence that would take no denial. Certainly, in many regards, she was a difficult lady to propitiate, because she would sometimes ask one of her lady-boarders a question; as for instance, "What on earth do you mean, you depraved creature, by crossing your knife and fork at table?" and if the offending young woman kept silence, she would be [-87-] condemned for not listening; if, on the other hand, an attempt was made to frame an apology or an explanation, the command would be snapped out, "No back answers, miss!" Mrs. Batson had, too, an inconvenient habit of knocking girls' heads together when one of them found disfavour in her eyes; a reproof that was, perhaps, merited by one, but seemed, impartially considered, somewhat hard upon the other. The lodgers at Pleasant Cottage, in addition to their troubles, found themselves easy targets for those who aimed weak jests at them in school or in the work-rooms, and any attempt to retaliate appropriately placed them in peril of a longer residence under the control of Mrs. Batson. The evenings at Pleasant Cottage differed from those in the other houses; Mrs. Batson, with all the predilections of her younger middle-age strong upon her, prescribed a prison-like silence, which she permitted no one but herself to break, and the agonies of pent-up conversation so afflicted Mord Em'ly that, one evening, on retiring to rest, she put her head under her pillow, and told herself, in a whisper, a long story. It was rare indeed that anything like an outbreak of rebellion occurred at Pleasant Cottage. Once a girl, on being punished with the leathern tawse, said, through her tears "And mind you jolly well report that to the 'Ome [-88-] Office" (it being known that this was required by the State regulations), on which occasion Mrs. Batson made a few remarks regarding that department which probably caused the responsible Minister, seated, thirty miles off, on the Treasury Bench, to tremble and grow pale.
Mord Em'ly found in Pleasant Cottage no trusted companion such as Ronicker. This she mentioned to Ronicker, and that young woman, with no trouble, arranged to get herself sentenced to a fortnight in Pleasant Cottage, but, with her usual awkwardness, contrived that her period there should commence on the very day that Mord Em'ly's term expired. Mord Em'ly returned to her own mother, Mrs. Wingham, with the conviction in her acute little brain that running amuck was unwise, and that, in regard to behaviour, the golden mean was desirable. After the company of a dozen of the worst characters in the Home, with their persistent whispering of bad language, their venomous and furtive mischief, it was like mixing with the highest ranks of society to be again at Faith Cottage.
A girl named Dorothy Lane, who had been renowned as a story-teller, with glowing powers of invention, having been promoted to the select band who lived in the mistresses' house, where they pre-[-89-]pared for public life as domestic servants, Mord Em'ly was unanimously requested to take Miss Lane's place. At first, her efforts were marked by the daring unconventionality of the amateur, and a habit of killing off everybody in the romance had the effect of making Faith Cottage rebel. One young woman, with nerves, could not sleep at nights after these terrible recitals, and strong representations made to Mord Em'ly induced that gifted young artist to give to her inventions a less harrowing flavour. A few weeks of practice enabled her to arrive at the tone required; the memory of a wild course of desultory reading in penny libraries of books supplied at the small shops in Walworth came usefully to her assistance. Mrs. Wingham herself, having tested the quality of Mord Em'ly's stories, would listen at the slightly-opened door with as much eagerness as any of the occupants of the small camp bedsteads within. From a sense of dignity, Mrs. Wingham concealed for a time this weakness, but one day it had to be disclosed.
"Who married the countess," asked Mrs. Wing-ham confidentially, "in that tale you were telling the girls last night, Mord Emily? "
"The countess? Oh, she married the painter chap."
[-90-] "Thought so," said Mrs. Wingham. Her 'usband died, then?"
"Drowned," said Mord Em'ly. " Drowned by a collision with an iceberg in the Mediterranean Sea."
"Phew!" Mrs. Wingham gave a whistle of surprise. " That was rough on him. He was a good bit older, though, than her, wasn't he?"
"Twice her age."
"And the will that that old beggar of an uncle perduced? How did they get over that? She wouldn't 'ave a penny to call her own, poor soul!"
"Turned out he'd forged it," explained the young raconteuse. " There was a water-mark on the paper, with a date after the date of the will."
"Well, I never did!" declared Mrs. Wingham amazedly. "Did they lock him up for it?"
"How could they when he went and swallowered a mugful of poison d'rectly minute he was found out? He died," added Mord Em'ly, with a relish, "enduring 'orrible agonies."
"Serve him jolly well right, too," declared Mrs. Wingham. "He deserved all he got. Now, you girls, off you go to school; and the one that's the best, and gets most routine, shall 'ave some of them new petaties with her dinner. And all the rest I'll punish, I will, till they won't know whether they're in Europe, Asia, Africer, or 'Mericer."
[-91-] Mord Em'ly's powers in the direction of anecdote so far endeared her to the heart of Mrs. Wingham that the excellent woman more than once forgave her for outbursts of rebellion, and saved her from terms in Pleasant Cottage. When winter arrived, and the nights became long, and there was less opportunity for going out of doors, Mord Em'ly became increasingly useful at the Home, in that she suddenly developed an ability to sing alto in part songs that were rehearsed, two evenings of the week, in the schoolroom. Other girls also sang alto, but they put too much trust in each other, and were easily led into wrong keys, with results to the part song that were disastrous. Mord Em'ly had a strong voice, and where she led the other contralto young women followed, and she always led them through the devious wanderings to a safe and confident note at the last. The directress of the Home spoke a word of approval—"Made me turn 'ot all over," confessed Mord Em'ly to the other girls—and the young secretary took her for a long walk one moonlight evening when it was fine, and to Mord Em'ly confided the information that she was leaving. The young secretary was going to marry an officer on a P. and O. steamer, and Mord Em'ly grew quite important on being told the details of the engage-[-92-]ment. For the three weeks during which Mord Em'ly's little brain was burdened with this secret she made all the heroes of her stories naval officers, who did surprising deeds of valour on behalf of lovely women at places with such distracting names that Mrs. Wingham declared it made her head ache to try and remember them. The young secretary, at the end of three weeks, did go away, and did get married, and in a month came back, because her husband had gone out again for a voyage to Sydney, and because, moreover, there had been a difficulty in filling her place. Mord Em'ly, delighted with the romance of it, touched by the special favour shown her, determined that her page in a volume called the "Progress Book" which the little secretary kept—it was oddly named, because, really, it contained a record of each girl's retrograde movements in regard to conduct—should not have any further entries.
And, until a new secretary was appointed, she kept her word.
Mirrors at the Home were rare decorations, but it was a lazy young woman indeed who did not find some opportunities for examining her features, and Mord Em'ly, ignorant as she was of her mental evolution, could scarcely overlook her physical improvement, Her skin was clearer, her [-93-] cheeks more plump; the afternoon drill to marches, picked out gingerly on the pianoforte by one of the young mistresses, had given her a habit of walking upright, so that she made now the most of her five feet two. Also she felt in better health. Sometimes she missed the gorgeous Saturday night suppers of frizzling sausages, the frying-pan noisy with liver and bacon; for menus at the Home were not enlivened by rare dishes, but the large, round, flat loaves of brown bread, and the vegetables, and the meat, and everything else that came out of the big store-house near the iron gates, were good and wholesome, and Mord Em'ly was one of the many girls who improved under this course of treatment. With some there always remained the sharp, eager, ferret-like appearance that belongs to the Cockney of many Cockney generations. Of these the most notable in Faith Cottage was one who was celebrated, not for knowledge, not for good behaviour, but only for the fact that she once ran away from the Home to her father and mother at Canning Town. She stayed there for twenty-four hours, and then ran, with all convenient dispatch, back to the Home again.
"Never no more," said the ferret-faced girl from Canning Town cunningly. "No more doing a scoot for 'ome sweet 'ome for me. I've had some."
[-94-] The experience of the Canning Town girl had long since cancelled an intention of Mord Em'ly's, and she had put aside all thought of escape for the present. She was sufficiently far-sighted—aided by the example mentioned—to see that, whilst it would be easy enough to leave the Home, difficulty would occur when she reached Pandora. Ronicker Hall, resisting the wiles of the Third Standard, agreed with Mord Em'ly's proposition, which was that it seemed better to remain in the Home at the expense of the State until one grew old enough to earn one's own living. Before that time arrived Mord Em'ly would have become a member of the band to which Dorothy Lane had been promoted. They saw Miss Lane sometimes in the laundry, in her print dress and snow-white pinafore and white cap, ironing desperately at white articles, and the younger girls yearned for the day when they, too, would be allowed to wear skirts that nearly touched the ground, and to have their back hair done up in a bunch.
Mord Em'ly had been in the Home for nearly a year when her mother called to see her. Parents were sometimes allowed to visit the Home upon application to the directress, a staid, middle-aged lady, whom everybody but the young secretary feared. Not infrequently it happened that parents [-95-] had no desire to pay calls upon their daughters; sometimes they awoke to parental duties upon the daughter arriving at an age when it was possible for her to earn money for their pockets. Mord Em'ly, called out by the little secretary, went rather slowly, and with something of reluctance.
"She'll be boozed," whispered Ronicker. "I'll lay a dollar."
"No, she won't"
"Well," said Ronicker, "mine always is."
MORD Emtv's mother justified her daughter's confidence. The interview took place
in the presence of Mrs. Wingham, and the two excellent ladies talked to each
other, and at Mord Em'ly. It seemed to Mord Em'ly that her mother's face was
"As I say, ma'am," remarked Mord Em'ly's mother, " I only hope she's thankful for all that's being done for her. She's got a chance of a million now, if she's only got the sense to take advantage of it."
"I'm sure," agreed Mrs. Wingham.
"The mere fact that I'm lonely and miserable without her, of course, won't 'ave no effect on her. The mere fact that I've had to get a canary bird just for the sake of 'aving somebody to talk matters over with, won't bring no pang of sorrow to her 'eart."
"Daughters are a bitter 'andful."
"You get no thanks: argued Mord Emily's mother; "that's what I complain of."
[-97-] "Best not to expect any," advised Mrs. Wingham.
"What I should 'ave done if I'd had six or seven of 'em, like some 'ave," declared Mord Em'ly's mother, "'Eaven only knows."
"There's many worse off than us."
"P'r'aps so," with a gloomy attempt to be cheerful, " only that you can never appreciate other people's troubles like you can your own."
"I see your argument," said Mrs. Wingham.
"And when your offspring, if I may use the expression, instead of being a 'elpmate and an assistance to you, turns out a disgrace to the family, and gets put away in a 'Ome, so that you 'ave to make up all sorts of tales to account for her being away, why—"
"Did my case get in the papers, mother?" interposed Mord Em'ly.
"Ma'am," said her mother to Mrs. Wingham, " I will be frank with you—it did not get into the papers, and thankful enough I was for it. If my friends in Dorsetshire should 'ave got 'old of—"
"Fancy you knowing people in Dorsetshire," said Mrs. Wingham, with interest. "How small the world is, to be sure! What part of the county, if it isn't a rude question?"
"Pardon me, ma'am," said Mord Em'ly's mother, [-98-] with some reserve, " if I don't answer your question. I 'ave reasons for so not doing—good reasons too."
"Bit of property in question, I shouldn't wonder?" suggested Mrs. Wingham curiously.
"I don't say it is, and I don't say it isn't. Property often does make a lot of 'ot water, as we all know, but—well, you really must excuse me if I keep my mouth shut."
"I was born not many miles from Portland," said Mrs. Wingham. "When I was in service at Notting 'Ill Gate, I used to get chaffed like anything about it."
"Isn't Portland where the prison is?" asked Mord Em'ly's mother.
"Convict prison," replied Mrs. Wingham. "Fancy that, now!" said Mord Em'ly's mother casually.
"It's a 'uge place," said Mrs. Wingham, with interest. " I know something about it, because a sister of mine married a warder. Why, sometimes they 'ave I don't know how many prisoners there at one time."
"So many as that, ma'am?"
"Oh, more, bless you! And my brother-in-law says the most painful thing is when one of the wives or what not of the convicts comes to see 'em.
[-99-] You get an order from the governor of the prison about once a year, and there you go, and there's a partition between both of you, and a warder standing, as it might be, there; and say," explained Mrs. Wingham, with increasing relish, "say you are the wife coming to see your husband, who's in for, say, ten or fifteen years, or whatever it might be—why, you stand there, and all you're allowed to talk about is—"
"I sh'd imagine," said Mord Em'ly's mother, that it must be wonderfully interesting. Do you mind if I sit down?"
"Getting plenty of work to do, mother? " asked Mord Em'ly shyly.
"You seem to 'ave very beautiful gardens 'ere, ma'am," said her mother to Mrs. Wingham, ignoring the question. "Don't you find the flowers want a lot of looking after?"
"Not 'all so much as the young imps of gels do."
"It's a job I wouldn't take on for a pension," said Mord Em'ly's mother agreeably. " Going out chasing's no particular amusement, but I'd rather be 'alf do that than 'ave your responsibility."
"I always try 'em with kindness first," said Mrs. Wingham; "if that don't answer, we 'ave to think of another plan. As I tell 'em, I'd much rather not punish; I'm far from being of a 'arsh nature, [-100-] because I've 'ad me troubles, like other people, and they've taken all me temper out of me. You must know, ma'am, that I was in service at one time, and it was there I met my 'usband. He was a tallish man. Was your 'usband tall, I wonder, ma'am? "
"Mejum," said Mord Emily's mother shortly.
"And he 'ad a temper—well, it don't do to speak ill of the dead, but he certainly—"
"Mine," said Mord Em'ly's mother," was just the opposite. A gentler and a kinder-be'aved man never breathed."
An opening occurred presently, and Mord Em'ly asked for news of her old friends in Walworth, and obtained no information whatever. Her mother said to Mrs. Wingham that she had found one or two of the girls hanging around Pandora, and she had taken the opportunity to give them a bit of her mind.
"This is what comes, ma'am," she continued, "of mixing up with bad company. You begin to run about all howers of the day, and all howers of the night, and you ain't going to be much of a credit to your poor, 'ard-working old mother."
"True!" acknowledged Mrs. Wingham.
"And the only thing you can do once you're caught, ma'am, is to make the best of it, and, finding yourself put away in a comfortable 'ome, with [-101-] good-'earted ladies that 'ave, no doubt, served in the very best families—"
"Notting 'Ill Gate," murmured Mrs. Wingham.
"Is to be obejent to 'em, and respectful and attentive to all what they say. And you let me 'ear," said Mord Em'ly's mother fiercely, still addressing Mrs. Wingham, "you let me 'ear that you 'aven't been a good gel, and I'll never come near the place to see you again. So, there now!"
"It'd only be right."
"Whereas, if you be'ave yourself like a good, sensible gel, in a year or two you'll 'ave a place found for you in a nice family in the country, where you can save a bit of money, and be as 'appy as the days are long."
"I'd sooner be in London," remarked Mord Em'ly.
"We often find that with 'em," explained Mrs. Wingham. " The rule is, they shall always go out into the country, and send half their wages 'ome 'ere to be banked, because they get a good rig-out, with two of everything, and— But, somehow, they always 'anker after London. Seem to be 'ead over 'eels in love with the place."
Mord Em'ly's mother and Mrs. Wingham continued their dialogue for some time, until the moment came for the visitor to withdraw. Mord [-102-] Em'ly, who had had few opportunities of speaking, stood back as her mother went out through the passage to the grounds, and watched her. Mord Em'ly was choking a little.
"I do believe," said her mother, coming back, "that I've been and dropped the return 'alf of me ticket. I must 'ave had it when I— Why, 'ere it is in me glove all the time."
"Now what's the matter?"
"Give me a kiss! Like—like you used to Saturday nights."
"Pack o' nonsense!" said her mother unsteadily.
But when Mord Em'ly's arms went round her mother's neck, her mother hugged her very tightly, and there were tears on the brown, lean cheeks.
MORD EM'LV became a half-timer, which, interpreted, meant that school claimed
her only for an afternoon and the following morning, leaving her free for
twenty-four hours to work in the dressmaking room or in the laundry. Her conduct
improved so much that small money prizes for excellent behaviour accumulated to
her credit as the months and the seasons went on, and, when Mord Em'ly knew that
the total of her personal property amounted to as much as fifteen-and-six, she
felt aged and sobered by the responsibilities that possession of capital
entails. Ronicker, her friend, went through the training stage, and a place
being found for her in a family that possessed immaculate references, she was
fitted out, and, on a morning that for Mord Em'ly was tinged with melancholy,
left the Home, to test, with no great degree of hopefulness, a life of domestic
service. Some changes had been made in the staff of the Home, and, amongst
others, the young married
[-104-]secretary had finally left. Her place was
taken by a tall, gaunt lady, with a sniff; who urged upon the directress so many
reforms that the directress became quite bewildered, and agreed to them en
bloc for the sake of quietude. Some of
these were resented by the elder girls, and there were grim whisperings of
rebellion. A new and gloomy chaplain had been appointed, and the two Sunday
services in the chapel reduced those girls who listened to a state of great
depression, because he was able to promise them in the next world nothing but
For some time Mord Em'ly and one or two others repressed the mutinous whisperings of the wilder girls. Mord Em'ly discovered, eventually, that one of them was, as a fact, playing the part of provocating agent, and, in this character, was conveying news of the movement at each stage to the new secretary; and, upon this being explained, the revolt cooled down, and the attentions of the dissatisfied ones were directed to the traitress, whose life for a time lacked roses. The return of Ronicker from her first situation first revived for Mord Em'ly a feeling of restlessness.
"It was a bit too thick," explained Ronicker. "There was me in a blooming religious 'ousehold, prayers going on mornin', noon, and night, [-105-]and all the other servants a-pitying me like anything."
"Why didn't you dot 'em one?" suggested Mord Em'ly. "Looks so silly to come back 'ere after you're once been started off"
'I don't mind looking silly," said Ronicker stolidly, "so long as I don't feel silly, Besides, I'd sooner do anything than be a slave."
"I am a-talking sense," declared Ronicker. "It's all very well for you, Mord Em'ly; you ain't tried it yet. But you'll feel jest as awk'ard and jest as miserable when you make a start as I did. Worse than you did at Peckham, I lay."
"You don't think that, do you, really?" asked Mord Em'ly nervously.
"I don't think nothing at all about it," said Ronicker acutely; "I know!"
"But all places ain't the same."
"Granted," said Ronicker drily. "Some are worse than others. I daresay I got 'old of one of the best."
"But how is it, then, that a lot of the girls get on all right? Look at Dor'thy Lane, for instance. She goes off to a place in the country; she sends 'ome 'ere 'all her screw; her mistress writes a [-106-] letter—I saw it—saying that a better servant she never saw."
"Dor'thy Lane's different."
"She started the same," argued Mord Em'ly. She pinched some boots out of a shop at Norwood, and her father's a cabman, and her mother was born drunk. Yet that girl goes through this place; never gets sent to Pleasant Cottage; goes off one morning with her box, and gets along as right as ninepence. How is it some of 'em can do it?"
"Simply because they're built for it. Me and you ain't. Me and you like a certain amount of liberty. Me and you don't want to live all our blooming lives in a blooming nunnery. Me and you want freedom. Me and you want to throw off what you may call the tyrint's shackle. Me and you want—"
"Your conversation, Ronicker," said Mord Em'ly, "'d be a lump more interestin' if you knew what you were talkin' about. Get on with your ironin', 'r else you'll see your friend, the tawse."
"I'll tawse 'em," said Ronicker darkly, " if they talk to me."
Ronicker's pessimistic report on life in a large house as domestic servant impressed Mord Em'ly, in spite of her attitude of disbelief. She began to [-107-] think seriously of her immediate future, and her young head became busy with ideas on the subject. Indeed, the ideas became so numerous that they jostled, and, in striving to get to the front, only impeded each other; it was some few weeks before Mord Em'ly was able to sort them and to select one or two for final approbation. She found herself getting out of her small camp bedstead at night, to peep through the blinds, and to watch a clumsy, over-grown goods train which went blunderingly and noisily along at about a certain hour, every truck in a temper with its neighbour, with sometimes a set fight between all when the engine tried to check them. She knew that the train was going to London, and, more than once, a vague, incomplete scheme had danced about her brain of dressing and running away to the station, and hiding in one of the trucks, and thus reaching town. The rage for the view of gaslights and shops, and the excitement that only town streets can give, possessed her now, as it had done, centuries ago, in Lucella Road, Peckham. In her desire for London, she unconsciously exaggerated and idealised its joys and its appearance; so that when the chaplain on Sundays tried, in a stumbling way, to describe Heaven, Mord Em'ly shut her ears to his confused efforts at description, and decided that [-108-] the real facts were that it resembled the crowded, happy space near the Elephant and Castle, with roads leading to it from every quarter. Them was a mammoth draper's just opposite the Elephant, the memory of which made Mord Em'ly feel dazed. In her stories she not infrequently permitted her heroines to spend as much as two pounds fifteen on a trousseau at Tarn's.
One afternoon, Mord Em'ly, trying not to think of London, was, with some bigger girls, walking in the lanes of the village. The woman in charge of the detachment walked by her side, commanding them to hold up their heads, to keep time, and to leave off fidgeting. Suddenly a sound of brass music came. Approaching they found that a meadow had been lent for the day to an excursion party of girls from London, and, as the girls from the Home marched past the low hedge separating the meadow from the roadway, they watched, from the corners of their eyes, the Londoners, who, hysterical with delight at finding themselves in novel environments, were shrieking, and dancing, and rushing, and fighting, and, to the music of the brass instruments, singing popular songs.
"That's what I call life," whispered Ronicker; "that's worth doing, that is."
"Wonder whether they're reely enjoying 'em-[-109-]selves?" said Mord Em'ly wistfully, in an undertone.
"As for us," went on Ronicker, " we're what we may term a lot of blithering machines; nothing more nor less; we go on, and on, and on, and one day's jest like another, only more so, and—"
"It'd seem odd to be free of the place, after all this time."
"Don't know about being odd," said Ronicker; " it'd most cert'n'y be pleasant."
"You don't think anybody would want to be back 'ere again, like—"
"Not unless they was dotty," said Ronicker.
"I wish," said Mord Em'ly, with sudden excitement, " I wish I could do it."
The shouts of the visitors and the music of the comets followed the demure band of girls to the Home. As they reached the iron gates, they noticed that these were thrown open wide, and that a carriage, with footmen, stood just inside on the gravelled roadway. The well-bred horses pawed the ground with their hoofs, to express their annoyance at being in surroundings so unusual to horses possessing their excellent ancestry.
"Roy'lty!" exclaimed the mother.
Royalty it was. Royalty, in the person of two young women paying an unexpected visit in order [-110-]
to see over the Home. Bustle in the Home; a swift hurrying to and fro; girls, whose faces had evaded the attention of soap and water since mornin, dispatched urgently to scrub their cheeks. The directress, the new secretary, and the gloomy chaplain giving tea to the two princesses, before proceeding upon the tour of inspection; the young mistress, who picked out accompaniments on the piano, looking anxiously for her copy of the National Anthem, and insisting that Mord Em'ly should be brought to her presence straightway in order that the solo part might be rehearsed. Every mother at every cottage running aimlessly up and down stairs; Mrs. Batson, of Pleasant Cottage, boxing every girl's ears, to prepare them for review, and declaring wildly that her snow-white dinner-table was filthy black, and that if this got to the ears of the Queen, she (Mrs. Batson) would never hear the last of it. Increased excitement when the two princesses came out into the grounds; some disappointment at the fact that they were not wearing golden crowns, and clad in white garments, and bearing a wand, but proving to be only two smiling, good-tempered, healthy English girls, in quiet dresses, and a tactful way of saying the right thing to the girls who were called up to curtsey to them.
[-111-] "Maud Emily," called the directress.
This is one of our successes," explained the directress. "Let me see, now. What is her history?"
"Stealing pastry from a shop in Walworth, your Royal Highnesses," said the new secretary glibly. "Difficult to manage at first, but of late more amenable."
One of the young princesses desired to know Mord Em'ly's age.
"Sixteen next birthday, miss," said Mord Em'ly.
"You're short for sixteen, aren't you?"
"That ain't my fault, miss."
"Why, no, of course not." The princess laughed. "It is no very serious misfortune either."
"We've all got some drawback," said Mord Em'ly.
"True! And you will not be long before you leave this Home, where they have looked after you?"
"That's the idea, I s'pose, miss," said Mord Em'ly guardedly.
"Will you remember that my sister and I wish you success in the world, and that we shall be [-112-] disappointed if you are not a credit to the Home after you leave it? "
"I'll bear it in mind, miss."
Other girls were singled out for an interview, and one fell so far short of her intentions that she was unable to call the two young women by any other title than "Your Worship." Mrs. Batson's worst tenant screamed, with a view of offering a dissonant and a treasonable remark, " Dahn with Wagstaff!" (Mr. Wagstaff having been an unpopular vestryman in the worst tenant's parish), and was instantly conveyed to Pleasant Cottage for her case to be considered by Mrs. Batson later on.
Presently the girls ranged in the schoolroom, and a brief, well-considered examination was given, where the smartest only were appealed to for information; then the National Anthem, with Mord Em'ly nervously singing the verses, and the whole school joining, with a roar, in the chorus :
"Send her victorious,
'Appy and glorious,
Long to r'ign o'erious,
God save the Queen."
The girls assembled near the gates to see the young princesses depart, and to cheer them shrilly. [-113-] Mord Em'ly, in the front, and leading the applause, noticed something drop from the waving hand of one of the visitors as the impatient horses took the carriage out through the gates. Mord Em'ly ran and picked it up, found it to be a stout little purse, and rushed wildly after the swiftly-departing carriage. She had some distance to run before their attention was gained, and she returned to the gates hot and breathless.
"That was quite right," said the directress approvingly, when Mord Em'ly had explained " I'm glad you were so sharp. Did the lady give you anything? "
"No, ma'am," with a tight clenching of her left hand.
"I'm very pleased with you."
"Well, ma'am," said Mord Em'ly frankly, "I ain't altogether annoyed with meself."
THE five-shilling piece which Mord Em'ly had received from the princesses for
swift honesty was shown to nobody but Ronicker. The coin had a fine, substantial
look about it, as though it were capable of almost anything, and Mord Em'ly,
having exhibited it to her friend, returned it to her bodice. The two had no
opportunity of considering the question further until late at night, when the
other girls in the room were asleep; even then their conversation hat to be
carried on in the quietest of whispers. Through a rent in the blind the moon
sent a light which illuminated one or two of the many texts which crowded the
walls of the room.
"You'll come too, Ronicker, won't you?"
"Well, but I thought—"
"Whatever you thought," whispered Ronicker, "I ain't coming this journey. Five bob wouldn't pay the expenses of two; and, besides, you'll want a shilling or two when you get there."
[-115-] "Shall you stay on, then?"
"I shall wait till I get another shop, and I shall bolt off from there. They can't touch me then."
"I'd a jolly sight rather not leave you be'ind, Ronicker."
"You'll be a jolly sight better off alone. When shall you make a start?"
"To-morrer! " said Mord Em'ly.
"Then, you get off to by-bye now," advised Ronicker. "Likely as not, you may not 'ave a comfortable bed for a night or two. Get all the sleep you can."
With every desire to take Ronicker's advice, Mord Em'ly found herself unable to close her eyes that night. It seemed to her that she was commencing to make history—history of an adventurous and exciting character; necessary, therefore, that all of her wits should be kept easy of access. Mord Em'ly watched the dawn creep into the room as though it were fearful of awakening sleepers too early; she looked several times to see if her five-shilling piece were still quite secure under her pillow. She took care in dressing to hide it in safety; Ronicker and she exchanged a solemn wink when they parted after breakfast. Later, whilst Mord Em'ly was at work in the dressmaking-room, Ronicker ran across the green from the [-116-] laundry, her white cap slipping from her head, and pressed a piece of notepaper in her hand, bearing the words, "Gode Luck!" which Mord Em'ly correctly assumed to be intended as an encouragement.
"Mord Em'ly! put that cape down."
"Can I trust you to run out and get something in the village?"
"I want a birthday card to send to a niece of mine, and it must have an angel on it, because it looks better, coming from me. Besides, she's fond of 'em."
"Here's sixpence, and if you can get one that looks good enough for fourpence, and it's got a good angel, by all means—"
Careful instruction from the dressmaking teacher, and urgent commands not to be gone more than five minutes. Mord Em'ly, glancing around the work-room before she went out at the door, caught the eyes of one or two of the girls seated at the four wooden tables, with their work in front of them. There may have been something of defiance in Mord Em'ly's look, for two of the girls furtively made faces at her as she went out; not so furtively, [-117-] though, as to escape the notice of the mistress, by whom, to Mord Em'ly's content, they were sharply reprimanded.
"I'm going up to the stationer's, too," remarked Mrs. Batson, coming out of Pleasant Cottage in a crape bonnet, and fully dressed for public promenade. " We'll walk along together, Mord Em'ly."
It would have been disastrous to have hinted to Mrs. Batson that her presence was not desired; Mord Em'ly could only hope that she would be spared companionship when the purchases at the stationer's had been completed. It seemed, however, that Mrs. Batson's elaborate preparations for a lengthened outing were but a ruse to enable her to catch two of her charges, as she expressed it, "on the hop," and whilst Mord Emily selected a card with the most attractive angel, Mrs. Batson mentioned that she should return to the Home at once.
"Boffled!" murmured Mord Em'ly, under her breath.
Nevertheless, the little woman made the last strategic effort. On their return to the iron gates, she affected to remember, with great self-reproach, that she had left twopence change on the stationer's counter.
"You are a silly thing," said Mrs. Batson se-[-118-]verely. "Anybody 'd think you did it a purpose. I 'ope you don't think I'm going to tripse all the way back with you?"
"I ain't afraid to go alone," said Mord Em'ly. " P'r'aps you don't mind leaving this for me at the dressmaking room and mentioning that I've gone back."
Mrs. Batson snatched at the envelope.
"Give it 'ere," she said crossly. "You gels are more trouble than you are worth. Get along with you, do, and don't take a twelvemonth to get there and back."
Mord Em'ly, to show her contrition, ran quickly off until she reached the large house where the two stone Crusaders were on guard. There she had noticed just now a small round fur hat resting near a clump of stones, left apparently by some lady tramp to whom an impression had suddenly occurred that the shape was no longer fashionable. This Mord Em'ly took, and when she had run again for ten minutes, she rested at a milestone, and, taking off her own black straw hat, effected an exchange. The black straw hat was, she felt, a screaming informer, telling everybody that she had escaped from the Home, and she felt relieved to see it sail away on the leisurely waters of the canal. The small fur hat she dusted, and brightened it up [-119-] with a bunch of primroses; she arranged her cloak differently, and felt to see that the five-shilling piece was safe.
"Thus disguised," said Mord Em'ly, quoting from a melodrama that she had once seen at the Elephant and Castle Theatre, "all obstacles to my desprit object are set at nort."
She was sufficiently acute not to go from the nearest station, but to reach the next meant a run and walk of five miles. She knew that, as yet, nobody was attempting to pursue her, but she made up her mind to imagine that everybody in the Home was already out; that the alarm had been sounded, and that twenty-five bloodhounds strained at the leathern cords which held them in their desire to reach her. One or two country lads, driving slow, thoughtful horses, flicked at her with their whips as she flew by, and told her, encouragingly, that she'd miss her young man if she didn't hurry. She pretended that she could hear the hoarse breathing of the dogs, and forced herself to increase her speed. As she neared the station she stopped to make quite sure that she was not being pursued (having, in fact, somewhat over-persuaded herself on this point), to dust boots and to regain breath, in order that there might be nothing in her manner to excite suspicion. Un-[-120-]noticed by her, a puff of white smoke on the railway came nearer; a short train glided up to the station and glided off again before she observed it. She ran up the inclined roadway to the station, and rapped impatiently at the trap-door labelled " Pay Here." The trap-door was thrown up, and a boy's face filled the space.
"'Ullo there!" said the boy.
"What time's the next train to London?" asked Mord Em'ly, panting.
"Two-firty-three!" said the boy shortly.
"But that's over two hours to wait. Isn't there one before that?"
"It's a peculiar thing 'bout this line," said the boy, in the slow, appreciative way of one to whom opportunities for conversation came rarely, "that we never 'ave no train before the next. Did you fink about orderin' a special?"
"Whatever shall I do?" said Mord Em'ly, bewildered. " Why, in two hours they—"
"Tell you what," said the office-boy; " I've got a capital idea."
"Sit down and wait," he said, and slammed the trap-door.
Mord Em'ly read all the advertisements, and [-121-] smelt all the flowers on the narrow platform, and inspected the "Rules and Regulations" (these made her tremble, because it seemed that there was little you could do to a railway company without being instantly liable to a fine not exceeding forty shillings and costs). She was the only passenger in the station, and the staff appeared to consist of the boy who peeped over the blinds of his office now and again with a menacing air, to see whether bye-laws were being broken. Once, when she rattled a dreary, empty automatic machine, he jumped up, and shouted, "'Ands off there, can't you!" with such volume that the little station echoed it, and quite a dozen people seemed to be warning Mord Em'ly. An hour went by. Meal-time at the Home brought with it a feeling of hunger.
"Young man!" called Mord Em'ly.
"Now begin asting questions again," said the office-boy gloomily. "You passengers are enough to make a chap apply for his superannuation."
"Can I get anything to eat 'ere, please? I can pay for it."
"You want a tayble d'hote dinner, I s'pose," remarked the office-boy satirically. "Soup, fish, ontrees, and so forf."
"I want about three penn'orth of something."
[-122-] "We don't make free penn'orths," he said, " and we don't make noffing. You won't get anyfing to eat 'ere; you can make yourself jolly well certain about that."
A smell of something warm and eatable came through the open trap-door. Mord Em'ly sighed. "Any other questions?"
"No," said Mord Em'ly dolefully.
"Don't you mind asting 'em," he said gruffly. "It's what I'm paid for, to be 'ere, and be badgered out of me life. What are you going to London for?"
"To get some work to do."
"Where's your box?"
"Been sent on," said Mord Em'ly boldly. "Been sent on by goods train."
"You'll be a wonderful 'elp to London, you will," said the office-boy. " S'pose everyfing's at a standstill till you get there."
"Daresay I shall brighten the place up a bit."
"Never been in London before, I lay. I've been up twice this year."
"Why, you silly kid," said Mord Em'ly, with indignation, "wasn't I born there?"
The office-boy's contempt for the small passenger vanished on hearing this. His manner changed so much that he offered Mord Em'ly one-half of a [-123-] huge meat pasty that was warming itself near the stove, and, filling a tumbler from the filter in the corner of the outer office, recommended her to go into the tiny waiting-room.
"You feed your face in there," said the office-boy, " whilst I get on with my abstract. Talking to you isn't performing duties what the company pays me for."
Mord Em'ly was finishing the last crumbs of the office-boy's meat pasty when a clatter of wheels made her start. There was but half an hour now to wait for the train, and her first sensation of nervousness had worn off. Two familiar voices came to her ears as the outer office opened; she crept swiftly to the door of the tiny waiting-room, and turned the key. She listened, her heart beating violently, her face white with fear. The sonorous voice of the chaplain applied for the stationmaster.
"You can't see him."
"Why can't I see him, boy?"
"You can't see him " (with some annoyance at being called boy), "because he ain't 'ere."
"Perhaps," said the voice of the new secretary, "perhaps this lad can tell us. Has a girl, a short girl, in a blue serge dress, booked for London this morning? "
[-124-] "She ain't," said the office-boy.
"Or for anywhere?"
"Have you been on duty since eleven?"
"I've been on duty since eight a.m., and I don't get off duty till eight p.m., and a pretty tough job it is, what with the time, and what with the S.M. being laid up, and me—"
"Tell me, boy! Is there such a girl on the station now? " asked the chaplain.
Mord Em'ly, in the tiny waiting-room, held her breath. She saw hope in the fact that the young official was still being called boy.
"Since you ast the question," said the office-boy oracularly, " I beg to inform you that there ain't."
"I think we will wait and see the next train off, Miss Cresswell."
"Very well," said the new secretary.
"You can't go on the platform wifout a ticket," said the office-boy warningly.
"We don't wish to go on the platform, my boy. It will be sufficient for our purpose to remain here."
"I can't prevent that," said the office-boy regretfully.
"You see," said the new secretary to the chap-[-125-]lain, "there are only two possible stations, so that we are sure to intercept her."
"Providing she is going back to town."
"They always go back to town."
"Thought she seemed rather a clear-headed, sensible girl," said the chaplain. "Almost the last one that I should have suspected."
"It is just those," replied the new secretary, in a cryptic way, " that one ought to suspect. The odd thing, to my mind, is that, being so near the time of her departure, she should have decided to run off."
"Can it be that these girls don't like the idea of domestic service? " suggested the chaplain.
"They must be made to like it," said the new secretary definitely.
The chaplain did not appear to see his way to continuing the conversation on these lines, and suggested that the new secretary should rest in the waiting-room, whilst he kept a look-out.
"Boy! " he cried, "why is this door locked?"
"'Cause somebody's locked it, I s'pose."
"Have you the key of this waiting-room door?"
"I have not," replied the office-boy, in a precise, Ollendorffian manner, " the key of that waiting-room door."
Mord Em'ly, with her hand at her mouth to [-126-] prevent herself from making a sound, heard presently a tap on the window that looked out on the platform. The office-boy was there, beckoning to her. Acting upon his whispered directions, she opened the window carefully; with the aid of a chair she stepped on the sill, and thence jumped down.
"Mind my narcissuses," growled the office-boy. "Ere's your ticket. Two and two."
"Can you keep 'em in there till I get away?"
"Jump in a carriage at the back of the train, and keep your 'ead well down."
The office-boy found sufficient change in his pocket.
"Shall I—shall I give you a bob for all your kindness?" asked Mord Em'ly hesitatingly.
"Yus," said the office-boy, "do—if you want to insult me."
"I want to thank you."
"Then you stick to your change. Why didn't you tell me you'd run away from somewhere, and—? She's signalled now."
She (who was the train) came into the station, and she took Mord Em'ly, and Mord Em'ly, head well down, waved a hand as farewell to the office-boy. Looking out as the train went Londonwards [-127-] the girl saw the chaplain and the new secretary step into the open carriage and drive off. The compartment was, but for herself, empty, and, turning, she executed very gravely on the space between the seats the intricate steps of a jig.
MORD EM'LY came down the wooden stairs of Walworth Road Station holding her
breath, and looking eagerly at the faces of people who were rushing up to catch
the train. At the doorway of the station she halted before going out into the
windy night. Already there was a sense of disappointment in not seeing at once
someone whom she knew. She had resolved vaguely that at least a dozen of the old
gang would be waiting for her. The fact that they could not possibly know of her
coming had not affected her calculations.
She went across the road and looked at the entrance to the music-hall next the large public-house, where gas-jets in white globes flared distractedly, and found no performance announced for that evening; instead, there was to be a meeting of 'bus conductors with a grievance.
In a dairy, where she had milk and some scones, Mord Em'ly had an opportunity of seeing herself [-129-]in a mirror, and it occurred to her then for the first time that it was quite possible her old friends might not recognise her. The woman at the dairy asked her how long she had been up from the country, and Mord Em'ly replied, "About two minutes and a 'alf" The dairy-woman sighed, and said that she herself was Devonshire, and added, rather wistfully, that she would give a million pound to be back there now.
It was something to find Walworth Road, with few reservations, unaltered. Friday night was not Saturday night, but it was near to it, and Mord Em'ly, blown up the road, found the same stout women in charge of stalls, the same exultant lads (but grown older) finding words with difficulty to describe the gorgeous attractions of herrings they offered for sale. The hoarse butchers were still losing their voices, and still getting ruddier of face. The penny show was Madame Somebody, the Thinnest Lady in Europe, the Despair of the Entire Medical Profession, and the Wonder of the Century. Apparently the medical profession and the century had given Madame Somebody up as a riddle impossible of solution, for there was nobody inside the red baize curtain when Mord Em'ly looked in, excepting Madame Somebody herself—a lean, flat, little dwarf of a woman, who [-130-] instantly dodged out of sight and screamed "Shop!"
Perhaps there was not such a blaze of white light in the road as Mord Em'ly had expected. The smell of naphtha lamps (going nearly out when the wind came violently, and pretending to be quite out, but burning again when the wind had gone) made her give a twitch of the nose that indicated antipathy; and she stopped her respiration when she passed by the frying, steaming fish shops, with busy, bare-armed servers on one side of the zinc counter, and a line of critical patrons on the other. Many of the people had clean faces, but Mord Em'ly wished that they had all possessed this evidence of care. If they only knew how delightful soap and water were, they would surely make of them closer acquaintances. She was bound, too, to confess to herself that the streets were not so tidy as she could have wished. It seemed to her that there was too much litter about the place, and she found herself walking with care for fear of slipping. As she went along, holding her fur hat, in the direction of Pandora, a young man with a very large cigar nodded to Mord Em'ly and remarked insinuatingly, that it was "a blowy evening, miss."
"City clerk!" said Mord Em'ly, with contempt. And the youth with the cigar was so much taken [-131-]aback by this derisive term (it happened to be correct, which made it all the more distressing), that he turned suddenly, and went away in the direction the wind decided to take him, with a feeble attempt to whistle unconcernedly. Two small girls were chasing each other in Alvey Street, and one dodged in front of Mord Em'ly, using Mord Em'ly as ambush. Mord Em'ly, much annoyed by this unseem'ly behaviour, secured one of the dodging girls and shook her, and told them both to behave.
At Pandora she went up the stone steps quietly. The clean scent of a disinfectant permeated the buildings, and when a door opened the smell of an oil-lamp stole out. From the asphalted open space between the blocks came the voices of children enjoying their games noisily. The wind raced through the narrow passages with a scream. Mord Em'ly was about to put a question to an old lady who was near the window of the old landing, smoking a cigarette with great enjoyment, when she heard her mother's voice.
"You look after them two gels of your'n, Mrs. What-is-it!" shouted Mord Em'ly's mother, with all her old relish of asperity. "I won't 'ave 'em tripsin' up and down in front of my doorway, and [-132-] gigglin' and carrying on so that I can't 'ear myself speak! "
"Wish they'd keep us from 'earing you speak!" answered the neighbour acutely "'Pon me soul, if I don't think you get worse as you get older. You're a nagger, a pos'tive nagger, that's what you are. No wonder your 'usband ain't alive. I don't blame him!"
"Nagger or no nagger!" said Mord Em'ly's mother obstinately, "you stop them two gels of your'n, or else I will. If they'd on'y got a good mother—"
"You're a nice one to talk! " screamed the neighbour indignantly " What about that pretty beauty of a gel of your'n? I've 'eard of her and the way she used to kerry on"
"If you particular want to know," said Mord Em'ly's mother, with studied politeness, "allow me to kindly inform you that my daughter is in a good situation in the West End, with a family whose name you wouldn't recognise if I was to mention it."
"How d'you know I shouldn't?" asked the offended neighbour unwarily.
"'Cause it's a reespectable family!" snapped Mord Emily's 'mother, slamming her door to avoid hearing the neighbour's repartee.
[-133-] Mord Em'ly went down the stairs slowly, with a confused feeling of pride and regret. It was pleasant to find that her mother had invented this pleasing fiction of a berth with a West End family; Mord Em'ly wished that it could be instantly converted into fact, in order that she might appear and confirm her mother's assertion. The two harmoniums on the ground floor were engaged in their usual duel; one was playing in a heavy, elephantine way an obviously comic song that was not known to Mord Em'ly. This, more than anything else, made her feel that she had been absent from civilisation for long, long years. What a number of songs she would have to learn to be again in line with her old friends! She made her way to the south end of Walworth Road, and, as she walked up again, with the wind at her back, towards the Elephant, found herself trying to believe that she was not disappointed with her return. Presently Mord Em'ly gave up the task. In point of fact she had thought, and dreamt, and talked so much of the old place, and all the attractions it had for her, that, gradually and unconsciously, she had, in her mind, invested Walworth with a superabundant glory and an excessive gaiety of atmosphere to which it had no real claim. Moreover, she herself (and of this she [-134-] was ignorant) had changed; if she had not grown much taller, she had at least grown more exacting.
At the corner of Carter Street, where wind going east met wind going north, and struggled boisterously for precedence, stood a semi-circular crowd. A cornet played gustily a rollicking hymn, and high soprano voices sang the words until they reached the very high notes, which they left to the cornet, waiting until the air came down to reasonable altitude :
"Yes, we're gainin' precious sowels,
Yes, we're a-gainin' precious sowels,
Yes, we're —
— is our bat-tel cry."
Mord Em'ly edged her way through the small and not very greatly interested crowd. She saw a crescent of poke-bonneted, dark-gowned women finishing the triumphant refrain; a scarlet-jerseyed man stood in front, with distended cheeks, blowing out the cornet to the skies. The light from the gas-lamp near the pavement came athwart the faces of some of the women; Mord Em'ly noted, as she had always noted before, that most of them were very plain, and these took their emotional exercises grimly; one or two faces were young [-135-] and attractive, and these had a look of bright-eyed ecstasy. A girl, whose face had not been illuminated by the gas-lamp, stepped forward immediately that the hymn had finished, and, waving her arms, spoke breathlessly.
"Fellow sinners!" she cried, in a high, head voice, "I stand 'ere before you to-night—"
"My gracious!" murmured Mord Em'ly, "if it ain't Gilliken!"
"Stand before you to-night," went on Miss Gilliken, shrilly, waving her hands with spasmodic, inappropriate gestures, "as one who, in her time, has bin a lost SHEEP, and has now been found plucked from the burning, and saved from the 'orrors of eternal 'ELL. Many a time 'ave I, with my ongodly companions, roamed about these streets, seeking what I might devour; and, thank God, I've got the candidness to tell YOU, and every one of you 'ere te-night, that in my younger days I've knowed what it was to be a THIEF. I've taken property that I'd no call to touch, and I've done it thoughtlessly, as any of you 'ere tonight might go and do; but I was brought, on a thirteenth of Febooary—oh, joyful day!— to see the error of my goings on—"
"Glory! glory!" murmured Miss Gilliken's colleagues.
[-136-] "Of my goings on; and, thank the Lord, I 'ave been washed whiter than SNOW, and purified of my sins, and looking forward to the future, with a 'appy smile on my countenance and 'ope in my 'eart; and I do so want all you other sinful people to come and do likewise, and not to 'old back, becos' you think you're too black, or too wicked, or too sinful; for, b'lieve me, my friends, BAD as you may be, and no doubt are—"
Mord Em'ly watched her old leader with great interest. A ribald man, slightly bemused, standing at the corner of the crowd, offered incoherent remarks during Miss Gilliken's breathless address, and Mord Em'ly was glad to see that Miss Gilliken adroitly took up these interruptions, and on them based so much strenuous, breathless argument, that the ribald man, finding that he was being forced to give useful assistance to her appeal, took opportunity, when his hat blew off, to retire from the proceedings. Miss Gilliken's voice showed signs of wear presently, and she stopped and stepped back, whereupon an elderly lieutenant went forward and took her place.
"Gilliken! Gilliken! " whispered Mord Em'ly.
"Yes, sister," said Miss Gilliken absently. She was listening entranced to the elder lady lieutenant.
[-137-] "It's me!—Mord Em'ly! "
The poke-bonnet turned quickly.
"Come and stand here," said Miss Gilliken, with excitement. "Come and listen to these blessed words, and—Glory! glory! Fancy seeing you again, after all this time, Mord Em'ly. You don't belong to the Army, I suppose?"
"Not much," said Mord Em'ly knowingly. "You must come back with us presently to the barracks. What are you doing of "
"Then you shall join us," said Miss Gilliken enthusiastically. "You shall see the captain, and find the blessed—"
"I'm not sure," said Mord Em'ly, "that it'd suit my book."
"Ah!"—pityingly—"I thought that once."
"I thought it more than once. Where's the rest?" A sudden fear possessed Mord Em'ly. " Surely they ain't all gone barmy on religion?"
"A-las, no!" whispered Miss Gilliken. " Some are servants of Satan, whilst others are like the woman in the parable—" The elderly lieutenant finished her swift oration, and Miss Gilliken broke off to give the usual expression of sympathy and acknowledgment. "Keep close to me, Mord Em'ly. We're going to march 'omewards now."
[-138-] "I've imagined myself being in a lot of places," said Mord Em'ly amusedly, as she marched along, keeping step with the others, "but this was never one of 'em."
The girls sang snatches of hymns as they went along, and bore themselves discreetly under the fire of badinage levelled at them from the pavement. The blustering wind made them walk with their bonneted heads down, and it was not easy to talk, because the turbulent north-easter seemed determined to monopolise the conversation. In the window of a public-house Mord Em'ly caught sight of a large red poster, with the words-
Underneath, amongst other lines, "Handsome Belt" and "Twenty pounds a-side." When they arrived at the big building, which had once been a hop warehouse, and was now converted into barracks, she laughed, because Miss Gilliken took off the poke-bonnet, and appeared with her hair neatly brushed back from the temples, and gathered behind into a short, demure plait.
[-139-]"Whatever possessed you to go in for this line of business?" inquired Mord Em'ly curiously.
"It come like a flash o' lightning," said Miss Gilliken, in her out-door voice, nearing, with great enjoyment, her favourite subject. "I was walking along East Street, and all at once, like Paul at Damascus— You remember Paul?"
"The apostle Paul," explained Gilliken.
"I know who you mean now. Go on!"
"I saw a tex' in a window. It was a short tex', but it opened my eyes, and I saw for the first time that I was wasting my life, and before I stirred from that spot I made up my mind that 'enceforth I'd be another person, and fit meself for that great and glorious eternity which—"
"And that's how it comes to you, is it?"
"Thank the Lamb o' God for all His mercies," said Miss Gilliken, with obvious sincerity, "yes!"
The permission of the captain being obtained, Mord Em'ly stayed the night in the barracks. Miss Gilliken shared a room with five other girls, and Mord Em'ly was surprised to find how much genuine cheerfulness existed among them. In Pandora, she remembered that most of the inhabitants who had religious tendencies were a little contemptuous of their neighbours, and never [-140-] looked quite well; here there seemed a breezy enthusiasm, coupled at times, when they sang hymns, with a kind of light-headed frenzy. They talked mainly of the marches and appointments for the morrow, and they wondered what would appear about their work in the coming War Cry. They also spoke of a new male ensign, and the elderly female lieutenant was rallied a good deal when she happened to remark that he reminded her of an old sweetheart, and the elderly female lieutenant was so diverted by this, and especially by something that Mord Em'ly said, that she could not help laughing, and her serge dress had to be unbuttoned, and slaps on the shoulder had to be administered, in order to restore her to calmness. One girl, a cadet fresh from her probationary period at Clapton, and, therefore, somewhat less removed from the world than the others, confided to Mord Em'ly that what made her first think of entering the Army was the fact that her young man broke off his engagement with her, Mord Em'ly asked her whether she had not first wrung the young man's neck, and, on the cadet admitting that she had not taken this course, Mord Em'ly said, with judicial wisdom that there was such a thing as being too lenient. The cadet told Mord Em'ly a good many details of her engagement, [-141-] and seemed glad, in a wistful way, of an opportunity for reciting them; she added regretfully that she did not suppose she would ever have a chance of getting engaged again now, but Mord Em'ly pointed out that in this world you never knew your luck, and that while there was life there was hope. Further, Mord Em'ly suggested to the cadet the advisability of keeping an eye on eligible male officers of the Army, and the cadet promised to do so, and added that she was selling a pretty good lot of War Crys, and hoped, therefore, for early promotion.
"Well, what do you say, Mord Em'ly? " asked Miss Gilliken, the next morning after breakfast "'Ave you made up your mind?"
"I 'ave so."
"Glory!" ejaculated Miss Gilliken, with great thankfulness.
"I've made up me mind that this is all very well, and I admire you for doing of it, but it ain't exactly my style."
"Mord Em'ly, I do 'ope you won't go and—"
"Don't you be frightened about me," said Mord Em'ly cheerfully. " It doesn't follow I'm going to rush to the opp'site extreme."
It's a wicked world! "
"I know," remarked Mord Em'ly, " I know that. [-142-] So there's no call for me to go making it no wickeder."
Mord Em'ly's next act was, at any rate, of a well-considered and sensible nature. She discovered, near the Elephant, pasted on a board, the advertisements of the Daily Chronicle, and she formed one in the line of bending, anxious-faced readers of the columns. Among the "Wanteds " she found that a Veg. Girl was required. Sleep in. Close Sundays. Apply Dining Rooms, 527 New Cross Road. A Greenwich tram took her to the door, and the very stout, cheerful lady, who, counting money on the other side of a mountain of plates, looked over the summit, said she was Mrs. Mitchell, and that she sometimes wished to goodness she wasn't. The place had the old-fashioned, pew-like seats on either side of a narrow gangway; on the smoke-toned walls were pasted oblong slips, which shouted remarks concerning the place: "Best Sixpenny Dinner in South London!" "Pass this Shop, you Pass the Best!" "Beef Pudding same like Mother makes!" "Cut from the Joint, 4d.! " "Mitchell for the Million!" "Our Roly-Poly Puddings Challenge the World!" A bored-looking young woman, in a scarlet blouse, writing out the menu for the day on sheets of note-paper, looked up from the table [-143-] at which she was seated, and, after inspecting Mord Em'ly, gave a cough, intended to convey that Mord Em'ly was not, in her opinion, a member of the higher aristocracy.
"I've come for the place," said Mord Em'ly steadily, " and I'm a good character, but I can't show you no papers, and I sha'n't tell you where I was last."
"That's candid," declared stout Mrs. Mitchell, "I must say."
"Get rid of me if I don't suit," advised Mord Em'ly; "keep me if I do. I ain't lazy, and I ain't dishonest."
"You've got a good face, my girl."
"It's the same I've always had."
"Did you leave your last place of your own accord, my girl? "
"I did," said Mord Em'ly. "They wanted me to stay like anything. Quite cut up about me leaving."
"It's risky," remarked Mrs. Mitchell, fanning herself with a plate, "but, 'pon my word, I've a good mind to chance it."
"Shows your good sense," said Mord Em'ly • approvingly. "P'r'aps you don't mind lending me an apern? I've only got what I stand upright in."
MORD EM'LY gave so much satisfaction as a vegetable girl in the kitchen at the
back of Mrs. Mitchell's dining-rooms that in a few weeks she, to her great
content, was promoted to the position of assistant waitress. Here her natural
alertness made her useful; the work suited her, and the patrons. finding that
her serving was preferable to that of Miss Mitchell, who waited upon them with
the languid air of a duchess reduced in circumstances, showed signs of
preference, and some would stay in retreat behind newspapers until Mord Early
became free to take their orders. She was a frank little person, too, and did
not hesitate to mention (in confidence) when a certain dish was undesirable.
"Order it, if you like," Mord Emily would say, "but it's a bit off colour to-day, and that's a fact"
Services of this nature are worth paying for, and Mord Em'ly found, in the aggregate, so many pennies left by the side of emptied plates, that the [-145-] noise made by her money-box when she chinked the contents every night was to her like music from a large orchestra. She returned to Miss Gilliken a half-crown which she had borrowed; the next five shillings went to her mother, "From your loving daughter," with no address. (That evening, the rumour went about in Block C of Pandora that Mord Em'ly's mother had received a bank note of immense value, and that the titled lady in the West End house where Mord Em'ly gave her services was treating the young lady more like a sister than anything else.) After that, for a time Mord Em'ly devoted the money to her own adornment, beginning with a purchase of calico, and ending, after long and careful thrift and equally careful disbursement, with a hat, that even Miss Mitchell, a stern critic in such matters, felt bound to acknowledge was not altogether unbecoming; going, indeed, further than this by permitting Mord Em'ly to accompany her on a Sunday afternoon to Greenwich Park. Miss Mitchell was not one young lady, but two; the first, with a sharp voice and manner for her stout mother, the dependants in the kitchen, and for working-men customers; the second, with a tired voice and an air of boredom for the nobility of New Cross, and for distinguished strangers. She [-146-] had a gruesome knowledge of German royalty, and on Sundays she wore pince-nez.
Mord Em'ly was busily serving the customers in the various pews, taking orders, and running to the back to hurry the cook with encouragement and reproach, finding newspapers for those desirous of combining study with restoration of the body, telling an insurgent match-boy to get outside before she forced him to do so, and keeping ever a watchful eye on departing customers, when a youth, of medium height, broad-shouldered, bullet-headed, square-chinned, pushed open the glass doors, and looked round. He appeared so well dressed, in a suit of tweeds, that Miss Mitchell went forward and told him, pleasantly, that it was a fine day, and that it would be, in all probability, most awfully charming down at the seaside.
Mord Em'ly found herself called to the rear of the long room by a narrow-faced customer, who had several times endeavoured to engage the busy little woman in conversation, and the tweed suit youth ordered the most expensive dish on the bill of fare.
"Miss," said the narrow-faced man, in the furthest pew, "what's the damage?"
Mord Em'ly made a swift mental calculation. " Two breads?" she asked.
[-147-] He nodded.
"That'll be 'levenpence altogether," said Mord Em'ly quickly. "Penny change, thank you."
"Never 'eard me hold forth on the Broadway, 'ave you?" asked the narrow-faced man, taking his soft hat from a peg on the varnished wall. "Do you go in for politics at all, may I ask? "
"Got no time for politics," said Mord Em'ly briskly. "I leave that to them that's silly enough to bother their 'eads about it.'
"The aperthy of the million," said the narrow-faced man gloomily, " is one of the strongest enemies we have to fight against."
"Aperthy or no aperthy," remarked Mord Em'ly, "it's a game I don't play at. What are you, Mr. Wetherell? Radical, or the other side?"
"Neither!" said the man, pulling at his red tie. "They 're both as bad as one another."
"That's all right, then," said Mord Em'ly cheerfully. "That settles them."
"I belong to those," said Mr. Wetherell, raising his voice, "that are on the side of the down-trodden and the oppressed; I am on the side of the slaves of labour; I am on the side of every man 'aving his full pay for a fair day's work, and less of it going into the swollen pockets of that 'ydra-'eaded monster, Capital; I am on the side—"
[-148-] "You're also a bit in the way," said Mord Em'ly. " Let that boy pass, why don't you?"
"Deptford Broadway," said Mr. Wetherell, "twelve-thirty, next Sunday mornin', I shall be dealing with 'Tawpics of the Week.' "
"I shall be dealing with my dinner."
"Sunday after, then," urged Mr. Wetherell. "It's a chance you ought not to miss."
"I shall see," said Mord Em'ly, walking down to the door with him. "Are you very amusing."
"Amusing?" echoed Mr. Wetherell crossly. " I'm sarcastic, and I'm bitter, and I'm eeronical, but as to—"
"I daresay that's just as good," said Mord Em'ly. " Mind the mat."
Mord Em'ly paid money over the counter to Mrs. Mitchell, reciting quickly a list of dishes as she did so, and the stout lady gave a nod at the end, as auditor's certificate, and swept the cash into the drawer.
"May I trouble you for the salt, miss? "
She took a salt-cellar to the tweed suit young man, and placed it on the table, without looking at him.
"Had some money left you? " asked the young man, in a deep voice.
[-149-] "Wish I had," replied Mord Em'ly. " What makes you ask?"
"Seem to save forgot all your old friends. 'Member me, don't you? 'Enry Barden, formerly on the Chatham and Dover; now champion lightweight of South London at—"
"Well, I am glad to see you," said Mord Em'ly, shaking hands. " I've thought of you more'n once, all this time."
"So've I of you," said Mr. Barden, flushing. " I saw you off, didn't I, when you went away to—"
"'Ush!" whispered Mord Em'ly.
"When you went away," said Mr. Barden, in a louder tone, "to that farm-'ouse in the country, that belonged to some friends of your'n."
"And 'aven't you improved, too? " went on Mr. Barden. " I was doing some boxing round 'ere the other night, in the 'Atcham Park Road, with two young gentlemen from Blackheath, and, passing by, I caught sight of your face over them short wire blinds, and I says to myself, 'That ain't Mord Em'ly,' I says. And, walking 'ome to the Kennington Road, where I live now, I thought over it again, and I says to myself, ' Barden, old chap, you're wrong for once. That was Mord Em'ly.'"
Mord Em'ly darted off to secure payment from [-150-] a customer who had finished his meal, and came back again.
"They don't know about the 'Ome," she whispered, "nor about mother, nor nothing."
"I twigged that. Who was that chap that went out jest now, you seemed so friendly with?"
"Only a customer."
"Demd lively-looking customer, too," remarked Mr. Barden, with emphasis. "Got a face on him like 'alf-past six."
"Better language, please," said Mord Em'ly tartly, "if you want to come 'ere again."
"Beg pardon! It slipped out in the 'eat of the moment"
"And you'll 'ave to slip out in the 'eat of the moment, too, if you ain't careful. If you must know, he's a Mr. Wetherell, and he's a political kind of gentleman, and belongs to a club down in Deptford."
"I fancied he seemed rather inclined to be over-sociable," said Mr. Barden carefully. " But I s'pose you get all sorts in a place like this. Do you 'ave your Sundays clear?"
"Let's go somewhere—"
"Drop me a note," said Mord Em'ly. "I [-151-] generally go for a stroll with Miss Mitchell over there."
"You'll find me better company than Miss Mitchell," said Mr. Barden.
"You ain't walkin' out with any other gels?" she inquired suddenly.
"Gels!" said Mr. Barden strenuously. "I 'ate the very sight of 'em."
To Mord Em'ly's openly-expressed astonishment, Mr. Barden, on the following Sunday afternoon, was discovered near the Observatory, at the top of the hill in Greenwich Parlt, when Miss Mitchell and Mord Em'ly had finished the steep ascent. Miss Mitchell, wearing rings outside her gloves, and fanning herself with her closed parasol, complained a good deal of the large number of people who were strolling in the broad avenue leading to Blackheath. They made the place so awfully cheap (said Miss Mitchell), and didn't Mr. Barden think so?
"The great drawback about New Cross," said Miss Mitchell languidly, "is that there is no seeciety which you can call select. What I mean to say is, the classes are mixed up so."
"It's a noosance," said Mr. Barden, stroking Mord Em'ly's sleeve furtively, "when it's like that"
[-152-] "You go to a dance in the neighbourhood," said Miss Mitchell loftily, " and what happens? I say, what happens?"
Mr. Barden shook his head knowingly, to indicate that society dances had no secrets from him.
"Why," declared the young lady oratorically, "whereas on the one side there may be a few in your set that you are not altogether unpleased to meet, yet on the other side there are some who, if you met them out afterwards, would shake 'ands with their gloves on, and never make no mention of no apology."
Mr. Barden looked at his hands nervously, and found, to his relief, that, being ungloved, he had escaped disaster.
"Something ought to be done," said Mr. Barden vaguely. "Someone ought to step in."
"And then, again," complained Miss Mitchell "people are so cleeky."
"So how much?" inquired Mord Em'ly.
"Cleeky," repeated Miss Mitchell. "Military people especially are neetorious for their cleekiness. Look down on everybody else."
"Can't stand them kind," said Mr. Barden. "Do you go into society much, miss? "
"I know as much about it," replied Miss Mitchell evasively, "as them that do. A tale I was [-153-] reading of the other day, about a marchioness, and a artist, and—"
"Ah!" remarked Mr. Barden, with great relish, "that's the sort. You can always rely on a marchioness to be up to something or other."
"Artists, too, seem to get about a good deal," remarked Miss Mitchell condescendingly. "Always poppin' up in books, at any rate."
"Can't say I've been exactly what you may call 'and and glove with many artists."
"There's something very gentlemanly about them," said Miss Mitchell thoughtfully, "only they appear to be rather— What shall I say? "
"'Aughty? " suggested Mr. Barden.
"Oh, no! Not that."
"Oh, dear, no! Nothing like that."
Mr. Barden, abashed at his want of success, did hot again offer a word.
"Inconstant! That's the word I wanted. In. constant They're here to-day and gone tomorrow, if you understand what I mean, and nobody knows their real name, or whether they're already—"
"Look 'ere," interrupted Mord Em'ly impatiently, " we're 'aving a jolly lot of talk. I prepose a run down the grass bank of the 'ill."
[-154-] Later in the afternoon, when they watched the golden sun disappearing behind the College and the Hospital, and saw the ships going, like stately swans, down the winding river, Miss Mitchell's stock of aristocratic conversation petered out, and Mr. Barden found an opportunity to take Mord Em'ly's arm, and to whisper that he had seen her mother, and had told her he knew where Mord Em'ly was, but had declined to give the address. Being thus very near to Mord Em'ly's soft cheek, he kissed her, and for his assurance was severely punched. They walked down to Tea-pot Row, and Mr. Barden insisted upon standing tea and shrimps in an arbour at the back of one of the houses, where young couples ate out of each other's plates, and sat at tea with their arms round each other's necks. A waiter, who looked several hundred years old, attended on them in a dress-suit, and called the ladies " Madam," and Mord Em'ly felt that now, at any rate, she was in an admirable sphere. She took some pains to notice how the most refined young ladies in the gardens dealt with the shrimps before them, and, at some inconvenience, imitated their dainty course of procedure; in drinking from the tea-cups she found that etiquette demanded that the little finger should be curved, and with this, too, she complied. After [-155-] tea, Mr. Barden smoked a cigar, and Miss Mitchell, reviving, told them of her excursions into high life, which seemed to have been rather cheap excursions, with a return ticket available only for the hour of issue, but gave the impression that Miss Mitchell was well equipped, and that, opportunity given, she could hold her own anywhere. A tram took them to the dining-rooms, and carried Mr. Barden away to the Elephant. Miss Mitchell, in her room, as she used all the suggestions that she had ever heard of for preserving an aristocratic whiteness to the hands, called out to Mord Em'ly, before going to bed, that her friend was really more of a gentleman than might have been expected, considering, and that she had met worse manners amongst the better-breds.
"Never been engaged, have you?" called Miss Mitchell.
"No fear," answered Mord Em'ly. "'Ave you?"
"Hundreds of times," declared Miss Mitchell. "At least, I say hundreds. Twice, at any rate."
"I don't see no great catch in binding yourself down to anyone special."
"They give you presents," urged Miss Mitchell. "Pairs of gloves, and so forth."
[-156-] "I can buy all the gloves I want," said Mord Em'ly sturdily.
"And it's nice to have someone to write letters to, you see; and it also gives you a kind of rather nice anxiety over the post in the morning. First young gentleman I was engaged to used to write me twice a day—morning and evening."
"How long did that last?"
"'Bout three weeks."
"Ah! " said Mord Em'ly.
"I took some objection to a necktie he was wearing," called out Miss Mitchell, and he got huffy over it, and so we simply bid each other farewell, and I sent back his presents, and he sent me back mine. Don't you think my hands are much whiter since I've been using this vinegar-wash?"
Miss Mitchell exhibited, through the open door of Mord Em'ly's room, two large, red hands, the size and colour of which were subjects for Miss Mitchell's eternal regret.
"Like alibaster," said Mord Em'ly sleepily. Goo' night."
Mr. Barden was not allowed to monopolise the precious Sundays. Mord Em'ly sometimes resented his calm air of proprietorship, and evaded him by going to church, a sanctuary to which the young [-157-] boxing man could not bring himself to follow her. At this church, where the service was so high that it nearly reached to Rome, Mord Em'ly experienced for the first time the unique emotion that an impressive service, with a faint odour of burnt incense, and fervid appeals from an earnest young preacher, manage to create. She found that the services gave her a mystic enjoyment that she could not attempt to define, but it enabled her to understand why the nursing sisters who used to come to Pandora from a neighbouring church always had happy faces. It was after these services that she used to think of her mother, and to feel that she ought to go and see her—a prospect that became modified by consideration.
"After all," Mord Em'ly would say to herself, "we're better friends apart. I'll send her another little postal order next week."
The sudden engagement of Miss Mitchell to a young hairdresser, for whom that young lady found an ardent affection, mainly because his Christian name was Reginald, forced Mord Em'ly to reconsider her position. The week-days were so busily occupied that they demanded no consideration; it was only Sundays that called for management—so much, indeed, that the little woman sometimes dreaded their approach. In the week melancholy claimed [-158-] her only at the occasional periods when customers were few at Mitchell's dining-rooms, and refused to be lured by its enticing oblong slips, or its exposition of eatables in the window. At such times (which arrived rarely) the stout proprietress would endeavour to speed the lazy minutes by describing the funeral of her husband, done years agone at the cost of twelve pound ten, at Brockley Cemetery, on a day of which every detail was fresh and green in the old lady's mind. Sometimes Mrs. Mitchell would, if in very good spirits, review other funerals that she had had the good luck to attend; they evidently stood in her life as the only things really worth remembering. But ordinary days were filled, from an early hour until one sufficiently late, and the stout proprietress delighted at watching the alert Mord Em'ly, and, impressed by the contrast between the two girls, took care that she was rewarded by the best food from the dining-rooms.
"I've cut you a nice little bit off the scrump, me dear, and you take this 'alf bottle of stout, and you go over there, and eat it all comfortable, and let me and Rosie see to the work for 'alf a hour. You mustn't run yourself off your feet, you know. Rosie, come 'ere this minute. Put that pen and ink and letter-paper away, and come 'ere this very [-159-] minute, miss." A long-drawn sigh. " Nobody'd ever think you was a daughter of mine."
Mord Em'ly, despatched one Sunday morning to Deptford to buy a Lloyd's for Mrs. Mitchell, and a Ladies' Fashions for Miss Mitchell, found herself stopped near the Broadway by the sound of Mr. Wetherell's voice. She went across, and, at the edge of the small crowd, listened. There were several groups on the triangular space; one around a man selling birds; another listening, in a casual way, to a Russian, who, with a strong accent, was denouncing the laws of England : "You air the vorst gind of shlaves, my goot frients; you are shlaves mitout knowing dot you are shlaves"; another crowd formed a semi-circle near a straight line of gloomy-looking young men, in the middle of which line was Mr. Wetherell, standing on a Windsor chair. He was bareheaded; he had an action of pushing his hand through his straight hair, which gave him an astonished appearance; his face was crimson, and his forehead was wet. Mord Em'ly felt impressed by his oratory. She had no idea that he knew so many words; the sentences he threw impetuously at his crowd seemed to her so admirable and so conclusive that it surprised her to find the crowd quite calm and unconcerned. One might have [-160-] thought that they had heard it all before. She felt a kind of reflected glory in the fact that she knew this crimson-faced, excited orator, now telling the House of Commons, in a fierce shout, exactly what he thought of it, and screaming a sentence of defiance against the Prime Minister.
When, in conclusion, he said that he gloried in the protests that he had that morning made, and that, if this so-called Government liked to send him to a martyr's scaffold for expressing his opinions, he, for his part, was ready, Mord Em'ly held her breath, fearing the Government might instantly appear and act upon the suggestion. But nobody moved; one or two people in the crowd winked at each other; and a young man by the side of Wetherell whispered to him, impatiently, that he had gone over his ten minutes. Mord Em'ly felt glad that Wetherell was safe, and shook hands with him when he came round to her, in a dazed, respectful way.
"It takes it out of you," he said, mopping his forehead exhaustedly, "open-air more than indoors. What did you think of it?"
"I liked what I 'eard," answered Mord Em'ly. 'You've got a louder voice than I thought. Carries further than this one does, at any rate."
"Him?" said Wetherell, glancing contemptu-[-161-]ously at his furious successor. "Him? Why, he can't talk for nuts. You must come and 'ear me at one of our evening meetings when I'm in form."
"I shouldn't mind."
"Of course, you needn't adopt our teenets unless you like."
"Oh," said Mord Em'ly, puzzled. "That's optional, is it? Place doesn't get over-crowded, I s'pose? "
"That's the worst of it," complained the orator. "The job is to get a good ordience, especially these fine evenings. They come in a bit when it's wet, but they don't come then out of any love for the cause."
"And how d'you manage to think of all these things to say?" inquired Mord Em'ly curiously. "If I was to get up to speak, I shouldn't be able to say a single word."
"You 'ave to be born like it," said Mr. Wetherell, with proud modesty.
"And do you always make the same speech?"
"No," snapped the young man fiercely, "I don't always make the same speech. Who's been telling you that?"
"Nobody;' said Mord Em'ly. "I only asked the question."
"Oh, all right," he said, relenting. "I thought [-162-] people might 'ave been saying things about me behind me back. Shall I be outside your place at seven to-night?"
"If you like."
That evening Mord Em'ly did not go to the meeting in Deptford, because Wetherell was a few minutes late, and Henry Barden being outside the dining-rooms when Mord Em'ly appeared, she walked away in the direction of Lewisham High Road with him, having no serious battle with her conscience on account of the tardy and disappointed politician. The two young men belonged to opposite types, with this special and striking difference : that whereas, with Wetherell, the opportunities for speaking were few, with Henry Barden the reverse was the case. Lately he had talked once or twice about Melbourne, but upon Mord Em'ly remarking that she did not believe in foreign places, and that London was good enough for her, he had resumed his usual role of listener, leaving to her the task of keeping up the conversation.
When Mr. Barden returned his charge to the doors of the shuttered dining-rooms, he made, rather hesitatingly, his first important remark of the evening. A contest with a Hoxton youth, at Flops's Gymnasium, was impending—a contest [-163-] written about in the sporting papers, and he had been more silent than usual. An Australian gentleman had offered to back Henry Barden, and aggressive paragraphs had appeared in the Sporting Life.
"What night is this affair of yours? " asked Mord Em'ly.
"'Ope you'll win."
"So do I," said Mr. Barden. He coughed and hesitated. "Talking of fights," he said, "guess what I 'eard the other evening."
"Give it up," said Mord Em'ly.
"Why, I 'eard a chap saying that your father—that's the words he used—your father was out, and about again."
"Puzzle him to," said Mord Em'ly lightly. "He's been dead and buried this fourteen year."
"Sure?" asked Mr. Barden.
"Should I say so if I wasn't " she demanded. "Someone's been takin' a rise out of you, 'Enry."
FLOPS'S Gymnasium belonged to Shoreditch; the entrance was from Kingsland Road,
where a passage led to the club, members of which were gentlemen interested in
sport generally, and the racing of horses in particular. Flops's nights occurred
twice a month, and a good many patrons went into them for nothing, in spite of
the announcement on the ' bills outside, "No Admittance on the Nod!" which,
being interpreted, meant that the shilling was indispensable, and that mere
amiability of manner was not to be considered an adcquate substitute for coin.
Mr. Flops himself had been a music-hall singer in his green youth, but a fervour
of patriotism, and a desire to baulk the designs of Russia, had resulted in his
voice shouting itself away, and he spoke now in a hoarse whisper. At
confidential moments, he admitted that he knew as much about the foreign policy
of his country as most people, and in Hoxton and Shoreditch he possessed much
influence on this
[-165-] account, because what Flops said to-day fifty people repeated, with an equally
wise air, in their various workshops and public resorts to-morrow. Thus, when
Flops had once said, in a mysterious way, at the bar of his club, that he
distrusted the Dardanelles, the members who heard shook their heads rather
sadly, to intimate that they, too, were forced to come to a similar conclusion,
and, going home, mentioned, in confidence, to people whom they met that the
Dardanelles were up to some hanky-panky or other, and wanted a lot of watching.
Mord Em'ly was at Flops's because Henry Barden had told her definitely that it was not a place for girls. It seemed to the independent little woman that any assumption of responsibility on the part of Mr. Barden was something to be resented, and she had come to the Shoreditch club at inconvenience, in order that this attitude should be plainly indicated. Near a zinc-covered bar, one or two young women, dressed in a fiercely attractive manner, were leaning against barrels which stood in the corners. Mord Em'ly felt relieved to find some of her own sex; it had occurred to her, on entering, that she might, perhaps, be the only woman present.
"And he won a bit over the Grand National," [-166-] said one of the girls to the other, "and now he's imyable; but if he loses over the City and Sub., 'Eaven only knows what'll 'appen."
"Men are a rum lot," said the other. " You never know, with 'em, from one minute to another."
Mord Em'ly went up to the first speaker, and tapped her shoulder. It was Ronicker Hall, altered as much as dabs of powder on her eccentric nose, and brown hair that was making a partial effort to turn itself into golden, could contrive to change her. Ronicker was delighted to see Mord Em'ly; Ronicker told her how to get into the gymnasium, and where to stand to avoid being seen, and chattered away about the old days with a nervous anxiety to keep on talking. Ronicker dismissed her friend, and, as the two walked through to the gymnasium, explained rather awkwardly her present position.
"I've bin a fool to meself," confessed Ronicker self-reproachfully. "I might 'ave settled down quiet if I hadn't been so flighty-'eaded. People complain about a 'umdrum existence, but you take my word for it, Mord Em'ly, it's possible not to be 'umdrum enough."
"And does he knock you about?"
Ronicker glanced at herself in a mirror on the wall.
[-167-] "He cert'in'y does," she admitted, " now and again. But, mind you, I will say this for him, he never nags."
"Oh " said Mord Em'ly.
"If he's got anything to say to me," continued Ronicker, becoming enthusiastic, "he never has a lot of argiment like some would. He jest gives me a clip side the ear, and has done with it."
"And don't you object?"
"Me object?" echoed Ronicker amazedly. " Why, what should I object for? "
"I wouldn't stand it, not at no price. No 'usband's got any right to—"
"Well," whispered Ronicker confidentially, as they stood at the door of the gymnasium, "that's where I'm 'alf inclined to think I've been silly. As a matter of fact, we ain't married, and, consequently, he's only got to say 'Outside!' and out I shall 'ave to go." Ronicker shook her head. " I'm one of the jays," she added dolefully.
Mr. Flops, in frock-coat, white tie, and a general appearance of being over-oiled, came up and bowed.
"Ladies," said Mr. Flops hoarsely, "your presence would make any ordinary evening perfect, and the bright eyes of lovely women, like the stars [-168-] in the firmament, would—in a casual way—serve to illuminate the scene. But on this occasion—"
"This way, Mord Em'ly," said Ronicker. "Never mind Flops."
The gymnasium was a railway arch, fitted with seats on tiers, built up against three sides. In the centre, a ring, which was not a ring, but a square space, marked out by a red rope. The seats were filled by eager-eyed men, arguing with each other, their faces flushed with entertainment; the pale smoke from their pipes and cigars floated distractedly about the curved ceiling of the arch, and went to the further end to try to find exit, and, being unsuccessful, came slowly back, and hung about until the door opened, when, making a rush, some of it managed to get out. The shrieking whistles of engines came now and again; the thunder of a train passing overhead made patrons raise their voices. On the wall of the arch were a few framed photographs of half-stripped men presenting their fists to each other; also a number of portraits of gloomy, important-looking boxers on pink paper, taken from a New York illustrated journal. The square space on the floor was, excepting for the presence of two wooden chairs, empty. Mord Em'ly stood with Ronicker on the topmost form at the back, where they had to [-169-] crane their heads to avoid contact with the curved roof, and Ronicker pointed out to her the gangway through which Henry Barden would arrive. Some betting was going on in a furtive kind of way, and, apparently, the local man in the coming contest was, of the two, in greater favour. The scene being new to Mord Em'ly, her big eyes grew bigger than usual, her cheeks flushed.
"Jolly fine, isn't it, Ronicker?"
"It's middling," said Ronicker, without enthusiasm. "For my part, I'd sooner be 'alf be at home, quiet and "—Ronicker sighed—" and respectable."
The Arch began to applaud. Through the gangway, made wider by the appeals of Mr. Flops "Do stand a-one side, gentlemen, if you please, and let them come into the ring"—came two loosely-clothed young men. They bobbed underneath the cord; each was followed by a middle-aged man, who at once assisted them in taking off their short coats and jerseys, found the giant brown gloves, and fixed them on. Bare to the waist, they stood up, their arms hanging at their sides. They looked modestly on the sanded floor, whilst Mr. Flops, hat off, with his most important air, introduced them.
"Gentlemen," shouted Mr. Flops, as master of ceremonies, "most important contest now to draw [-170-] your notice to, between Wag Mills, otherwise Teddy Mills, of Shoreditch—"
Cheers. Mr. Flops waited until these had finished.
"And Henry Barden, well-known light weight of Walworth."
"Camberwell," whispered Mr. Barden correctingly.
"Of, as I say, Camberwell," went on Mr. Flops. "This is a knock-out contest for twenty pounds a-side, the money having been found for our young friend Mills by three local friends of the noble art, who pursue the honourable and distinguished occupation of licensed victuallers—"
"That's a lie," murmured Wag Mills. "They keep pubs, all three of 'em."
"The money for Henry Barden, of Camberwell, has been found by a gentleman hailing from what I may go so far as to describe the Antipodes, the home of the kangaroo, and one of the many colonies of which this England of ours, built up, gentlemen, by our forefathers, and handed down to us as a proud heritage, has reason to be proud; I mean "—Mr. Flops here seemed to throw off all reserve, as one who declined to keep secrets from the world—" I mean New South Wales."
Cheers again. Mord Em'ly asked Ronicker [-171-] where New South Wales was, exactly, and Ronicker, after some thought, replied that she was pretty sure it was abroad somewheres.
"They both have good records, gentlemen, and I am prepared to wager my reputation that we shall see an excellent, an admirable, a delectable—nay, a commendable contest. Gentlemen!"
A wave of the hand to the Shoreditch man.
"Wag Mills, of Shoreditch!"
A wave of the hand to the Camberwell man.
"Henry Barden, of Camberwell!"
"Seconds out of the ring!"
Mord Em'ly clutched Ronicker's elbow as the two men in the ring suddenly discarded their air of not having anything particular to do, and, turning, gripped each other's huge gloved hands. As they took up position and eyed each other, the muscles of their bare arms and of their bare legs stood out, their smooth skins shone in the light from the big gas jets. Wag Mills, dancing near to Henry Barden, got in the first blow—a loud whack on the chest, which left a dull red mark, that faded away quickly. Mord Em'ly gave a whistle of despair, and told Ronicker that she wished she could leave the place without seeing any more. Ronicker told her to pull herself together.
[-172-] "Your friend'll 'ave a remark or two to make," remarked Ronicker encouragingly, " if he gets 'all the chance."
A short, middle-aged man, with a lean, curiously white face, and dressed in a new suit, standing on the form beside them, looked at Mord Em'ly, and seemed amused, in a grim, unpleasant way, at noting her distress. Turning to his neighbour, he made some remark. After that, he glanced more than once at Mord Em'ly, and was obviously disappointed to find that she recovered herself, and showed no further signs of nervousness. A smart punch by Henry Barden on the side of his opponent's jaw, which made Wag Mills's friends roar strenuous advice, gave her heart, and the desire to go resigned, giving place to an intense anxiety to see Henry win.
Wag Mills, dodging his head, made a feint of giving a blow at Henry Barden's side, recovered quickly, gave his opponent a blow for which he was not prepared, then, by an adroit movement that was not quite clear to Mord Em'ly, appeared to have him in a position where blow after blow rained upon him. Barden got free, gave Wag Mills a back blow with his left glove that made that earnest and hard-working youth stagger, and was about to follow this up, when—
"What a shame!" complained Mord Em'ly through the loud cheering of the Arch. " They might 'ave given another five seconds."
"What rot you do talk!" said Ronicker impatiently. " Rules is rules, and two minutes is two minutes."
"But 'Enry was just beginning—"
"'Ush!" said Ronicker.
The seconds attended to their men in the fashion of assiduous valets. In opposite corners, the youths seated, with arms outstretched, respired vehemently; the seconds dabbed at their faces with wet sponges, and waved a towel in front of them. Wag Mills's second took a mouthful of water from a bottle, and squirted it over his charge's face. The Arch became noisy with shouted argument.
"Gentlemen," shouted Mr. Flopps appealingly, "do keep silence for the timekeeper, if you please." "Seconds out!"
The attendants gave a final wave of towels, and stepped under the red rope.
Wag Mills, still in a desperate hurry, still with determination to get the business over as speedily as possible, still with an evident relish for the [-174-] applause which the Arch gave when he managed to score a punch or to dodge a blow, still with the eager gaze into Henry Barden's eyes, as though intensely desirous of finding there some indication of the next move; Wag Mills, so convinced, too, of his own superiority, that he received an occasional punch with the look of pained surprise that a Cabinet Minister gives when a question is launched at him from the Opposition benches without the usual previous notice; on receiving two sounding blows in succession, Wag Mills blushed redly and frowned. Henry Barden took punishment and dodged punishment, now and again gave punishment, all with a calm, stolid manner that annoyed and exasperated the Arch, and made it satirical.
"Nah, then, Kemberwell! Time for bed"
"He's sleepy, that's what he is."
"Baby go to by-bye!"
"Gentlemen," cried Mr. Flops, " if you are gentlemen, do behave as such. You're only interrupting your own amusement."
Wag Mills, breathing loudly, aimed a blow with his giant hand, and, missing, said " Ugh!" He slipped once, and Henry Barden was close upon him instantly with a swift blow upwards that caught Mr. Mills's jaw; he slipped again, and only [-175-] escaped further disaster by dodging half-way around the ring.
"Stand up to him, you—"
"Gu it, Wag! Gu on, Wag!"
"Don't get dancing a blanky 'ornpipe, Wag!"
"Ime at his dial, you silly—"
Mr. Mills appeared braced by these cries. He turned so suddenly that Henry Barden went a step in front of him; Wag's huge, gloved left-hand fist came round and caught his opponent's nose, and the Arch roared its approval at the sight of blood. A punch with the same glove on Henry Barden's chest left a scarlet mark there. Mord Emily turned white. She clenched Ronicker's hand tightly.
Careful sponging of Mr. Barden's face this time by his valet; a drink for him from the bottle, to be sent back into the wooden pail; the valet, as he waved the towel, gave Mr. Barden fierce counsel, to which that youth, leaning back, with outstretched arms, his mouth open, inhaling and expelling the air, listened with apparently no interest. The Arch shouted its congratulations to Wag Mills, and he, panting, looked around with a smile, and nodded.
[-176-] The seconds did not obey until the next warning was given. Wag Mills's man whispered to him to save himself up.
Was Mr. Mills waving his long arms with some wildness, or was it only that Mord Em'ly hoped this to be the case? Was Mr. Mills breathing stertorously, and was Henry Barden becoming more active? It seemed so. Wag Mills's body, down to the waist of his blue pants, looked pink now; the perspiration gathered on his forehead; he grunted more frequently his impatient exclamation. Mord Em'ly's grip on Ronicker's hand relaxed. She leaned forward eagerly, and the middle-aged man in the very new suit looked at her again, and told her, with free use of a popular adjective, that she would something well fall off the something seat if she were not something careful. Mord Em'ly, absorbed in watching Round Three, did not reply; but Ronicker told the lean-faced man to mind his own business, and to go and pawn his head, to which the white-faced man replied surlily that for half a pint he would kick Ronicker as far as next Michaelmas. When "Time!" was called, Mord Em'ly, with. drawing her gaze from the ring, and clapping her hands because Henry Barden had punished Wag [-177-] Mills rather severely, found that she had to intervene between Ronicker and the quarrelsome, lean-faced man.
"Make her shut her head, then," said the lean-faced man aggrievedly. "I don't want no truck with her. Make the—"
"Less language," commanded Mord Em'ly. "Don't forget you're in the presence of ladies." The lean-faced man laughed ironically.
"You!" he said vehemently. " You call yourselves ladies! You're what I call—well, I won't say what I call you. I've got gentlemanly feelings beneath a 'omely exterior, and I know how to be'ave as well as anyone."
"You cert'n'y are 'omely."
"If I meet with ceevility," said the lean-faced man, in a dogged way, "I give ceevility back. If I meet with inceevility, I give inceevility back. If I've got a single fault—"
"Who's been telling you that?"
"If I've got a single fault, it is that I've give way to other people too much. I've 'ad to suffer for it too, in me time. Fourteen years ago—"
"Look 'ere," said Ronicker, " when we want a history of your life and crimes, we'll buy it in the Police News. Meanwhile go away, and talk to yourself."
[-178-] "Talk to meself," said the lean-faced man, with another outbreak of passion. "You dare to tell me to talk to meself! Why, you—"
The companion of the lean-faced man stopped him by the simple expedient of asking him to come out and have a drink. The remedying of public or private grievances weighs as nothing compared with the value of this invitation, and he went down the seats clumsily.
Wag Mills, is this really you? Can this be the confident man of Round One, and Two, and even Three? You grunt loudly now, Wag Mills; you retire backward around the ring. You slip down, your opponent stands over you, and you refuse to get up, until the Arch screams insistently, and orders you to do so. There is blood on your nose, too, now, Wag Mills; you hiss through your teeth, as though imitating the music of the locomotives overhead. You do not look so steadily as before into your opponent's eyes; but he still directs at you the same persistent stare as he gives you blow after blow. Why does your second, down on his knees outside the rope, make appealing remarks to you, and why does he suddenly drop this tone, and swear at you softly, and shake his head in a de-[-179-]spairing way? Your second glances now up to the curved ceiling of the arch, and his lips move silently, and he tries to look as though he has really no further concern in the affair, and, therefore, declines responsibility. Now you are down again, Wag Mills, and up again, and down again, and this time you stay prone on the floor, with Henry Barden near you, and you decide not to accept the advice of the noisy, tempestuous, roaring Arch, but to remain there until ten seconds are registered by the timekeeper's watch.
"Gentlemen," cries Mr. Flops, stepping into the ring, and holding up both hands to quell the excitement of his roaring, red-faced clients. " Gentlemen! Gen—tle —men!"
Mr. Flops looks round despairingly to the form whereon are seated the timekeeper and the referee. The referee hands up a small card, and this Mr. Flops holds in the air, with no effect. The Arch knows the result of the match, and, not being in the best of tempers, resents Mr. Flops's attempt to make the announcement. Presently a joke is shouted, and its annoyance goes as the annoyance of a London crowd always goes—swiftly and completely,
"The winner," cries Mr. Flops now, in his loud, hoarse voice, "is Henry Barden, of Camberwell."
[-180-] Wag Mills, in his short coat, hurries across the ring, and congratulates his stolid conqueror; then, taking somebody's bowler hat, runs out along the crowded seats, catching in the hat adroitly the copper shower that comes down upon him. Henry Barden's backer, the Australian, steps into the ring, and Mr. Flops, at his request, presents to the winner a purse. The Australian says that Henry Barden is a real man all the way through, and whenever he wants a good job he must come out down under, and take charge of a little boxing place that the Australian runs. "The berth," adds the Australian, "would fit him, gentlemen, like a glove, because, you see, he's a steady chap."
"Friends all " (Mord Em'ly's eyes are quite full of tears, for some reason, as she listens to Henry's voice), " I'm no spokesman, but I thank you, sir, and you, gentlemen, not forgetting Flops. I only —only wish to add one remark, and that is that I —well, that I thank you."
Mord Em'ly hastened through the passage to Kingsland Road. Her first intention had been to let Henry Barden see that she had not accepted his advice; now she was so proud of his success, that she desired, in order to remain in his favour, that he should not know of her presence. It was raining lazily, and she opened her umbrella.
[-181-] The short, lean-faced man, in a brand-new suit, walked along in front of Mord Em'ly with his companion.
"It's the blanky meenotony of it that gives you beans," said the short man strenuously; "otherwise, it ain't a bad life. I feel twice the man I was when I went in." He paused, and then added, "Only that I'm fourteen year older."
"Old gel still alive?"
"Alive?" The short man kicked a stone viciously, and sent it against the wall. "Course she's alive. She's the sort that couldn't die if they wanted to."
"Ain't been to see her, I s'pose?"
"Oh, ain't I? " asked the short man cunningly. "P'r'aps I didn't find out, the first thing, where she lived; p'r'aps I didn't trot straight off down to Pandora Buildings, Walworth, and make inquiries for Mrs. —?"
Mord Em'ly stumbled as she heard her mother's name, and recovered herself. She put her hand to her throat, and coughed noiselessly.
"And p'r'aps I didn't let her understand with me two fistes that I'd returned to be her faithful and affectionate 'usband? P'r'aps I didn't lock her out the other night for a hour or two when it was rainin'? 'Oh, James,' she says "—the short man [-182-] mimicked a high, complaining voice. He stopped to do this, and his companion stopped also, and Mord Em'ly walked past them. "'Oh, James, I didn't expect you!' Expect me!" The short man laughed ironically. "Didn't expect me, and didn't want me, that's about the truth. learn her! She ain't going to 'ave it all her own way. I've been put away in Pentonville, and Dover, and Portland, and Gawd knows where, for this fourteen year, and I tell you I'm going to get me own back again. I'm going to take my little three-ha'peth of revenge." He raised his voice to a scream. " I'll finish her off if, she ain't careful. I don't care if I swing for the—"
Mord Em'ly, walking slowly, listened, with a feverish anxiety, in order not to miss a word of the conversation. She felt glad that she had no one with her.
"Give out, she had, that she was a widder-woman, and her poor, dear 'usbin' gone to Kingdom-come. Oh, she's had a rare old pan'omime all to herself, size has. Now it's my turn. I'm coming on in this scene."
"Warn't there a kid? "
"Of course there was a kid," he said, with acerbity, "and she had the impudence to look me in the face, and tell me she didn't know where it was. [-183-] I paid her for that lie. I let her know! She screamed, and well she might, the—"
Mord Em'ly, in the train to New Cross, her breath still coming quickly, stared at her white face in the window of the compartment, and tried to realise facts. It was too late to go to Walworth that night. She would run up to Pandora the next evening.
"Poor old mother!" said Mord Em'ly.
THE little waitress at Mitchell's dining-rooms was so much absorbed in thought
during the day following the contest, that humorous customers, noting this, told
her she was in love. To Miss Mitchell's requests for an opinion as to the number
of g's in Reggie, she replied absently, and showed so little interest in the
momentous question, that Miss Mitchell declared, with satire, that you got a lot
of sympathy in this world, upon her conscience, and that, in future, she should
discontinue wearing her heart upon her sleeve. Mord Em'ly had matters of greater
import to consider. She thought of her mother, and blamed herself for not having
done so before; she tried to make up her mind as to the best course now to be
adopted. Two things were certain. She must see her mother without delay; for her
own sake she must also prevent those who knew her from learning that her father
was an ex-convict. She remembered how, down at the Industrial School in Surrey,
[-185-] girls had made miserable the life of a small, sad-faced creature whose father
was at Wormwood Scrubbs for burglary.
"If it gets known," said Mord Em'ly, sighing, "everybody'll give me the chuck."
At eight o'clock she hurried away. She ran as far as New Cross gates, and there, as she went up the steps of a tram, found herself followed by Mr. Wetherell — Wetherell, in a kind of restrained good temper, and even more anxious to talk than usual. He paid her fare, with an important manner, and declined to accept the coppers which she offered. Whispering to her behind his hand, so that the winds should not carry the news afar, he confided to her that he was on a soft business at last, and that he rather thought he was going to make things hum.
"There's money to be made if you've only got a 'ead on your shoulders; it's simply a question of being a bit sharper than other people. This job I've got in 'and now, for instance! Why, I don't seepose there's a comride amongst 'em except me and my friend that'd know how to manage it like we do, even if they'd got the chance. Not only that! I shall be the means of putting many a odd shilling in the pockets of my fellow-toilers—"
[-186-] " Some of 'em don't seem to do more toiling than they can 'elp," remarked Mord Em'ly.
"I respect 'em all the more for it," declared Wetherell. "I'm a bit of a miker meself, and I don't 'esitite to acknowledge the fact. That's why, when I see the chance like there is now of picking up a tidy bit simply by my own powers of speech and my own ingenuity, I say, 'Done with you, sir, and I'm your man!' Can't say fairer than that, can I?"
"Sounds all right."
"I can't tell you no more at present," went on Mr. Wetherell mysteriously, "and I don't want what I've mentioned to go no farther. There's good bit of jealousy about amongst the comrides I mix with, and if they was to 'ear of it, there'd be no 'olding of 'em."
"I sha'n't speak."
"Not that they've got any right to interfere, mind you," argued Mr. Wetherell sternly, "and they'd better not try it on. I'm as good a reformer as any one of them. I nail my principles to the mast, I do, and I ain't going to be ordered off the field by nobody."
"Don't see why you should," she said absently.
"Anybody 'tempt to dictate to me what I ought to do and what I ought not to do, and they'll find [-187-] themselves in a pretty 'ot corner, jolly quick. If I see my way, without sacrificing my principles, to earnin' a 'undred pound, why shouldn't I do it? Aye?" Mr. Wetherell glared very fiercely at the lighted shops, and waited for a reply. "I say, why shouldn't I ?"
"Oh, don't bother!" said Mord Em'ly impatiently. "I'm worried. 'Sides, it's got nothing to do with me."
"Oh, 'asn't it?" Mr. Wetherell smiled acutely. " Shows what you know about it. Seeposin' I kindly inform you that it'll make all the difference to you and your future? Seeposin', I say, that once I get the 'andling of this money, I pre-pose to take 'alf a 'ouse and settle down? Seeposin' I ain't very comfortable where I am, and seeposin' I want someone to look after me?"
"Talk sense!" said Mord Em'ly.
"I am a-talking sense," declared Mr. Wetherell, obstinately. "I put the case to you now, and I want your opinion. How does the idea strike you, aye?" He changed his tone. "Answer me, why don't you, when I ask you a civil question?"
"You're the best judge of your own affairs."
"Granted!" said Mr. Wetherell. "That I know. What I want to ascertain is your views on the question. Do you fall in with the idea?"
[-188-] "D'you mean that you want me to marry you?"
"I don't think you quite grasp my meaning," said Mr. Wetherell, rather nervously. "You see, I belong to rather a—what you might term—advanced school of thought, and—"
"You don't want me to marry you, then," remarked Mord Em'ly, bluntly.
"And I've been reading up the subject lately in a few pamphlets that I'll lend you, where it points out that marriage customs, from the earliest ages downwards, 'ave been matters of form created by the country that used them, and that, after all, there's no earthly reason why you should adhere to an arrangement, or a ceremony, or whatever you like to call it, jest because it suits other people to place a lot of importance on it. See my argument?"
"I see your impudence," said Mord Em'ly.
It was necessary that Mr. Wetherell should explain further. He did this at length, dropping unconsciously into his Deptford Broadway manner, and punching one palm with the other fist. Mord Em'ly listened, with an unconvinced expression.
"And d'you mean to say," said Mord Em'ly, as she rose to descend the steps, "that all that's in print?"
[-189-] "I'll bring you the pamphlets to read."
"Thanks!" said Mord Em'ly. "You needn't trouble. Pop 'em in the fire instead."
"Pity you're so bigoted," complained Mr. Wetherell. " There's two sides to every argument."
"I know," said Mord Em'ly. "But I can't look at both at once. Good-night!"
Mord Em'ly, going up the narrow stone staircase, found herself pervaded by a filial emotion for her mother that she had rarely felt before. In Walworth Road she had purchased a bunch of big grapes, and these she now held before her by the string, so that her mother should be propitiated by the sight. She would try to kiss her mother if her reception did not make the act too difficult. As she knocked at the green-painted door she tried to remember when it was she last kissed her mother. A long, long time ago.
"Why, 'ere's your daughter come to see you, Mrs. What-is-it! " cried the neighbour, with assumption of much gaiety. She was the woman from next door, and the quarrels that had taken place were forgotten in the present crisis. " Well, this is a nice surprise for you! And if she 'asn't brought the loveliest grapes that was ever growed in the West End!"
[-190-] There was no answer, and Mord Emily held her breath.
"You remember, dear," said the neighbour perseveringly, and winking at Mord Em'ly. "Your daughter that's got such a good situation up 'Yde Park way, that you're always talking about."
"Mother!" said Mord Emily, " I—I've come to see you, and I've brought you some—"
The face was half-covered by the sheet, and Mord Emily pulled it down gently. The ghost of a smile flickered across the worn face, the tired eyes brightened for a moment.
"There!" cried the neighbour exultingly, "she recognises you! Well done, now I That's capital! Why, I shouldn't wonder if this didn't mean a change for the better." The neighbour shook her head at Mord Em'ly's mother with a facetious air of reproof. "Now, don't let's 'ave any more of your nonsense, young woman. You 'ave a nice long chat with your daughter, whilst I go and get my old man's supper ready, and I'll be back as soon as you give a knock against the wall. I sha'n't be more than a quarter of a hour, and I can hop in directly."
The neighbour bustled off, chattering to herself. Mord Emily bent down and adjusted the pillow. [-191-] She noticed that her mother's mouth was slightly distorted; there was a bruise—a cruel black bruise —just under the ear, and Mord Em'ly bit her lips to keep the tears back.
"See that—that the door's shet."
Mord Em'ly obeyed, and, coming back, took her hat off She knelt down, and her mother's hand, that was resting on the counterpane, moved very slowly until it found Mord Em'ly's head. It stroked the smooth dark hair. Mord Em'ly kissed her mother, and then a slow tear came down the worn cheek.
"I did want to see you—to see you so, Mord Em'ly; only I didn't know where to send."
The voice very weak, with a far-off sound.
"I know, mother. That was my fault. I was afraid we should quarrel if we met."
The poor old head moved slightly.
"My quarrelin' days are over, Mord Emily."
"Don't say that, mother. You'll be all right again soon. What's made you ill?"
"Nothin' special! We all 'ave to go, sooner or later."
"Has — has my father been knockin' you about?"
"What are you talkin' about, my gel? " said her mother sharply. " You're wanderin' in your mind. [-192-] Your father, indeed! Why, 'aven't I told you—"
Mord Em'ly explained. Her mother's lips moved silently, and the lean old features showed distress. She turned her face to the wall for a few moments, until Mord Em'ly kissed her damp forehead.
"I wanted to—to keep it from you always." "It's better I should know, mother."
"You only 'eard last night?"
"Only last night, mother."
"And you never guessed before?"
There was another pause, and Mord Em'ly kept her cool hand on her mother's head.
"I used to go down and see him—once a year—when I got a order."
A look of decision came to Mord Em'ly's face. "If he puts his fist up to you again, I'll set a friend of mine on to him—name of Barden."
The worn face turned towards her.
"Are you a good gel, Mord Em'ly?"
"Ah!" The head went back on the pillow. "I'm glad of that. Always be a good gel."
"I don't see no particular catch in being otherwise," said Mord Em'ly.
[-193-] "And did—did I ever seem too 'arsh with you, Mord Em'ly, when you was at'ome with me?"
"You?" repeated Mord Em'ly, with astonishment. "You 'arsh? Why, no, mother. We always got on well enough together."
"Since I've bin ill, I've thought sometimes I was little too—"
"Now, don't you go filling your 'ead with a lot of nonsense," said Mord Em'ly lightly. " You keep yourself quiet, or else me and you will fall out."
Her mother stroked the smooth hair again, with an affectionate touch.
"You're better-looking than you used to be, Mord Em'ly."
"Rather!" said Mord Em'ly cheerfully. "I'm a type of English beauty, I am."
"Your 'air's done up nice. Wonder what your father'll say when he sees you?"
"He'd better be a bit careful," said Mord Em'ly strenuously, "of what he says to me. I shan't forgive him for the way he's treated you, mother."
"I wish," she repeated, " it had been kept from you."
"It's just as well I should know. Why was he put away, mother?"
"Only garrottin', Mord Em'ly. He nearly killed [-194-] me, too. It was just after you come to town, I was in the 'orspital for monse and monse. I've of'en wanted to tell you. But I never did."
"And they punished him well,' said Mord Em'ly approvingly.
"They was a bit 'ard on him," said her mother slowly. "A bit too 'ard. I 'member when I 'card what he'd got, I let you drop—out of me arms. And they told me he said he'd do for somebody—if he ever come out"
"And he has been 'ere, and he's 'urt you?"
"He's an awk'ard man, your father, Mord Em'ly," she said apologetically.
"I'll be awk'ard with him if he dares touch you again," cried Mord Em'ly. " If he so much as —"
"'Ush, Mord Em'ly! The neighbours'll all 'ear."
"And do you think they don't all know, mother?"
"I'd just as lief," she said, rather wistfully, "that nobody know'd nothing about it —'cept myself. Besides," with a queer touch of pride, "it's pneumonier."
She closed her eyes, and the poor, distorted mouth went a little more awry; Mord Em'ly, affrighted, knocked at the wall, and the neighbour hurried in. The neighbour's cheerful voice rallied [-195-] the patient slightly, but the tired eyes soon closed again.
"How long before she gets over it?" asked Mord Em'ly anxiously, in a whisper.
"Some time early in the mornin'," said the neighbour quietly. "'Bout four."
"But—you don't mean—"
"It'll be all over," whispered the neighbour confidently, " by that time. Is there anyone you'd like to send for? My little Johnny can run a arrand."
Wherefore is little Johnny despatched, with many warnings not to loiter, or to look in shops, or to play with other young gentlemen, but to find Miss Gilliken, for Mord Em'ly feels that she wants the presence of someone who is good. Little Johnny goes clattering down the stairs, swollen with a sense of importance, and in twenty minutes returns, scarlet-faced and breathless, having hunted and captured Miss Gilliken, and receives as payment for his success in the chase the sum of twopence, which, the month being June, he places in a wooden box containing his savings for the coming fifth of November.
It is a pleasant sight to see Miss Gilliken take off her cloak and set instantly to work and brush up the fireplace, dust the mantelpiece, and busily [-196-] set the place in order, leaving, for a space, Mord Em'ly, who sits on the bed near to the patient. Miss Gilliken talks cheerfully the while. She knows the doctor who is attending Mord Em'ly's mother, and says, encouragingly, that if anyone knows how to treat pneumonia, it is he. Presently, the work being done, and the room presenting to the tired patient an infinitely more gracious appearance than before, Miss Gilliken comes over to the bed, and asks if Mord Em'ly's mother is fond of being read to, and, if so, how would it be if she (Miss Gilliken) read, say, about half a chapter?
"I won't do it," says Miss Gilliken gently, "unless you'd like me to. S'pose we wait a bit—say a few minutes' time. And, oh, there's been such a lark this afternoon! What do you think?"
Not really a very fine lark, but Gilliken tells the story with such gusto that the poor soul in the bed, feeling, perhaps, that this is the last joke to which she will listen in this world, smiles faintly, and Gilliken's end is achieved. It is only a description of Lieutenant Gilliken herself going—as is the useful habit of members of her service—to some untidy rooms to instruct the lady who rented them in the gentle art of scrubbing floors, of the husband returning from work, and seeing the [-197-] reformed apartments, and thereupon saying apologetically, "Beg pardon! Made mistake in the number. Thought this was my rooms."
"Didn't recognise 'em," declares Gilliken delightedly, repeating the point of the story. "Abs'lutely didn't know his own 'ome. 'Oh,' he says, 'I beg pardon! Made mistake in the number. Thought this—"
Thus adroitly does Gilliken lighten the atmosphere. Mord Em'ly, stroking her mother's hand very gently, asks presently that Gilliken shall read a chapter; and Gilliken finds a little Testament in her pocket, and goes over to the little oil lamp to make a selection.
"I want to tell you, Mord Em'ly"
"There's a Post Office Savings book under my pillor."
"With two fifteen in it. Beadle out in East Street always promised to put me away for two fifteen."
"And don't let your father 'ave nothing to do with it."
"You trust me."
[-198-] "I promise that I'll see to it all me own self—if you don't get well."
"Ah!" Another sigh. " I 'ope I sha'n't get well. I'm very tired."
"I wish—I wish "—this is said brokenly—" I wish I'd been a better daughter to you, mother, Before I went away I was a trouble to you. What I mean is, I didn't 'elp to make your life no 'appier."
"I ain't been un'appy—on the whole. I've 'ad me worries, it's true, but—"
"More than your share, mother."
"No," she says obstinately, " not more'n me share! "
Lieutenant Gilliken comes forward with the oil-lamp, the little Testament open.
"Any partic'lar choice? " she asks cheerfully.
The question is repeated by Mord Em'ly.
"I used to know the tenth of John—off be 'eart —when I was a gel. 'Verl'y, ver'ly, I say unto you—" She stops and sighs. " That's all I can remember now," she whispers helplessly, and her eyes close.
The two girls wait patiently until she awakes. Outside, in the narrow passage, the neighbour has been arguing loudly with a man; the words of the disputants cannot be heard, but it is clear that [-199-] there is want of agreement. The eyes, now that they are opened, look straight at the ceiling, following slowly the shadows made by the flickering oil-lamp.
"In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so—'"
Miss Gilliken reads through the chapter in a respectful monotone. Presently she comes to the last verse, and the face resting on the pillow relaxes its strained attention.
"It's soothin'," she said. " Mord Em'ly, put your arm—round my neck—on'y—on'y don't touch my brewse."
She sighed contentedly.
"I shall 'ave to go soon, mother."
"Back to my place."
"Yes." She turned to Gilliken. " Beau'ful place she's got," she said dreamily, "in gentleman's family—West End."
"But Gilliken will stop 'ere the night with you, and I'll try and get a little time off in the morning, and run round and see you."
A feeble, negative shake of the head, but no reply.
[-200-] "Are you quite comfortable, mother?"
"I don't know when—I don't know when I've been more so."
At ten o'clock Mord Em'ly takes her arm very tenderly from under her mother's neck, and Gilliken's arm takes its place. Mord Em'ly's throat is too full, and her eyes are too full, to permit her to say what she wants to say, but Gilliken nods vigorously to indicate that she knows Mord Em'ly is very much obliged, and that there is no necessity to speak. Her mother is asleep now, and does not wake when Mord Em'ly kisses her. Mord Em'ly, in her hat and cloak, rushes to the door, and then returns to kiss her mother once more, and her mother half wakes.
"Mord Em'ly," she murmured, "my li'l' Mord Em'ly."
At the doorway leading from Pandora out into the street, a man was standing—standing with his hands in the pockets of his new tweed jacket and with feet apart, facing the roadway, so that it was necessary to touch him and request permission to pass. He turned without giving up any room, and, striking a match, held it up to Mord Em'ly's face.
"Ave you jest come from Number Three-[-201-] forty ?" he asked gruffly. " Seen your face afore somewhere."
"Are you my father ?"
"Rather fancy so," he said acutely. " They told me you was in there, acting the fool. Now that you're gone, p'r'aps I may be allowed to trot up."
"You don't trot up if I can 'elp it," said Mord Em'ly firmly.
"You he said scornfully. " A bit of a girl like you stop me. You're a nice daughter, to go and turn against your lorful father the first time you meet him!"
"I could 'ave done without you," said Mord Em'ly, trembling.
"Ah!" he said regretfully. "Children ain't like they was in my young day. You tike a lot of trouble over 'em, and trine 'em up in the way they should go, and when they're growed up, blow me, if they don't turn round and cheek you."
"I should 'ave thought you'd had your warning," said Mord Em'ly. " Whatever made you come out ? Nobody wanted you."
"I come out," he said, lowering his voice, " because I didn't want to out-stay me welcome. I come out because I'd got a score or two to clear off. I come out because I'd got a daughter [-202-] that could be made to earn money and keep her affectionate father without putting him to the trouble of work."
"I wouldn't give you a penny-piece, not if I was rolling in money."
"Let's look at that savings book you've got in your 'and."
"If you touch that, you'll regret it"
He turned upon her savagely.
"Give it to me, you foul-mouthed little—"
He pushed her against the wall, and she screamed for assistance. Heads came out of the doorways leading into the ground-floor passage, and Mord Emily appealed to them.
"I want three men to come out,' she cried, "whilst I go and find someone to look after this creature. My mother's upstairs, dying."
"It's a " (several adjectives) "lie!" he interjected.
"And this is my father, and I want her to go off in peace, and if he goes upstairs it'll make her last moments miserable. Isn't there three men—"
Three men in their shirt-sleeves came out of separate doors. They frowned at Mord Em'ly's father, and spat on their hands.
"Good-evening," said Mord Em'ly's father, with great cordiality. " Who's going to stand a glass afore closing time?"
[-203-] "We'll stand you one on the smeller!" said the spokesman of the three, " if you go kicking up all this rah!"
"Rah!" echoed Mord Em'ly's father, with much astonishment. " Who's kicking up a rah? "
"Look 'ere," he said menacingly, " don't you go tiking my good name away. You do what you like, but don't you interfere with my kerricter. I'm as fond of a quiet life as any man, but I ain't going to 'ave things said against me without defending meself. I'll take all three of you on—one down, t'other come on—if you begin to—"
"Keep him 'ere," she begged, "for ten minutes, till I fetch 'Enry Barden! He'll make him mind what's said to him."
"Who's that?" demanded Mord Em'ly's father gruffly. "That chap I saw boxing last night! Why, what the— Look 'ere." He turned to the serious-faced, shirt-sleeved men who were still eyeing him steadily. "There seems to be a lot of fuss about nothing at all. I don't want to make no disturbance. I'm the peacefullest man you ever come acrost. I'm a perfect babe in arms, in a manner of speaking. I only want to be treated properly."
"Rise your voice," remarked one of the three [-204-] men definitely, "so much as say another word in a loud voice till we give you permission, and we'll take you out, and we'll blooming well throw you into the blooming canal. See?"
"Now that we thor'ly understand one another," said Mord Em'ly's father, with the most agreeable air in the world, " I'll retire."
When Mord Em'ly returned with Henry Barden, her father had disappeared. The three men went off duty when they saw Mord Em'ly, and Pandora closed itself, and went to bed. But Mr. Barden decided to remain on sentry-go at the doorway of Block C of Pandora during the night.
"Just in case," said Mr. Barden.
WHEN, the next morning, a note arrived from Miss Gilliken announcing that the
end had come, it was fortunate for Mord Em'ly that she had near her so excellent
a woman as the proprietress of the dining-rooms. The imminence of a funeral gave
to Mrs. Mitchell such enjoyment that those about her could not avoid being
affected by it; she entered into the details of what she called Mord Em'ly's
"black" with a zest and relish that could not have been exceeded if a wedding
trousseau had been in question.
"My motto at times like this;' said Mrs. Mitchell confidentially, behind the bulwark of dishes, to which she had invited the red-eyed Mord Em'ly, "my motto has always been, 'No stint!' People may talk about wasting money on plooms, and what not, but it looks to me very much like flying in the face of Providence if you don't do it well."
"Poor mother arranged it all before she—"
[-206-] "That's a pity," said Mrs. Mitchell judiciously. "I don't think it's wise for the living to be tied down in affairs of this kind. What day does your friend say she's arranged for? Next Sunday? Well, that gives you nice time to look about you. As regards your hat, I should recommend that shop on the right-'and as you go down High Street, Deptford; your dress, my dear, I'll look after."
"You're good to take all this trouble."
"Nonsense!" said Mrs. Mitchell, her round face shining. "No trouble at all. It's what I call," here Mrs. Mitchell laughed outright, "a melancholy pleasure."
Mrs. Mitchell's daughter took a less acute interest in the matter, being, as a fact, not altogether unencumbered with interests of her own. Her young gentleman friend had orders for the play, for the upper boxes of a singularly unsuccessful theatre, where sale of programmes afforded the principal source of revenue, and the momentous questions with which Miss Mitchell was engaged in wrestling were these: Evening dress, semi-evening dress, or ordinary dress? White gloves, black gloves, or brown? Spray of flowers, a rose for the hair, or no flowers at all? To go by cab, to go by tram, or to go by train? Slippers, shoes, or boots? Miss [-207-] Mitchell, tormented by the variety of courses open to her, said, with a good deal of bitterness, that it was enough to give a saint the headache, and that small wonder people told her she was beginning to look old.
Henry Barden came to the dining-rooms, with a more serious face than usual, on Thursday afternoon. He ordered quite a long dinner, which, even at Mitchell's economic figures, came to as much as one-and-eightpence, but, although the beef was carefully underdone, and other dishes in accord with his usual taste, he did not eat of them. Instead, he watched Mord Em'ly wherever she went; his eyes followed her down to the back of the dining-rooms, where she hurried to speak sharply to the cook; followed her when she went to fix the street doors open, in order that some of the heavy air of Mitchell's might be exchanged for the fresh and rare atmosphere without. The regular tramp of mules attached to the tram-cars, the rattle of other traffic, the indignant whistling by tram-car drivers when the other traffic dared to intrude upon their lines—all these came into Mitchell's with the fresh air, and made the customers, as they talked to each other, raise their voices to a higher pitch. As Mord Em'ly stood at the open doorway, looking thoughtfully at the [-208-] street, Miss Mitchell came to the pew where Henry Barden was seated, with a view to rallying him upon his absorbed appearance.
"Off your feed somewhat, aren't you?" asked Miss Mitchell. " Unusual with you."
"Got too much to think of," replied Mr. Barden, with solemnity, "to pay much attention to me food."
"Oh, don't talk about having too much to think of," begged Miss Mitchell hysterically. " Look at me! Why, I'm worried out of me life about Friday evening. You must know that—"
"Interrupting you," he said confidentially, " does she carry on much about her mother? "
"Well," said Miss Mitchell, "she is a good deal upset over it. It's only natural she should be. But, as I tell her, she isn't the only one that's got worries. Do you think I slept last night?"
"How should I know? " demanded Henry Barden impatiently.
"Not a wink," declared Miss Mitchell, with triumph; "not so much as a single wink!"
"Wonder whether she'd care for a sea voyage?" said Mr. Barden.
"Southend? No. A real sea voyage. A long way.'
[-209-] "That I couldn't say," replied Miss Mitchell loftily. " She must answer for herself. For my part, I'm an awfully good sailor. I'm ill, mind you, I admit that—ill nearly all the time, but all the same—"
"I'm afraid she's a bit fond of London," said Henry Barden thoughtfully.
"It's so silly of her. Me, I'm all the other way now. Give me the country. Give me a farmhouse, and a glass of milk, and a meadow, and a pond, and a orchard, and what not, and "—Miss Mitchell sighed—" I should be as 'appy as the days are long. With plenty of lively company, of course."
"Has she ever spoke about going abroad? What I mean is, has she ever mentioned it in a casual way? "
"Can't say she has. But, if it was my case, I should simply glory in it. I shouldn't care where it was neither. Anything'd be better than this stuffy atmosphere, and nobody to talk to but a lot of your inferiors."
"Do you mind doing me a favour, miss? Do you mind—if you get a chance to-day—cracking up foreign places as much as possible? Do you mind mentioning, in a off'and way, that you've 'eard Australia spoke of as a good deal like South [-210-] London, only better? P'r'aps you might add a word or two in favour of a sea voyage, too, as being the very thing to pull you round when you're a bit run down. If you can do all this, without mentioning my name, there's a bracelet marked at seven-and-six in the jeweller's window not six shops off, and I'll ask him to send it down to you, with my compliments."
This was a long speech, almost a lecture, from Mr. Barden, and it seemed to exhaust his powers of conversation, for he sat back and looked at the ceiling. Miss Mitchell promised to do as he wished, and mentioned that a bracelet at seven-and-six was just what she had always set her heart upon, and that it would distinctly tend to clear up the Friday evening perplexity. Miss Mitchell went to help a customer, who was in difficulties with the lining of his overcoat, and Mr. Barden summoned Mord Em'ly with a jerk of his head.
"Don't talk about it," said Mord Em'ly, in a low voice. "I don't want them to know about father."
"Wasn't going to say nothing about him. Want to talk about something a lot more urgent"
"I'm so afraid he'll come round 'ere," she said nervously, " and kick up—"
[-211-] "Put a copper on him if he does. Can you spare five minutes, Mord Em'ly?"
"I'll put me hat on and come out with you."
They walked to New Cross gates, without saying a word, and turned there to go up Pepy's Hill. Mord Em'ly, in her white pinafore, held her hat with one hand; the disengaged arm was taken rather shyly by Henry Barden. The young man hummed a little under his breath, and ventured to press the arm which he held.
"Don't," said Mord Em'ly; "people'll take notice."
"D'ye like me, Mord Em'ly?"
She looked at him with so much surprise that he blushed fiercely.
"Course I like you," she said. "What a question to ask!"
"If I didn't like you, should I 'ave sent for you the other evening to come and watch after father? If I didn't like you, should I come out like this, and walk up this hill with you?"
"So far, so good," said Henry Barden. "Do you like anybody better than me?"
"I can't say I do."
"Is anybody else fond of you?"
"Well," said Mord Em'ly frankly, "there's a [-212-] young man pretends to be—name Wetherell. I think you saw him once"
"Once was plenty. Do you care for him?"
"Not partic'lar," said Mord Em'ly. " Same time, he's always very amiable and talkative."
"Ah!" sighed Henry Barden. " Wish t"Eaven I'd got the gift of the gab."
"What makes you ask all these questions?"
"For a partic'lar reason," he said stolidly. "Stand still 'ere a moment, and I'll tell you. In the first place, I'm going to Australia on Friday."
"Of this week, 'Enery? "
"Of this very week."
Henry Barden waited for the next question with something of the defensive air of one in the witness-box.
"Shall you—shall you be away long, 'Enery?"
"Years and years, Mord Em'ly."
"Got a berth out there?"
"A berth, or a post, or a situation," acknowledged Mr. Barden, with a manifest desire not to commit perjury, "has been found for me there by the Australian toff to which I 'ave previously referred. It's a chance of a lifetime, and one that it won't do for me to miss."
[-213-] "No! Oh, no! I s'pose not "
She looked rather wistfully clown at the houses below them. It seemed to her that the world was shrinking oddly, that the number of people for whom she cared was being lessened very considerably. From the height on which they were standing, she could see miles of South London; the big, bloated gasometer, slim spires of churches, a few engines puffing their way along, sending up clouds of white smoke; she had but to glance round to see the two high towers and the glistening glass roof of the Crystal Palace. As she looked out over the space, she tried to count her friends. The number seemed small.
"It's a good thing for me, I s'pose," said Henry Barden. " Jolly sight better than anything I could do 'ere. Moreover, it's what I've always rather set me 'eart on."
"Long way off, isn't it?"
"It's a tidy distance, certainly. But, bless my soul, what's distance?"
Mord Em'ly had no reply to this question.
"Distance means nothing when you come to think of it," argued Henry Barden. "If you're away from a certain place, you're away from it, and if it's one mile, or if it's a thousand miles, it don't make no difference. Besides, you'd soon get to know [-214-] people, bless you. You'd soon pick up new friends."
"I sha'n't 'ave a friend left soon," she said, with a catch in her voice, "if it goes on like this. Anybody going with you?"
"Yes," he said, admitting it reluctantly. "My new guv'nor.'
"Yes! " with a burst of openness, discarding his witness-box manner. "There is someone else. There's you, Mord Em'ly. You're coming with me."
"On Friday of this week? Mord Em'ly laughed bitterly. "Oh, yes. No doubt"
"My guv'nor's willing to take two passages for me, Mord Em'ly, on condition I can persuade you to come out there with me. You'll be in one part of the ship, and I shall be in the other. When we get there, the first thing we do is to go to a church and get married. I'm straight, mind you."
"I know that."
"Well, then," he said, with great relief, "we'll consider it settled. I was a bit nervous lest—"
"You forget one thing," said Mord Em'ly. "I could no more go this week than I could fly. Why, Friday's to-morrow."
"What of it?" [-215-]
"And poor mother won't be put away till Sunday."
"Leave that to Gilliken. She'll see all about that You can't do no good by—"
"I promised her I'd see it all done," said Mord Em'ly resolutely and definitely, "and I wouldn't break my promise to her for forty thousand pound."
"Onfortunately," remarked Henry Barden grimly," I ain't got so much about me. But I can give you till eight o'clock this evening to change your mind."
"I sha'n't change it on that point."
They turned to walk down the hill. Mr. Barden a great deal more serious than ever, and plumbing now the very depths of sombreness, thrust his hands in his pockets, and tried again to hum, but gave up the attempt. Mord Em'ly, with her lips well set, and her face rather white, looked straight before her. When they reached the busy junction, of the tram lines she spoke.
"I'm sorry, 'Enery."
"I'm a bit upset, too."
"Daresay you'll think about me sometimes,"
"I take me oath," said Henry Barden strenuously, "I sha'n't think of nobody else."
Mord Em'ly held out her hand.
[-216-] "I must be getting back," she said.
"This being our last time of meeting," he said, swallowing something in his throat, "and us two 'aving known each other for some considerable period, might there be any objection, Mord Em'ly, to me offering you a kiss?"
"If you don't mind," said Mord Em'ly, glancing round to note the attitude of passers-by, "I don't"
Mord Em'ly, hastily on the way to the dining-rooms, stopped to look back. Henry Barden was still at the place where they had said good-bye, looking thoughtfully at the ground, as though half hopeful of finding there some solution of the difficulty. She waited a few moments, in order to be able to wave another farewell, but he did not look up.
Mord Em'ly's resentment against the ordering of events was not lessened by the later attitude of Miss Mitchell. That young woman, in proud possession of a new bracelet, spoke glowingly of journeys by sea, of the rare happiness to be found on distant shores, of joyous solitudes of two. Miss Mitchell being with Mord Em'ly that evening, in order to accompany her some part of the distance up Old Kent Road, in the direction of Pandora, became so sentimental in picturing the joys of two fond loving hearts on a far-off, wave-lapped shore [-217-] that, impressed with her own fervour, she shed tears; whereupon Mord Em'ly, in desperation, ran away from her. Near Old Kent Road Station she slackened her steps, because she noticed in a side street a crowd, and no true Londoner ever passes a crowd without first ascertaining the reason of its existence. This seemed a lively crowd, too, which was something in its favour, engaged in heckling the bare-headed Mr. Wetherell, who, standing on a high-backed chair, was loudly addressing them. Mr. Wetherell's face was tied up with a bandage; he seemed annoyed at some remark that had been jerked at him.
"I'm no runnygide!" cried Mr. Wetherell, " and I 'url back the charge in the teeth of them what make it I It recoils on them, fellow comrides, and leaves me spotless as the driven snow!"
"Where'd you get that fice " asked the crowd curiously.
"Never you mind my fice! That's not what we're arguin' about. You leave my fice alone!"
"Other people don't, apparently!" shouted the crowd.
"We're arguin' about this new development that's being made by the aid of capital in our n'i'bourhood, and I'm asking you to support it tooth and nail, and to put your signatures to the [-218-] documents that you'll find at various places to testify the same. Socialist as I am, fellow-workmen—"
The crowd groaned.
"And proud of the name, still, at the same time, when I see something useful done by capital and in the nime of capital, I 'old out my 'and to capital, and I—"
"Take all you can get," suggested the crowd.
"That was not what I was going to say. I was about to remark that I'm a man that can adapt his principles to the requirements of the age. I want to interest my fellow working men in this matter, and I want them to adapt their principles as well as me."
"Who pays you for all this? " inquired a voice.
"Ah!" shouted Wetherell furiously, pointing at the owner of the voice, "there's sordidness for you! There's your true money-grubber. There he is; that one with the nose, I mean. There's a type of man that can't allow for a single moment that anybody should possess certain, what I may call, principles, and be prepared to argue in fiver of these principles from early morn till dewy eve. Such is the base, the cowardly, the unmanly condition of that person there standing amongst [-219-]your midst, that lie can't recognise a honest 'eart when he meets one walking about."
The crowd seemed dazed by this dashing spray of words and some looked at the interrupter with reproof.
"But, comrides, why should I waste my time and your time by denouncing a paltry imitation of a man like him? Let him return to the pot'ouse that knows him so well, and let him 'esitite, let him 'esitite, I say, before he again dares to treat honest men with the voice of contumely, the voice of abuse, and the voice of slander. I point the finger of truth at him, comrides, and see how he cowes before—"
"I ain't cowing," protested the interrupter.
"The more shame to you!" bawled Mr. Wetherell. " Comrides, enough of this. My time is up, but before I step down let me say this: That true liberty consists, not in making slives of each other, not in following blindly the dictates of others, but in acting in accordance with your own consciences, your own mind, and your own menly common-sense."
Wetherell came partting through the crowd, and spoke to Mord Em'ly. He took from his pocket, and showed her furtively, several £5 notes, and [-220-] demanded to know whether that was not a little bit of all-right? She asked him what had happened to his face, and he seemed at first unwilling to say. Eventually he explained. He had been walking along, chatting to a comrade (he said) about nothing in particular—in fact, about Mord Em'ly herself—when a person had come up shouting loudly something very personal.
"What were you saying about me?"
"Upon which," said Wetherell evasively, " I touches him on the shoulder, and I says, 'Pardon me. You are now interrupting in what don't concern you, and I'll trouble you to withdraw your recent remarks without further delay. Otherwise,' I says, 'I shall be under the pineful necessity of dotting you one.' 'Do it,' says the chap. And we had a set-to—all on your account, mind—and in the tussle somehow I got a bit damaged. Of course, I don't mean to say that he didn't get as good as he gave. I may not be specially clever in putting up me docks, never 'aving given much time to the business, but I can make 'em say what I mean. And then this chap—"
"Wonder who it was?"
"I didn't know him from Adam," said Wetherell lightly. " Never seen him before, and sha'n't be [-221-] much upset if I never see him again. But it's just as well to let 'em see that if anybody goes bandying your name about, they've got me to contend with."
"Thanks," said Mord Em'ly.
To Mord Em'ly's great relief, her father did not appear at the cemetery, and as,
for some days after this, she heard nothing of him, she persuaded herself that
he had disappeared. A letter came from Henry Barden, dated from Brindisi—a brief
letter, which announced the arrival there of the P. & O. steamer; stated that he
had not ceased to think of her; and that he was her affectionate friend. The
letter was unexpected, and it cheered Mord Em'ly.
Mitchell's Dining-Rooms were giving to a few customers hospitality in the shape of tea and toast when Mord Em'ly's father blundered through the narrow swing-doors. He came so awkwardly, that the two doors, seeing, perhaps, that his presence was not desired, clipped him and held him there for a few moments. He swore a good deal at this incident, and Mrs. Mitchell craned herself up and protested warmly.
"We don't allow no language 'ere," said Mrs. [-223-] Mitchell, with spirit. "Outside, if you like, but not inside, thank you."
"I've come on civil bis'ness," said Mord Em'ly's father, rather thickly, "and I ask to be treated in civil manner. I'm Eng'shman!"
"Your native country's proud of you, no doubt," said Mrs. Mitchell satirically.
"Nev' you mind 'bout my native country. My native country's all ri'. I'm all ri'. We're all," added Mord Em'ly's father, with a burst of amiability,"we're all all ri."
"Now you've settled that question, you may as well go."
"I've come 'ere," he said, steadying himself by placing one hand on the counter and addressing the customers, "I come 'ere as parent. I want see Mord Em'ly."
"What do you want to see her for?"
"Nev' you mind. Perduce her."
"I shall do nothing of the kind," said Mrs. Mitchell, with spirit. "A low, drunken lout like you dare to come 'ere—"
Mord Em'ly's father snatched a few of the thick plates from the mound on the counter, and smashed them noisily on the floor. The customers rose from their seats; Mord Em'ly herself left the kitchen at the back of the dining-rooms, and came for-[-224-]ward. She turned very white on seeing her father.
"There!" he said agreeably, "that's the kind of man I am."
"Send for a constable," cried Mrs. Mitchell, panting. " Somebody bolt off for a—"
Mord Em'ly interrupted.
"There she is," exclaimed her father, "there's my daughter. There's sole s'port of her remaining parent. Morel Em'ly, how's world using you?"
"Why do you come here? You've no business to come making all this disturbance,"
"No bis'ness?" he repeated amazedly. "Well, that's a good 'un. Ain't you my daughter, and ain't I your father? Vurry well then. Gimme'alf-dollar."
"Is it true what he says, my dear? " asked Mrs. Mitchell.
Mord Em'ly nodded.
"A pretty object for a father, I must say!"
"I ain't arguin' that I'm pretty," he said loudly. "My looks may be 'genst me, for all I know. Anyhow, they don't'fect my argiment. You give me'arf-dollar, my gel, 'r else I'll make myself jolly—hic—unpleasant."
"Don't see how you could be off of doing that!" [-225-] snapped Mrs. Mitchell, "A brute like you doesn't deserve to 'ave a good daughter."
"Calls me names now," continued Mord Em'ly's father to the customers. " Tike a note of it, some of you. We'll make a blawsted lor case out of this!"
"Yes, an' you'll be in the dock!" cried Mrs. Mitchell. " Wouldn't be the first time, I lay, neither, not by a long chalk!"
"What if I 'ave, mother? Don't we all get our misfortunes in life, aye? I ain't the only one. Take care you don't find yourself there, that's all. Take care I don't set the police—"
"You low person!" cried Mrs. Mitchell; "you dare to says word against my'ouse! You dare to utter a single word—"
"Aren't you ashamed of yourself, father?"
"No," he replied defiantly. "Are you?"
"I'll give him some money," said Mord Em'ly, distressedly, "and then p'r'aps he'll go!"
"If you give him money," declared Mrs. Mitchell, "he'll be always comin' 'ere."
"Spoke like the voice of truth," agreed the deplorable man. "If you never tol' the truth before you've tol' it now, old lady. She's going to be my li'l' bread-winner; when I'm stony, I come if her for 'alf-dollar." He beamed foolishly at the [-226-]interested customers, and then at Mrs. Mitchell, and slapped the counter. "Just like I've come for it nah. See what I mean, mother?"
"Leave my establishment this minute!" screamed Mrs. Mitchell.
"'Stablishment?" He laughed ironically. "Come to somethin, 'pon my word! Calls her blooming cawfee-shop a 'stablishment! Why don't you call it a rest'rong, and 'ave done it? Cafe des bloaters!"
"Will you leave," cried Mrs. Mitchell, stamping the floor, "or will you not?"
"When it suits me to," he said obstinately. " I've got my rights, and I mean to stick to 'em. Gimme a penny mug of cawfee, and not so much cackle!"
"We don't make pennyworths, and you sha'n't be served. You're the worse for liquor!"
"Wish I was!" said Mord Em'ly's father.
"And, besides that, you're a low, vulgar, noisy person! You're a disgrace, that's what you are!"
"I'm a-goin' look afer my gel," said Mord Em'ly's father. " She's been torn from me by cruel fate, she has, and now cruel fate's got to take back seat. This is where I come in. Unnerstand?"
[-227-] "Take your filthy 'ands off my clean counter!" commanded Mrs. Mitchell.
"Don't go and throw a man's 'ands in his face," he said pathetically. "Don't do that, mother." He showed the palms of his hands to the customers. " That's work!" he said proudly.
"More like dirt!" remarked Mrs. Mitchell.
"Wha' is it the song says?" he asked them. "'Ow does the old song go? Summing like this, ain't it?"
"Your talkin's bad enough," said Mrs. Mitchell. " Begin to sing, and I shall certainly send for the police."
"Very well," replied Mord Em'ly's father, " I won't sing, then. Lady's only got to express wish, and I bow in a most def—in a most defer—" He hiccoughed, and gave up the attempt. " When's your birthday, my love?"
"Out of that door in less than two minutes," cried Mrs. Mitchell fiercely, "or I'll 'ave you put out."
He pulled the white cloth from one of the tables, and upset the cruet-stand, with its contents.
"That's what you get," he said, " for being imp'dent"
"Father," begged Mord Em'ly appealingly, "I wish you'd go. You're not wanted, and you'll only get yourself in trouble."
[-228-] "What th' 'ell do I care," he shouted furiously, "'bout trouble? Ain't I bin in trouble before? Ain't I served me—"
"Be quiet!" commanded Mord Em'ly.
"Sha'n't be quiet. And," in a scream, "take yer 'and off my shoulder, 'r else I'll make you."
"You're going out, father."
"No, I ain't. Leggo my shoulder, I tell you. LEGGO!" He struggled with her, and the customers came forward. "Chrise, I'll perish you, if you ain't careful."
He turned suddenly, and, with a quick movement of his foot and a wicked blow of the fist, sent her down on the floor. Then, before the men could reach him, he had gained the doorway. He smashed with his elbow the two sheets of embossed glass in the doors, and turned.
"You ask for it," he said, "and you've got it. I shall be this way agen to-morrer."
It did not take long to revive poor Mord Em'ly, and the broken fragments on the floor were soon cleared away, but the two jagged open spaces in the doorway remained to give sorrow to Mrs. Mitchell, Mord Em'ly pasted brown paper over them tearfully, as a temporary measure, and Mrs. Mitchell, looking on, shook her head. When Miss Mitchell returned home, her nerves unstrung owing [-229-] to the discovery that her young gentleman's second Christian name was Samuel, her lamentations added to the poignancy of her mother's regrets. Mrs. Mitchell retired to her room alone, for better and calmer consideration of the matter, and presently Mord Em'ly was called up. Mrs. Mitchell sat very upright on the sofa, her hands clasped at her capacious waist.
"My dear," said the old lady, in a lachrymose voice, " I've thought it out, and I've decided. You'll 'ave to go."
"I'm very sorry, my dear, because you're a good girl, and I sha'n't get another like you."
"I should rather think you won't!" declared Mord Em'ly. "Why, I do the work of two!"
"I know," said Mrs. Mitchell regretfully. " A 'andier or a willinger girl I never met, and never wish to meet. But the only way to prevent that horrible father of yours from coming here and kickin' up a disturbance is for me to be able to tell him that you're gone."
"Well, but—but what's going to 'appen to me?" demanded Mord Em'ly blankly.
"I shouldn't think you'd be long out, my dear. I shall give you a week's wages, and p'r'aps a little something extra."
[-230-] "Want me to go to-night?"
"Want me to go to-night?"
"Oh, no, my dear. But I think you d best be off as soon as you possibly can."
"It's all very well," said poor Mord Em'ly, " to say `be off'; it's another thing to know where to be off to. It might be weeks before I found another place, and meanwhile—"
"You don't think I'm over-stern, my dear, I hope?"
"I ain't complainin'," said Mord Em'ly.
When business was over, the house seemed stifling to Mord Em'ly, and she obtained permission to run out for half-an-hour. She asked Miss Mitchell to accompany her, but that young lady replied coldly that one had to be particular in this world, and really one must draw the line somewhere. So little Mord Em'ly, her head full of bitterness against the world, went out alone into New Cross Road, and walked away in the desultory rain without knowing or caring where she went.
The road was crowded, because there had occurred a Bank Holiday but a week or so before, and people had not yet recovered from that hilarious event. At the corner of Lewisham High Road, near a public-house, nigger minstrels, in a semi-circle, were clattering bones, banging tam-[-231-]bourines, and twanging banjoes, and Mord Em'ly stopped to hear one song. Happening to be one soaked with sentiment, it increased Mord Em'ly's depression. A short, corpulent man out in the centre sang it to the balcony of the public-house:
"Sister's joined the inegels, in the courts above,
We on earth shall never see her mo-ar ;
Never see her visage, 'ear the voice we love,
Ontil we reach the 'eppy goldin sho-ar."
The black-faced men, marching round, repeated the chorus with a triumphant roar, and women in the crowd, sniffing and rubbing their eyes, told their husbands to contribute a penny to the offered tambourine.
Mord Em'ly hastened along Lewisham High Road, where there were fewer people, and hummed desolately the chorus which pursued her. She found herself wondering who would regret her disappearance if she were to go out of this life. Her sleeves were wet now with the insidious rain, and they glistened with tiny drops when she neared a lamp. It seemed to Mord Em'ly that this was a world where it was always raining; and, whatever doubts she had about the next world, she felt confident that the weather there would be [-232-] above reproach. But she had not yet decided on the few people who would be sorry if they never saw her again.
Yes, Henry, certainly. But he might never hear of what had become of her. It might not get into the papers; if it did, the papers might not reach Australia; if they reached Australia, they might not come under his notice.
Yes, Gilliken. Mord Em'ly, standing for a few moments in the doorway of a closed shop, because the rain seemed to have determined at last to come down in earnest, felt sure that Gilliken would be very sorry indeed. Gilliken would come to the funeral, and would pray. Mrs. Mitchell would settle for the funeral, and would enjoy it, too, in her lugubrious way.
She was not quite sure, She had never been able entirely to overcome a vague disinclination to treat Wetherell with a certain reserve. She had labelled him "Dangerous," and the label still remained. And Ronicker — poor Ronicker! Several of the customers at Mitchell's Dining-Rooms, too, would miss her. The young secretary of the Home, who married : if she ever heard [-233-] of it she would be sorry — perhaps she would cry.
"They ain't a big crowd," said Mord Em'ly, with something of bitterness, " when you come to reckon 'em up?'
Two youthful sparks, with cigars at an acute angle in the corners of their mouths, swaggered up to her and spoke. She pushed one against the other, much to their astonishment, and ran out again into the night.
The rain had returned now to its earlier manner. The pavements were slippery, and once or twice Mord Em'ly nearly fell, recovering herself only by a dexterous movement She reached the railway bridge, under which a train was rushing, and stopped to hear the thunderous noise. She was too short to see over the arch, but by the side a wooden fence guarded the steep green bank of the cutting through which the lines ran, and here, by standing on the first bar, Mord Em'ly could see the signal lights, with a black and grey background, could hear the complaining, distressful whistle of an engine, which, desiring to see green, saw red, and was in a great state of perturbation accordingly. Shrubs grew on the bank, and Mord Em'ly decided, in her dazed and confused little mind, that she could get down without much [-234-] trouble. She would stand just out of the glare of the signal-box, which made the bright wet rails shine like bars of polished silver, and there—
She wished that she had written something to be read at the inquest. In last Sunday's paper there had appeared such a letter, full of mysterious messages to friends, and with poetry in it, too. If one only knew where to find it, there was surely plenty of poetry in the world, and, with its aid, she could have made up a letter which the papers would have called "AN EXTRAORDINARY MISSIVE." The baffled engine, waiting behind the signal-box, snorted with temper, being probably anxious to get home to shed, and enjoy its night's rest; the driver and fireman stood on opposite sides, peering anxiously for the change of light. From the signal-box the elderly man in his shirt sleeves looked out, and shouted across to the driver, telling him that old Jack Somebody, porter at Nunhead, had been and got himself superannuated. Mord Emily heard three rings in the signal-box, and almost instantly the engine gave a shrill whistle of joy, and attempted to start on the slippery rails. The wheels did not at first catch a hold on the rails; the engine gave way to uncontrollable fury.
She was at the top of the wooden fence when a [-235-] small, round white light flashed near her. Instinctively she looked back; instinctively, too, she stepped down.
"What have we here?" demanded a bass voice, at the back of the small round lamp. "Face seems familiar. What game are we playing now, may I ask?"
The white smoke and sparks of the passing engine, and a burst of light from its suddenly-opened and fiercely-blazing stoke-hole, enabled Mord Em'ly to see the speaker's face.
"What?" she said, trembling, but affecting to be perfectly composed. "They've made a sergeant of you, then? Whose mistake was that?"
"Fancy running across you again," said the sergeant, turning off his bull's-eye lantern. "Why, it must be years since you and me travelled down to that place in Surrey. How did you get on there?"
"First-class!" said Mord Em'ly.
"Well done!" said the sergeant heartily.
"I've had a whack in the eye just lately," confessed Mord Em'ly, " that's rather upset me. Lost me—me mother."
"Cheer up " said the sergeant " We can't expect to keep 'em with us always."
"That ain't the worst," said Mord Em'ly, trying [-236-] to laugh; "I've found me father. And a nice pleasant, useful, 'andy sort of parent he is."
"You'll get over that," remarked the sergeant cheerfully. " Let me know if the old man gets too interfering." He looked down at her with interest. "I thought they'd make something of you. My word, why, if I've spoke about you to the wife once, I've spoke about you fifty times."
"Don't mean to say you found anyone willing to marry you?" she inquired pertly.
"Rather!" said the sergeant. "As 'appy a couple as you'd meet in a day's march, if it isn't taking too much on meself to say so. Which way are you going?"
"'Ome to my place of business in the New Cross Road."
"I'm going that way," said the sergeant, walking with her in his noiseless shoes. " We'll stroll along together. 'Aven't you got no umbrella? What were you getting on top of that fence for just now? "
"Dropped me glove over," said Mord Em'ly readily, "whilst I was watching the trains go by."
"I'll get one of our men to look for it in the morning," said the sergeant. "He'll find it for you."
"I'm not so sure."
[-237-] "And you're getting on in the world like one o'clock, I lay," he said genially. "Lord, I'm glad of it."
"How came you to be made sergeant so quick?"
"Oh," he said modestly, "it was more of a fluke than anything else. One evening, I'd got a rare old 'ump of it; as down in the mouth as—well, I don't suppose you can understand."
"I can guess," said Mord Em'Iy.
And that very evening a case turned up over in the district where I was then, and it turned out all right for me, and the papers spoke well of me, and—well, here I am, as you see, a sergeant in the R Division, and very pleased to meet you. Why not come in some evening, and see the wife? Come to-morrow. She'll cheer you up, if you feel a bit down in the mouth. And so'll the boy."
"There's a baby, is there?"
The sergeant stopped, and laughed with so much enjoyment that he had to hold the iron railings.
"See him in my helmet," said the sergeant exhaustedly. " See him lock me up, and take me off to the police-station in the back kitchen! See him talk to his doll, because he finds it playing [-238-] pitch-and-toss! Laugh?" The sergeant shook hands with Mord Em'ly, whose hour of depression had now gone, and wiped his eyes. "I tell you," he said, " it's enough to make a cat laugh."
MORD EM'LY said good-bye to Mitchell's Dining-Rooms, and Mrs. Mitchell kissed
her, cried a good deal, and gave to her ten shillings over and above her wages,
a number of ham sandwiches, and a bunch of coral that originally came (Mrs.
Mitchell said) from goodness only knew where. Miss Mitchell so far unbent as to
go with Mord Emily to call on the sergeant's wife, and on the way imparted, in
strict confidence, the growing impression that it was a silly, stupid world, and
that, likely as not, she should live and die an old maid. The sergeant's wife
greeted Mord Em'ly, and, being informed of the circumstances, declared that if
Mord Em'ly did not object to a chair bedstead, and could reconcile herself to a
room at the top of the house in Hatcham Park Road, why, let her send for her box
forthwith, and she should receive the welcome that was extended to flowers in
May. This accordingly was done; and then Miss Mitchell, with great gentility,
withdrew, warning Mord [-240-] Em'ly that in case of any trouble in affairs of the heart, she was the person to
be instantly consulted, as one possessing knowledge which experience alone could
bring. Mord Em'ly thanked her, and said that, so far as she was concerned, there
was precious little chance of anything of the kind happening.
Morel Em'ly shared the not altogether unique inability to peer into the future. That afternoon, at Greenwich Park, being in company with the sergeant's infant, who was militarily apparelled as a Highlander, and had a weakness for abrading his small knees, she met Wetherell. Wetherell resisted the efforts of the infant Highlander to play games of being locked up, and walked with them through the broad avenue to the refreshment house near the Blackheath gates. Here the infant was furnished with occupation by an immense sugared bun, which he was unable to eat whole, and unwilling to deal with in any other fashion.
"And 'ave you tried for anything else?" inquired Wetherell, when Mord Em'ly had explained.
"Been to one place this afternoon."
"Didn't get it, I lay?"
"No. It was filled."
"And so you'll find it," said Wetherell pessim-[-241-]istically, "with others. You might be out for weeks and weeks."
"Oh, no, I shan't."
"Oh, yes, you will. The market is overcrowded. The supply is in excess of the demand. Overpopulation is 'aving its natural effect, ayloft capital, with its outspread wings, is witing like a 'awk—"
"Cheese it!" said Mord Em'ly," you ain't in the Broadway now."
"All the same," said Wetherell, "you'll find you've got rough weather in store if you ain't a bit artful."
"I'm right enough for the present, anyhow. I'm very comfortable, and I'm looked after, and—"
"Do you mean to tell me," he said, pushing back his soft hat, " that you'll consent of your own freewill to take from the 'and of charity? Do you mean to sit there and tell me that you're prepared to stand at the gate of the rich, like Dives of old—"
"Can't I go and stay with friends if I like?"
"What!" said Wetherell, with a good deal of scorn, "and be under a obligation to others? I shouldn't 'ave thought it of you, 'pon me word. Always fancied you'd got more independence, more spirit, more of the qualities that the poet—"
[-242-] "Oh, bother the poet!" said Mord Em'ly, perturbed at this reproof. "You talk about independence! What are you doing for a living, I should like to know, since you gave up your facia writing? So now, then! There's a bit of a mystery—"
"Look 'ere," said Wetherell, with an acute air. " We're chums, and I don't mind telling you that I'm just playin'."
"Pity you ain't working."
"I know a trick worth twenty of that," he replied confidently. " Me and a friend 'ave tore ourselves away from the party we formerly belonged to, and we are now organism' the labourin' classes."
"Why can't you leave 'em alone? "
"Between ourselves," said Mr. Wetherell frankly, "because it pays us not to. Between ourselves, because we supply a long-felt want, and there's money in it. Between ourselves, because we know the ropes, and we know a few newspaper reporters, and we two, my friend and me, are now prepared to get up a meeting on any subject you like for a certain sum paid down."
"Any subject? "
"Any blooming subject," declared Wetherell strenuously, " you blooming well like to mention."
The infant Highlander was called by Mord [-243-] Em'ly, and, to prevent further expenditure of needless labour, the sugared bun was broken into four parts. The infant, annoyed at being thus foiled in his ambitious scheme, declined to touch the pieces until Mord Em'ly proposed to eat them herself, whereupon he made haste to despatch them.
"I daresay," said Mr. Wetherell casually, "you ain't partic'lar flush of chips just now?"
"I say, I s'pose there isn't too much money knocking about with you?"
"I mus'n't grumble."
"P'r'aps," he said, taking out a purse with some nervousness, " p'r'aps you wouldn't mind borr'ing 'alf a quid from me till you get into a place again?"
"I don't want your 'alf sovereign," said Mord Em'ly, not ungraciously. " I've got enough to go on with."
"You'll pardon me suggesting?"
"That's all right," said Mord Em'ly.
"If we was wise," said Mr. Wetherell, looking up at the tree near which they were sitting, "we should set up 'ouse together, you and me, and then you wouldn't 'ave to beg for bread from a member of the force paid and kept by a scoundrelly State to [-244-] browbeat the humble and the weak. And I should be a jolly sight more comfortable, too. I've got a little 'ouse in my eye now not a 'undred miles from 'ere. Did you read those pamphlets I lent you?"
"I glanced through 'em," she said absently.
"They give me a 'eadache trying to understand 'em."
"It's clear enough to them that can grasp the argument and realise what the writers are driving at. In this little 'ouse I'm speaking of, my idea now was to get some furniture on the 'ire system."
Mord Em'ly looked straight before her, and did not answer. The infant Highlander had found an infant boatswain, and they were arguing fiercely in the attempt to cast the parts of the comedy they proposed to play. Both desired to play policeman, and the sergeant's son had an idea of also playing magistrate, but this suggestion did not commend itself to the boatswain.
"Light furniture, you know; and there'd be a bit of a garden out at the back where we could grow flowers. Or try to."
Mord Em'ly was silent
"And if the funds ran to it," he went on, " what I thought was that we'd 'ave a gel to do all the rough work, so that—'
[-245-] "A servant?" said Mord Em'ly, with a sudden interest. " You mean keep a servant in the 'ouse? "
"To a certain extent," he said, "yes. And me and you to see that she did her work properly, and keep her up to the mark. They take a lot of looking after," went on Mr. Wetherell, " if you want to get your money's worth out of them."
"Shouldn't I fancy meself," cried Mord Em'ly, laughing childishly, " with a servant to wait on me 'and and foot. I should 'ave to begin to learn how to aspirate my aitches."
"You'd soon get used to the life," said Wetherell encouragingly.
"Ah, should I?" she remarked doubtingly. "Why, I should be like a fish out of water. Besides, it's nonsense to talk about it."
"It ain't nonsense. You don't dislike me, do you?"
"I ain't so sure about that," she said. Looking at him, her cheeks flushed. "I couldn't stand you a bit at one time."
"That wears off," said Mr. Wetherell.
"In the present case we shall find— There ain't no one else, is there?" he said suddenly. She did not answer, and he raised his voice aggressively. "'Ear what I'm asking you?"
[-246-] Mord Em'ly moved a foot rather nervously on the gravel.
"I ask a fair question," said Wetherell, with an injured air, " and I expect a fair answer. Is there someone else, or ain't there someone else?"
"There was! "
He swore in a whisper.
"What's become of him?"
"Gone abroad," she said briefly.
"For good? "
"For his good."
"And d'you still care for him? "
"Mind your own business," said Mord Em'ly. "It is my business."
"Don't you try to know too much!" she said.
"Well," he said thoughtfully, "so long as he's abroad, I don't know that I've any pertic'lar call to be inquisitive. Only I've got a certain amount of manly spirit about me, you understand, and I shouldn't like to think you was playing fast and loose. I don't want to go to the expense of rigging up a 'ome and engaging a domestic servant—"
"What sort of a girl would she be?" inquired Mord Em'ly.
"Big, strong, useful sort of woman, about twenty-two or three. One that you could make responsible for all the 'ard work, and make her wait on [-247-] you. In fact, my idea was that she should be a kind of a lady's maid and a general servant combined."
This time Mord Em'ly laughed outright. Her feet came off the gravel, and she rocked to and fro with amusement.
"Fancy me," she said, wiping her eyes, "fancy me with a servant. Wonder what people would say?"
"Say?" echoed Mr. Wetherell. " Why, they'd say you was a lucky gel, and that you was one who'd got her 'ead screwed on the right way. Say? Why, they'd envy you your position in life; they'd wish they'd been as fortunate as you was. Say? Why, they'd say—"
"Come out of that pulpit," said Mord Em'ly impatiently. " When you begin to put on your lecturing way you seem to get on my nerves."
"Shall we say it's agreed on? " asked Wetherell. " I can't give you more than a week, because this little 'ouse I've got my eye on will be took by someone else if I don't give a answer by next Sat'day."
"There's no 'urry," she said, in a low voice.
"I tell you there is hurry. I tell you that I ain't the kind of chap to stand any nonsense. I tell you that if you fancy for a moment that you're [-248-] going to keep me on a bit of string, and then, at the last moment, hop off and leave me, you've made the biggest mistake you ever made in the 'ole course of your existence. I've had some experience in these matters—"
"That's as well to know," she interrupted shortly.
"I don't mean what you mean," he said hastily. "What I wanted to say was that I am no fool. I'm John Blunt, I am," he went on, with a good deal of pride. "Stritefor'ard's my motto, and stritefor'ard's my behaviour, and I expect to be treated similar. Prehaps," said Wetherell, becoming warm on a subject that seemed always to interest him, "prehaps I should get along better in the world if I wasn't so stritefor'ard. Prehaps I 'ave me faults. Prehaps I'm over-trustful and too good-natured, and too willing to think well of everybody. I don't deny it: I don't admit it. But I'd sooner feel that I had all those faults I've mentioned than not talk stritefor'ard, and act stritefor'ard, and be stritefor'ard."
Mr. Wetherell mopped his forehead with his handkerchief.
"Now," he said, with an air of concluding the argument, "now we know where we are."
"I must be getting off. Come on, youngster, and let me rub your mouth for you."
[-249-] The infant Highlander had eaten some of the sugared bun, and had also contrived to paste a good deal of it on his cheeks. When this had been remedied, and his costume had been shaken into something like order, Mord Em'ly rose. The Highlander ran across the avenue, kicked his friend the boatswain, and returned to sanctuary.
"Good afternoon! " she said.
"No, you don't," remarked Wetherell brusquely. You ain't going like that. Don't you flatter yourself."
"Got precious little to flatter myself about," said Mord Em'ly, with a desolate sigh.
"You're going to give me a answer, yes or no, before you go."
"Who told you so?"
"Let's 'ear from you."
She did not answer.
You see," he said persuasively, "if it wasn't that this little 'ouse was cheap, and the kind that we might 'ave to wait mouse for if we let it slip, I wouldn't be in no 'wry. As it is, there's no time to lose."
"And then, I s'pose—I s'pose we'd get married?"
"That," said Mr. Wetherell handsomely, with a shrug of the shoulders, "is quite a matter for you to decide."
[-250-] "But people will know that we're not—"
"People 'ave got no call to know anything about it. If anybody passes any remarks I'll treat 'em like I treated that feller a few weeks ago. I stood up in your defence then, if you recollect, and I can do it again."
He fastened his scarlet neck-tie with great determination, and went on :
"Whatever we like to arrange, you and me, is a matter that only concerns ourselves, and's got nothing at all to do with nobody else. We're both grown-up--I'm older than you, certainly, but that only seeports my argument—and we've got a right to do what we've got a right to do. See? And as regards the servant, if she don't do jest what you want her to do in the 'ouse, all you've got to do is to give her notice in the same way that the Queen or anybody else might. You'll 'ave full control, in a manner of speaking."
Mord Em'ly held tightly the hand of the small Highlander, and glanced with an absent air away over Blackheath. The place looked to her rather like a coloured picture, and the people moving about on it appeared like lazy flies. The sky was not very well painted : the deep blue seemed unnatural and exaggerated. She whistled thoughtfully.
[-251-] "Stop acting the goat," he said brusquely. " Say the word—yes or no."
"Give me time to think over it."
"Sha'n't give you another minute."
"Oh, well," said Mord Em'ly, with a burst of recklessness, " I don't seem to care what 'appens to me!"
"That means yes, does it?"
"It means yes," said Mord Em'ly.
"Permit me," he said, taking off his soft hat. She pushed him back. "What, don't you like kissin'?"
"I ain't particular keen on it," said Mord Em'ly.
"Shake 'ands, then. Be 'ere to-morrow same time, and we'll settle about the 'ouse. Only," he said menacingly, " no droring back, mind."
"I've given you my word," she said wearily.
Mord Em'ly walked out of the gates to the heath. The youthful Highlander slipped his hand from her tight grasp, and ran back to the gates, as one remembering a duty. There the young man found a pebble, and, throwing it with an aim accidently exact, managed to hit the departing Mr. Wetherell. The young Highlander waited to see Mr. Wetherell cuff the boatswain for this act, and then returned to Mord Em'ly with the satisfaction of one who has complied with a stringent rule of etiquette.
[-252-] Mr. Wetherell showed every appearance of keeping his word. More than once he took Mord Em'ly to see the outside of the house; he pointed out in the window of a furniture shop, amongst other things, a gorgeous crimson plush suite of chairs that he said were as good as being his property. Mord Em'ly, accompanied and guarded by the trusty young Highlander, went through all this rather gloomily, and brightened only when Wetherell showed her the registry office, where (he said) he had had no little difficulty in finding a suitable domestic. When Mord Em'ly made once more a suggestion of delay, Mr. Wetherell replied frankly that he would wring her neck if she mentioned it again.
Returning one afternoon, she had to pass Mitchell's Dining-Rooms, and Miss Mitchell, over the wire blind in the window, beckoned to her. Mord Em'ly, her little head hot with weariness, decided that she could not just then endure the young lady's company, and walked on; whereupon Miss Mitchell tripped out, and ran after her.
"A letter for you," said Miss Mitchell breathlessly, "Why didn't you come when I beckoned?"
"Sure it's for me?"
"Well," said Miss Mitchell, " it's got your name on the envelope, if that's anything to go by. And, [-253-] I say, d'you mind giving me the foreign stamp? My young gentleman's collecting 'em, and it'll be a nice present for his birthday."
Mord Em'ly opened the envelope.
"I s'pose it's from your friend that—thanks—went out to, what's the name of the place. I've often thought I should like to be engaged to some gentleman that was abroad, so as to get nice long letters from him describing the scenery, and—"
Mord Em'ly walked away suddenly, because, on reading the first words of the letter, her face had flushed a fiery crimson.
"My dear Sweetheart! "
She placed the letter hastily in her bodice, lifted the little Highlander, and, to his astonishment, kissed him and hugged him until he kicked for release. It was the first letter she had ever received that had opened with these words of affection, and for a few moments she was not quite sane. In her room she read it carefully.
"My Dear Sweetheart,
"A few lines to tell you that we have arrived at the above place safe and sound, and we leave again in an hour's time. It is a very strange place, and quite different from England. The foreing people are very backward compared with us. My dear [-254-] Sweetheart, my employer has seen me much worried by leaving you, and he asked me the reason, and I up and told him. And he said why did not you tell me before. And he has sent to the P. and O. Office in Leadenhall Street, not far from the Mansion House, the money for a second-class single ticket, and when you are ready to come out you must go there and tell them who you are, and give them the inclose note from him, and then they will tell you when to set sail. And they will telegraft out to say so, and I will meet you at Sydney, and I will marry you, and will be a good husband to you.
"It is a longish voyage, but you will soon get used to it, and find someone friendly, because everybody is very amable on board. Sometimes the steamer does not take six weeks. Sydney is the last place you come to, so you cannot miss it. The people out there all talk English, and it will not be like coming to a foreing land.
"So with fond love, believe me to remain, my dear Sweetheart,
P.S.—I hope you have not forgot me."
[-255-] Mord Em'ly read the letter through several times. Suddenly the glad expression on her face vanished.
"I shall 'ave trouble with that other one," she said nervously.
THE sergeant's wife declared herself sorry, but her mother was coming the next
day, and the spare room had to be at once prepared for that lady's reception.
The sergeant's wife wished Mord Em'ly could have stayed on, and the infant
Highlander was also full of regret, but it could not be helped.
"It never rains with me," said Mord Em'ly to herself, "but what it comes down a good old soaker!"
Mord Em'ly went off in the evening to Miss Gilliken, and that young lady, after listening at the doorway of the local shelter to Mord Em'ly's account of her difficulties, showed a good deal of surprise on finding that Mord Em'ly had any doubts as to the course of action to be selected. Miss Gilliken, busily engaged in sorting out the applicants for a night's rest, was able to appreciate the facts laid before her.
"Simply take no further notice of him," said Miss Gilliken definitely. "That's my— (No, Mary Sulli-[-257-]van, it's no use. You kicked up a pretty disturbance the other night, and we don't want any more of your game)—that's my advice. By-the-by, I saw your father—"
"But take no further notice of who?" demanded the amazed Mord Em'ly.
"Of this Wetherell."
"But after I've as good as promised, I must see him and explain to him—"
"You ought not to have as good as promised. It was very wrong of you. I can't imagine what you could'ave been thinking of. All you've got to do now, Mord Em'ly, is to arrange about the berth, and then sail off and be happy on the other side of the world. Henry Barden's a good chap, and this one, I should rather fancy, isn't."
"But I couldn't," argued Mord Em'ly, " without giving him some explanation. I can't go and behave like that. Why, I should be ashamed to know meself if I did."
"Of course, if you're gone on the chap," said Miss Gilliken, "I can do nothing. (Mrs. Wallen, why on earth don't you hold your baby upright? It can't possibly amuse him to be carried upside down.) If that's the state of the case, Mord Em'ly, I'm afraid that nothing I can say—"
"But I ain't!" declared Mord Em'ly. "I tell [-258-] you I don't like him. Sometimes I can't stand his conversation one bit. But I've give my word to him, and I could no more slip off without seeing him and giving him an explanation, and letting him understand how I was situated, than I could fly."
"You're a queer girl, Mord Em'ly."
"Queer or unqueer," she said doggedly, "I'm going to behave proper."
"I hope you will," said Gilliken rather pointedly. "( Polly Bell, you've been 'aving jest one 'alf-pint too many, to-night. Don't tell me you can't keep count.) You're young, Mord Em'ly, and you've come now, it seems to me, to an important kind of crossway in your life, and if you take the wrong turning you'll lose yourself. (If you 'aven't got the pence, Polly Bell, you can't go in. You know that as well as I do. And you needn't trouble to cry, because it won't make any difference to me. I know you only too well.) If you like, dear, I'll go with you, and see the man; but you must make up your mind what to do in spite of anything he may say. (Another black eye, Sarah Waters? Lucky for you you've only got two.)"
The next morning, Mord Em'ly and Lieutenant Gilliken, after breakfast in the barracks, went by tram, and called on Mr. Wetherell. Mr. Wetherell [-259-] lived in a street off London Road, Greenwich, and his landlady, who was rather a dusty-looking old lady, in a very tired crape bonnet, said ambiguously that Wetherell was in and he wasn't in. Translated, this, it appeared, meant that he was in bed. The two young women waited for Mr. Wetherell to arise, and in the passage the three presently held council in an undertone, Mr. Wetherell, who, in the morning, seemed not so much oiled as to hair, and certainly not oiled as to temper, said at once that if Mord Em'ly declined to keep her promise, he would break every bone in her body, and offered rather handsomely to perform a like service for Miss Gilliken as some little recognition of her interference in the matter. The dusty old landlady peered out now and again from the kitchen at the back, and this served to warn Mr. Wetherell, when (forgetting himself) he raised his voice, and caused him to return quickly to moderate tones. He said that he had half-guessed there might be some hanky-panky of this sort, and he had therefore taken such steps as would prevent him from being left out in the cold. He proposed to deal with this affair as he dealt with matters of politics or of organisation, in that he should use plain language, and speak out his mind like a man. If a man or a woman behaved straight to him, he [-260-] behaved straight to them; if they behaved crooked, he behaved crooked. That was him, all the world over. Mr. Wetherell added that if he were then and there to undertake to write his own epitaph, he would simply take a pen, dip it in the ink, seat himself at the table and write these words: "He was as open as the day." Unfortunately, it appeared that there were people about who did not appreciate all this. The dusty old landlady came forward at this point, and asked whether Mr. Wetherell would like to finish that haddock, or whether he intended to partake of something fresh for breakfast; and he replied, with a good deal of strenuousness, that if the landlady thought that she was going to be allowed to finish the haddock, she was jolly well mistaken.
"Nothing more nor less than thieves, that's what you landladies are," said Mr. Wetherell menacingly. "But you've got a 'ard nut to crack in me, mind you. Get off back to your kitchen when you see me 'olding conversation with two lady friends, can't ye?"
He kept silence until the kitchen door closed, and then he called out :
"None of your listen in' through the key'ole," he shouted suspiciously, " you inquisitive old baggage, you."
[-261-] "There's an impression abroad," he went on, leaning one large hand against the wall of the passage, and speaking low, "that Ernest Wetherell is a fool. I'm going to take dam good care that wrong impression is, if I may use the term, rectified. I'm going to begin to look after Number One, an occupation I 'ave pre'aps 'itherto neglected."
"But can't you see," argued Miss Gilliken, " that you're flying in the face of all—"
"I'll most cert'nly fly in your face," whispered Mr. Wetherell, "if you can't look after your own affairs. You go Salvation Armying somewhere else; don't you come Salvation Armying 'ere, because I won't 'ave it. 'Ear?"
"I only want to see right done."
"You'll excuse me if I don't exactly see where your locus-standy—to use a foreign expression—comes in. This young woman and me are the only two that are concerned in this little show, and when we want your advice we'll ask for it. Not before!"
"I did ask her for it," interposed Mord Em'ly. "More fool you, then."
"I think it's not only a great sin," said Miss Gilliken, "but I also think that if you were a man of honour—"
"If!" repeated Mr. Wetherell explosively.
[-262-] "You be careful what you're sayin' of. I can stand a lot, but I won't let even a Salvationer cast imputations on my honour. Take care I don't 'ave you up in the for courts, my gel! If I wasn't a good-tempered chap, I should simply up with me fist and—"
"Stop that!" commanded Mord Em'ly.
"I'm only speaking theoretically," he explained.
"Mord Em'ly's got a chance now," said Miss Gilliken, "that may never occur again, and if you dare to stand in her way I shall consider that you're no man."
"My word!" said Mr. Wetherell threateningly, " if you wasn't a woman I'd spoil your face for you. I'm a chap of wonderful even temper, and jest because of that some of you think you can say what you like to me. A worm will turn, mind that."
"You ought to know," said Miss Gilliken sharply.
"You're very quick in your back answers," said Wetherell caustically. "I dessay, if the truth was known, you're about as big a 'umbug as the rest of the Salvationers. Nice goings on there are with your set, I lay. And then you 'ave the cool cheek to come 'ere and preach to me, and to lie and to slander, and—"
[-263-] "It's quite true what Gilliken says;' remarked Mord Em'ly, trembling; "and I won't 'ave her spoke to like that. She's my friend!"
"And ain't I your friend?" demanded Mr. Wetherell, in a fierce undertone. "Ain't I flung money the last few days about like so much water jest because I'm your friend? Ain't I given meself 'eadaches trying to think of something fresh for the new 'ome to make you 'appy? Ain't I been busy occupied in worshippin' the very ground you walk on? Very well, then!"
"If you was all you set yourself out to be," interrupted Miss Gilliken, " you'd at the very least have offered to 'ave the banns published, whereas—"
"'Pon me word," said Wetherell, shaking his head at Miss Gilliken, " I'd like to write my name with my blooming fist across your blooming face."
"You dare to talk like that again," said Mord Em'ly fiercely, "and we'll go at once. I like 'Enry Barden a jolly sight more than I like you, and we've only come 'ere to talk it over just so as you shouldn't say I'd behaved unfair."
"Don't try any sloping off to Australia, my gel," said Mr. Wetherell, in tones of earnest advice. "You can't go for nearly a fortnight, as I daresay you know, and if you so much as attempt it you'll be sorry you ever was born."
[-264-] "I begin to be that now," said Mord Em'ly.
"You'll be sorrier," said Mr. Wetherell meaningly, "if you don't meet me down near the 'Ship' this evening at eight-thirty p.m. And please don't run off from 'ere with the idea that you're dealing with a juggins. For your sake," said Mr. Wetherell pleadingly, "I ask you not to do that."
"Come along, Mord Em'ly," said Miss Gilliken. "We've told him all we wanted to. I shall lose me temper if I stay 'ere much longer."
"Better be 'alf lose your face," advised Mr. Wetherell. " Mord Em'ly, eight-thirty to-night, and don't you forget it. Miss Tambourine, or whatever your name is, we may meet again under 'appier circs."
"Not if I can 'elp it," said Miss Gilliken, shivering.
"I don't promise to be there this evening," said Mord Em'ly nervously.
"As you please," he said, with affectation of great courtesy. "As you please, my gel. Only, if you ain't there, look out for yourself." He came close to her car, and burst into a scream. "LOOK OUT!"
The two young women walked along London Road hand in hand, much as they had at one time walked about the streets of Walworth. Half-[-265-]unconsciously, they swung each other's arms, and the action intensified the remembrance of old days.
"All your troubles seem to come when you've grown up," said Mord Em'ly. "When I was a youngster, I was as 'appy as 'appy."
"Sure you ain't fond of him?"
"And I hope you're not afraid of him?"
"Well," said Mord Em'ly, with hesitation, "I am rather afraid of him."
"Ah!" remarked the wise Miss Gilliken, "that comes to pretty near the same. By-the-by, I didn't finish telling you about that father of yours."
Mord Em'ly laughed in a hysterical way.
"Go on," she said recklessly. "Let's 'ave it. I'm getting used to worry. I shall begin to enjoy it once I've managed to get the taste for it."
"Why, your father," said Gilliken impressively, "was on the penitent form night before last, and if I ain't misjudged him, he's found glory."
"It's a bit late," said Mord Em'ly, " but it can't do him any partic'lar 'arm."
MORD EM'LY paid another visit to the registry office, where her name and a
shilling had been recorded with some desire to see if the unexpected happened.
Her vague hopes were that she might obtain an engagement at some distant
dining-rooms, where she could remain in hiding until Wetherell had forgotten her; that accomplished, she could think about Australia and Henry Barden. One of
the waiting-rooms at the registry office was filled with anxious-eyed matrons,
waiting the arrival of the perfect domestic; and it seemed as though the
perfect domestic was a little late in arriving, for some of the matrons had been
there so long that they were now taking a light lunch in the form of sandwiches;
the jealousy with which they had previously eyed each other was now being
changed for recitals of troubles with servants. In the outer office a spectacled
lady stood beside a desk; several grim-looking general servants were seated
conversing, and sometimes rehearsing in [-267-] their minds speeches and attitudes to be adopted in forthcoming interviews with
possible mistresses. On a green baize-covered board several cards headed "Wanted" were fixed with drawing-pins, and Mord Em'ly looked down these before
addressing the spectacled lady. As she did so, she listened to the sibilant
whisperings of the young women on the wooden form, from whose conversation it
appeared that the average servant was a martyr, with right and truth and justice
on her side; whilst the average mistress was a tyrant, with abhorrent methods
concerning the removal of dust from furniture, and fiendish ideas in regard to
hours of return on Sunday evenings. One or two of the girls were, it appeared,
successful revolutionists, who had been in fierce contests, and had emerged from
them crowned with victory. Mord Em'ly, noticed that in the account of past
battles to which she listened, the mistress was always represented as possessing
a weak voice in a minor key; the reciter herself always possessed defiant and
"Let me see," said the spectacled lady, climbing on a high chair, and turning the leaves of a large book. "What's your name again? Oh, I remember. Of course I Last place dining-rooms in the neighbourhood."
[-268-] "You've hit it," said Mord Em'ly. "Got anything of a similar character? "
The spectacled lady shook her head.
"We get no call for 'em," she said.
"What 'ave you got a call for, then?"
"What you want is rather what we call low-class business," went on the spectacled lady, "and, reely, we don't profess to touch it. Our clients are all rather superior; in fact, there's a lady waiting now to see a country girl, whose husband, I may tell you in confidence, is on the vestry, and gets his name in the local paper week after week. Very well, then! She wouldn't care to rub shoulders with a woman that keeps an eating-house, would she? You see my meaning?"
"I asked you what you had got a call for," pointed out Mord Em'ly, " but you didn't answer."
"I can't see what advantage there is," went on the spectacled lady, " in having your evenings free, or every Sunday free, which is what such a lot of you seem to hanker after. See how often it's wet on a Sunday! See how dark it gets in the evenings when the winter comes on! Better by half have a comfortable kitchen to sit in by yourself, and read an improving book."
"I tasted that once," said Mord Em'ly.
[-268-] "Ah, but you're older now, perhaps. The older you get the more contented you get."
"The life wouldn't suit me not one little bit, but —how much should I get?"
"You're rather a short girl."
"Well, well," said Mord Em'ly, with impatience, "they don't pay you accordin' to your 'ight, do they?"
"A handy general," said the spectacled lady, "can always earn good money."
"Could I get away from 'ere?"
"Most of our clients are in the immediate vicinity."
"I mean," explained the spectacled lady condescendingly, "that they all live near."
"That's no good to me."
"Some of you young women don't know what you do want," snapped the spectacled lady.
"We know what we don't want."
"If you'd got common sense, you'd take one of these places that I offered you before. You say you're fond of children; why not make an appointment with that lady who's got thirteen?"
"It's an unlucky number."
"You say you aren't afraid of work; why don't [-270-] you try that place where there's four Board School mistresses living together? "
"Thanks," said Mord Em'ly drily, "I've met samples of 'em."
"You say you want a respectable place; why not see the lady at Brockley who has an American organ in the house? You say you— Stand aside, please, for a few moments." The spectacled lady slipped briskly down from her high chair as the street door opened, and a tall, determined young woman entered. "Good-morning," said the spectacled lady to the new-corner ingratiatingly. " Extraordinary weather for the time of year, isn't it. I see the papers prophesy—"
"Is she here? " asked the new arrival brusquely. " I don't want to waste my time."
The proprietress hurried into the waiting-room; and Mord Em'ly, looking at the brusque, strong, tall, young woman, recognised her as Dorothy Lane, whom she had succeeded as story-teller at Faith Cottage. Dorothy Lane shook hands, and said that if the lady who wanted to see her was not there, they wouldn't catch her (Dorothy) kicking her heels half the day, and this she was prepared, upon provocation, to tell them. Obviously, Dorothy was a valuable young woman, and one not unaware that her services were in demand.
[-271-] The spectacled lady brought out a mild young matron, and the other ladies-in-waiting peered nervously through the half-opened door of the waiting-room.
"This your name?" asked Dorothy, opening the examination.
The young matron answered apologetically in the affirmative.
"How many children are there?"
"What time do you 'ave dinner?"
Information given. Miss Lane rather taken aback by finding nothing to grumble at, and not quite prepared, in consequence, to following up the examination.
"You'll find the other servant very easy to get along with," suggested the young matron timidly.
"So you say," said Dorothy, without relaxing the grimness of her manner. "I shall 'ave to settle that for meself. Every other Sunday out, of course."
"And two days a month."
It was usual, mentioned the young matron, with respect, to give one day only, and—
"Then," said Dorothy, taking up her muff, " we [-272-] needn't trouble each other any longer. Coming my way, Mord Em'ly?"
The young matron, in an agony of fear, begged that Dorothy would not go. She was extremely anxious (said the young matron unnecessarily), extremely anxious to effect an engagement. They had been without a cook for so many days, and she felt quite sure they would suit each other.
"I shall suit you," said Dorothy, putting her muff down again; "question is whether you'll suit me. Girls that 'ave been in county families don't grow on every tree."
The young matron sighed, and seemed to intimate that she wished they did.
"I'll come to you for a month on trial, at the figure mentioned, and we can see then what happens."
The young matron was so much obliged. It was such a load off her mind; she could meet her husband now, when he came from the city, with a light heart. She went to the desk to speak to the spectacled lady.
"I like to begin," explained Dorothy to Mord Em'ly, "as I go on. They don't browbeat me. I've got a three years' character from my last place in the country, and that puts me in a position of being able to pick and choose a bit. Also, I've [-273-] got a tidy bit in the bank at the Home, and that gives anybody a feeling of independence, mind you. Ever since I've been in service I've posted off half me wages to the Home, and it's mounted up."
"D'you ever go there now?"
"You're one of 'em that's pulled through all right. They broke you in thoroughly."
"They did you more good than you give 'em credit for," said Dorothy.
"Me?" With surprise. " Why, I ran away from the place."
"That's nothing. You only did that to show off. Do you mean to argue that you would 'ave been just what you are now if you'd been left running about with your old gang at Walworth, and getting into mischief? Why, if you 'adn't gone there you'd a—"
"We needn't talk about that now. Did you get a good place when you left?"
"Rather! Trust me!"
"It's well to be you."
They talked of Ronicker, and Dorothy shook her head severely. Dorothy said that she could get a place for Mord Em'ly without much trouble; and Mord Em'ly was about to tell her of [-274-] Wetherell, when Dorothy mentioned that the worst blunder that a girl could make was to get mixed up with a parcel of young men. One or two had cast sheep's eyes at her (she said), and she had pretty soon let them know what was what. Dorothy, full of information in regard to Mord Emily's contemporaries of the Home, informed her that this one was getting on fairly well down in Somersetshire, but was trying to get a place in London; that that one stepped into trouble at the very first place she had, and went, as Dorothy expressively put it, jolly well all to pieces. Some of the elder girls were married; one of these had been so fortunate as to attract the heart of a publican in Norwood, and it was reported that she wore a pale blue silk; another had married a dairyman, and had become in prosperity so stout that she had to make her exit from the shop sideways.
And there were some of whom Dorothy spoke in an indignant undertone.
"Is the 'Ome still full?"
Still full. The supply of child-girls of irregular habits had not decreased, and Dorothy thought that behaviour was just about the same as in the old days. Did Mord Em'ly remember the time when they put thistles in old Mother Wingham's bed? And when they tied a piece of string across [-275-] the entrance of the gates for the special benefit of the chaplain? Lord! what a cropper on the gravel he did go.
"I was 'appier, then," remarked Mord Em'ly, with a sigh, " than I ever shall be again."
"Nonsense!" said Dorothy.
"It's a positive fact."
"Don't you believe it," argued Dorothy. "There's plenty of happiness in the world if we only take care not to miss it."
Mord Em'ly was distinctly encouraged by this chat with Dorothy, and she was laughing at some reminiscence of the Home as they came out of the registry office. Her laugh stopped quickly when she saw Wetherell standing outside by the doorway.
"Now then, now then, now then," said Mr Wetherell fiercely. " None of your 'alf larks, mind. I've given you fair warning, don't forget that"
Mord Em'ly caught at Dorothy's arm, and Wetherell followed them for the space of a few shops.
"Fail to be there this evening," he said, in a low voice; "treat me with as much consideration as though I was a lump of wood; get up to any dodgery-fraudery business, and I'll foller you, my [-276-] gel, I'll foller you wherever you go! I've got the gentleness of a dove, I admit," said Mr. Wetherell, as he prepared to leave them; "but mind you, I've also got the eye of a 'awk, and the temper of a eagle."
A man who had been one of Wetherell's comrades stood in a doorway, watching him curiously, and Wetherell, noticing this, changed his intention, and walked along by their side for a space. He looked back in a nervous way over his shoulder as he went, and growled in an undertone to himself. Presently, he left them suddenly, and went off, without another word, through a by-street.
"Who's he?" demanded Dorothy.
"Only a man," replied Mord Em'ly.
"I guessed that. What's he got to do with you? I don't like his style."
"He's got rather a queer manner about him," said Mord Em'ly, half excusingly.
"Looks to me like a wrong 'un, and it wouldn't take me long to tell him so neither."
"We're none of us perfect."
"He ain't, I'll take my affidavey. Why, 'port me word, if meeting him hasn't made you turn white. Come in here and have a cup of tea."
"You're a good sort, Dor'thy."
"There's plenty of the other kind about," said [-277-] Dorothy Lane acutely. " The market's overcrowded with 'em."
They went into a restaurant, and two cups of tea thawed Mord Em'ly's reserve. She explained the circumstances to Dorothy as she had explained them to Miss Gilliken, and Dorothy listened with her set features undisturbed until Mord Em'ly had finished.
"Well," said Dorothy, "I must be off. Where's me muff?"
"But," protested Mord Em'ly, with astonishment, "surely you've got some advice to give me. Surely you're not going off without—"
"I've got a lot of advice I could give you," said Dorothy, with much seriousness, "but the more I gave you the more you wouldn't take. You've got a bit of obstinacy about your disposition, Mord Em'ly, and a bit of don't care, and a bit of I don't know what all, and advice would do you no good. All the same you're a good girl, Mord Em'ly, and I wish you luck."
"Can't you—can't you tell me how you'd act yourself?"
"I could," said Dorothy, " but I ain't going to. Seems to me it'd be safer not. Your mother's gone, didn't you say?"
[-278-] "Very well, then," said Dorothy. " Try and do what, if she's looking down at you, won't worry her."
Near Old Kent Road Station they said goodbye. Within the shadow of one of the columns supporting the railway arch which spanned the road stood Wetherell. He followed Mord Em'ly until she neared the house of the sergeant's wife, when he walked more quickly, and came close to her.
"Always watching over you," he said, with fierce geniality. " Kind of regular guardin' angel, ain't I?"
She trembled and went into the house.
IT was certainly not inclination that took Mord Em'ly by the ear that evening,
and led her slowly but determinedly to Greenwich. Fear was mainly responsible,
aided, perhaps, by a reckless spirit of fatalism. The little woman had kissed
Henry Barden's letter a good many times before she had started out—had pinned it
carefully inside her blouse with a vague, confused hope that it might act as a
charm. Her nerves were so much unstrung that she started at every unusual sound
in the streets; when a passer-by stopped her, and inquired civilly the way to
St. John's, she shivered, and felt unable to comprehend the question. Stopping,
from force of habit, to look in the window of a milliner's shop, she glanced at
the mirror by the side, and found herself wondering curiously who the
large-eyed, white-faced young woman was whom she saw reflected there. In her
pre-occupation of mind she walked straight on up Blackheath
[-280-] Hill, instead of turning to Greenwich, and she was, in consequence, somewhat
late in arriving.
It had been a day which Mord Em'ly decided was not one of her days—a day when everything went awry, and nothing prospered. That evening she had almost quarrelled with Miss Gilliken, and having in this been entirely in the wrong, had seized upon the dispute as an additional reason for feeling indignant. Miss Gilliken had remarked that Mord Em'ly was showing want of courage and want of sense, and Mord Em'ly had replied sharply. Miss Gilliken had said she hoped that Mord Em'ly was not near to contemplating a wicked act, and Mord Em'ly had spiritedly answered her. Miss Gilliken had said that Mord Em'ly would look back with sorrow and remorse on that day if she were not careful, and Mord Em'ly had then felt it necessary to say that she would always think of it as the happiest day in her life, and that she should be careful or careless as she pleased. Miss Gilliken, going off to work with a fellow-official, Lambeth way, had remarked that she should pray for Mord Em'ly, and Mord Em'ly's fierce reply to this will not be written here. Her resentful attitude towards the world being thus helped, Mord Em'ly was not so much herself as a new and a separate person with a hot, con-[-281-]fused brain—one who looked on the ground as she walked along by the Seamen's Hospital towards the river, and felt that in the present action somebody was taking an independent stand that gave to somebody distinction. Indeed, she began to show a casual interest in observing what happened, and when this deception now and again gave way, she tried to console herself with platitudes and soothing reflections. As follows :
That the dread of being followed everywhere for a fortnight by a revengeful man was intolerable.
That it was not her fault if everything went wrong.
That if the worst came to the worst, Henry Barden would find someone else who—(but Mord Em'ly did not finish this).
That girls in the Salvation Army knew nothing of the world.
That what was to be would be.
And that anyhow it would be all the same a hundred years hence.
Nevertheless when, in the light, she saw the soft hat of Mr. Wetherell approaching, she turned and ran wildly, furiously, blunderingly along the riverside passage until she reached Park Row. There she waited, breathless. A large steamer went up [-282-] the river with its lower decks lighted; under the awning-covered upper deck the passengers were singing. The large steamer hurried along in a burly, blustering way, and when it had gone all the small boats tied to the riverside wall rocked distractedly, and jostled against each other. There were lights on the opposite side of the river that seemed to Mord Em'ly a good deal like stars resting for a while until they went on duty in the sky; scarlet-eyed tugs were awake out on the broad, dark river; away off, a burst of white electric light illumined the giant ships, and found a reflection in the water. From the open windows of a club came cheering by a dinner-party at the finish of a speech, and confused shouting of someone's name. There are ghosts at Greenwich in the misty evenings: ghosts of old bucks who dined at hotels here in the early fifties, and got perfectly drunk before they rattled home to London by coach; ghosts, too, of ladies who come to see where their wedding breakfast was held, and to recall how dear papa was affected by the port and other circumstances, and broke down in the middle of his speech; how everybody wished the bridegroom that good luck in the Crimea which he never obtained. But Mord Em'ly had no superstitions, and these shadows she did not see. Moreover, her [-283-] small head was busy and perturbed with other thoughts.
"It's no use," said Mord Em'ly, with despair. "If I go 'ome to Gilliken, I shall only feel that he's on the watch for me. I must see him, and argue it all out."
She walked very slowly back to the spot where they had arranged to meet. There were but few people about, and most of these were young lovers in couples, who looked at her resentfully. Presently she heard voices, and she stopped and held the railings. He was talking to a man whose tones she seemed to have heard before. This man re-lighted his cigarette with a fusee, and then she could see that he was the comrade of Wetherell's whom she had seen with him on more than one occasion : whom she had noticed, too, that day in Old Kent Road.
"You call yourself a man," said the comrade, in tones of suppressed fury; "why, I'd make a better man than you out of a cigarette paper. I've trusted you, I 'ave, all along, and now I've found you out."
"You're kickin' up a jolly row about nothing at all," said Wetherell complainingly. "How do you know I 'aven't got an explanition of everything ready?"
[-284-] "When you say an explanition," said Suppressed Fury loudly, "you mean a lie."
"It's not my 'abit to lie," he said.
"Not your 'abit to lie? " echoed Suppressed Fury. "Why, you can't tell the truth without being put under chloriform. You told me you got ten pound out of those sugar meetings."
"Ten pound," agreed Mr. Wetherell. "And I give you five. Two into ten's five. Was, at any-rate, when I went to school."
"And what's two into thirty, my friend?"
"What the 'ell's that got to do with it? "
"Brast your eyes, it's got all to do with it," screamed Suppressed Fury. " Ain't I seen the gent what paid you the money; ain't he showed me your signature for it, ain't he got a witness to prove it? Now then!"
"Well," said Mr. Wetherell, after a pause, "what of it? What are you going to do? Going to put me in the county court for it? "
"I'd sooner put you in the (adjective) river," remarked Suppressed Fury strenuously.
"Joking apart," said the other, "why not let bygones be bygones? If I've made a mistake in taking slightly more than my share in the past, why, now that I understand how much you take it to 'eart I shall nat'rally be more careful another time."
[-285-] "Gimme my ten pound."
"Gimme;' repeated Suppressed Fury, with a stop between each word, " My—ten—pound."
"Look 'ere," said Mr. Wetherell. "You seem rather a dabster at figures. Do you mind substracting ten from nought? How many does that leave? "
"Then that's what you'll get out of me, my friend. I've spent those little goblins, I 'ave, and you can no more get your ten pound—"
Suppressed Fury growled some oaths with great fierceness.
"Bad language," said Mr. Wetherell, " is a thing I don't 'old with. Bad language is a thing that grows on you, and after a bit you can't do without it. If we're going to argue, do let's stick to the Queen's English. Use bad language, and you enter a field where I can't foller you."
"And d'you mean to stand there and tell me you've spent every penny of that money?"
"Every blessed penny," said Wetherell lightly. "After all, what's the good of 'oarding it. Capital locked up is no longer capital. Capital should be [-286-] kept moving; capital should be passed round for the benefit of the labouring—"
"It's a wonder to me," said Suppressed Fury curiously, "that I don't knock your silly 'ead off."
"Don't do that," said Wetherell, with some nervousness. "I may want it again."
"It's a wonder to me," said Suppressed Fury, coming nearer, "that I don't wring your bloomin' neck."
"Sport," said Wetherell, edging back to the railings, "is a thing I'm always on for, but a man has to dror the line."
"It's a wonder to me," said Suppressed Fury again, with his face very close to the other's, "that I don't up with you, and chuck you over the railings, and—"
"I'm as fond of a practical joke," remarked Mr. Wetherell, his face white, " as 'ere and there a one; but unless they're hoomorous they're no good at all. Without a spice of fun they become foolish."
"But I ain't going to do none of them things. I might do one, or I might do all, but I refrain."
"Shows your good sense," said Wetherell, with great relief. "Moderation's my motto, and moderation's your motto, and moderation ought to be the motto of all who—who wish to see the working-[-287-]classes conquer. Therefore I'll be off. I've got an appointment."
"I know," said Suppressed Fury. "I know all."
"There's nothing I can learn you then, is there?" remarked the other cheerfully. "Which way are you going?"
"I ain't going to move for a minute or two, my friend. I'll trouble you to listen for a bit, and to listen attentive. What I'm going to say now is worth 'earing."
"That," said Mr. Wetherell, " will make a nice change. Only I must be going soon."
"I can finish it all in two minutes, and I can put a few facts before you in that time that I rather beg to secgest will make you open your eyes. I may look something of a fool, and I may, in the past, 'ave been something of a fool, but at the present moment—"
"It's in all probability,' said Mr. Wetherell, "something that I know a'ready, and I sha'n't be one 'apeth the wiser. As to me forking out the money—nice moon up there, isn't it?"
"Moon's right enough."
"When you see a blue one," said Wetherell humorously, "you shall 'ave that money. But," he went on, "I can't for the life of me see what good you and me are to gain by quarrelling. Re-[-288-]member the old motto, ' United we stand, divided we fall.'"
"This ain't a job that can be settled by mottoes; it's got to be settled in quite a different way, and I may perhaps inform you that I've already made up me mind."
"That wasn't a long job. Good-evening."
"'Alf a see," said the other man, "'alf a sec. I ain't done with you. I thought you wouldn't fork out nothing."
"That's all right, then. You can't say you've been disappointed, can you?"
"I ain't been altogether disappointed," acknowledged Suppressed Fury, " but I've got meself to thank for that. I don't mind telling you that my first thought was to knock your face about like that chap Barden did when you was braggin' about what you were going to do to that girl at Mitchell's, but I sha'n't. Tell ye why! I found an address one day that you dropped out of your pocket, and I've always kep' it, not knowing but what it might come in 'andy. Address of a lady bearing your name. Now then!"
"A bounder!" muttered Wetherell to the railings.
"And when I found out about this money this afternoon, the first thing I did was to spend a tanner on a wire to Mrs. Wetherell—"
[-289-] "A low bounder!"
"Of Priory Street, Tonbridge, Kent, asking her to come up 'ere at once. It occurred to me, friend, that you might 'ave forgot her existence from one or two remarks that you've let drop lately."
"A dirty, low bounder!" growled Wetherell
"I met the lady," said Suppressed Fury, "and explained to her—not about the ten quid you swindled me out of—but about a certain project that I've 'eard of concerning you and another lady."
"A dirty, low, sneaking bounder!"
"Consequence of which she is now at the present moment waiting at your lodgings, and what you've got to do is to go and persuade her that there's nothing in it She tells me that she's been making you a certain allowance because she understood you was making your way in the world, and unless you can make her believe that you're true to her, I rather fancy your allowance'll get stopped."
"A dirty, low, sneaking, rotten bounder," said Mr. Wetherell, still to the railings, "if ever there was one."
Mord Em'ly came along by the railings touching them as she walked, for she was dazed. As she came into the light, near which the two men were [-290-] standing, Wetherell saw her white face, and made a threatening move towards her.
"If you don't make yourself scarce, my gel," he said, fiercely and defiantly, " I'll make you. Don't you let me see your face within a mile of where I am, or, by Gawd—"
"Make your mind quite easy about that," said Mord Em'ly, trembling.
"You're the cause of all my trouble," complained Wetherell. "Some of you gels ain't 'appy unless you're making mischief between man and wife. If you don't make yourself jolly well scarce, I'll—"
"Tell you what you'd better do, Wetherell," said Suppressed Fury, as Mord Em'ly hurried away. " You'd better sprint back to your lodgings about as quick as you can. Her temper won't be none the better for being kept on the boil. I'd give a dollar to see the meeting, 'pon my word I would."
Wetherell looked at him as though endeavouring to think of a new phrase that could be applied.
"Thank goodness," said Wetherell, falling back on his old expression, " I never was a bounder."
A BRIGHT morning, and everybody and everything in South London singing
cheerfully. Elderly birds in cages, cocking one eye and looking up at the sky,
on being hung outside windows straightway began an air of which they had nearly
forgotten the tune; the people hurrying along the pavements hummed or whistled; shopkeepers chatted with their rivals genially, as though no such thing as
competition existed. The cab horse which conveyed Mord Em'ly and Gilliken and
Miss Mitchell in a hansom to the city was at first so light-hearted as to be a
little inclined to dance, but the driver had Puritanical views, and checked this
at the outset.
"You ain't a circus," said the driver severely, "you're a keb 'orse. Kindly be'ave as such."
The driver's sternness was increased by the remarks of the few other cabmen, who, passing near him, saw the bright face of Mord Em'ly peering out, and behind her the other two ladies. Some of these said, in tones of reproof, "What, three of [-292-] 'em?" whilst others leaned towards him and said reassuringly, "It's awright, old man. I sha'n't say nothing to the missus." When, at the top of London Road, Mord Em'ly insisted upon getting out for a moment to kiss the Obelisk, the driver became quite gloomy, and had doubts in regard to the payment of his fare. These fears were ungrounded. Mord Em'ly, at Liverpool Street Station, paid him out of a square new purse, and the driver, astonished into cordiality, wished her a prosperous journey. Mord Em'ly patted the horse, and the horse intimated as well as it could that it begged to second the resolution moved by its honourable friend, the driver.
They had a second-class compartment to themselves in the special train, which took them leisurely through Stratford and Canning Town to the docks station, and Miss Mitchell found herself called upon to furnish the entire conversation. This gave Miss Mitchell no inconvenience, insomuch as she had a new idea of answering a matrimonial advertisement, which she had run to earth in a Sunday paper. Miss Mitchell took off her pince-nez, and read it to Mord Em'ly and to Gilliken, and pointed out that as for being tall, as required in the advertisement, nobody could call five-foot-three short, and if it came to that she [-293-] could easily wear higher heels to her boots; that if she was anything she was most certainly accomplished; domesticated she had been called over and over again; in regard to a bright disposition, she thought everyone would acknowledge that it would be hard in New Cross to find her equal, Mord Em'ly held Gilliken's hand beneath the lieutenant's blue serge cloak, and agreed. She was looking out with eagerness as the train strolled in a roundabout way eastward, looking out at London receding into distance as though anxious to impress it indelibly upon her mind; anxious to retain for ever her last impression of the dear town.
At the Gallions station, commotion.
A line of Lascar sailors (at the sight of whom Miss Mitchell screamed, fearing a plot for her abduction) in their blue gaberdines, white trousers, and turbans, attacked the special, and bore off through the giant Customs House the hand luggage of passengers to the China, waiting in the docks on the other side. Their number happened to be insufficient, and some passengers hurried about distractedly with their bags, and others appealed from the open carriage-doors; the general impression being that there was not a moment to spare, whereas, in point of fact, the China was in no hurry, and did not propose to [-294-] move out to the dock gates for at least another hour. Someone spoke to Mord Emily.
"Do you mind holding my baby for one moment? I want to get my bag down."
Mord Emily, complying with this request, took the chubby-faced infant, who peeped out of his elaborate head-gear and laughed at her, whilst his parent found a portmanteau.
"Thank you, so much. And now, if I can find a porter—"
"Let me carry him," said Mord Emily, "All my luggage is on board."
"Are you going by the China?"
"If I 'ave luck," said Mord Emily. She looked up at the young mother's pretty, half-veiled face. "But 'scuse me! Surely you wasn't once the secretary of the Home that married—"
"Oh, but I was," said the young secretary cheerfully. " And I believe I remember you, altered though you are."
"Thanks be," said Mord Emily, with delight, to Gilliken, as she went through the Customs shed, the amused infant in her arms, " thanks be, I'm going to 'ave company."
Bustle and confusion at the two gangways [-295-] leaning against the second-class part of the upper deck; much shouting by busy Lascars; a mixing up of passengers and friends, who, indeed, in the case of women-folk, were already embracing each other so fervently that the work of distinguishing was difficult. When it had been borne in upon these that the China was not going to start instantly, they became more composed, and agreed not to block the progress of the other passengers and friends and loaded Lascars at the top of the gangways. A calm, brown-faced ayah in her white robe, who was the serenest and the most resourceful woman on board, found Mord Emily's berth for her; and when Miss Gilliken and Miss Mitchell had sufficiently congratulated Mord Emily upon this, they returned by the steep steps to the upper deck, and watched the late passengers climbing hurriedly the gangways; noted the huge baskets, containing bars of silver, which were craned up from the platform below, and received by the China and placed in a safe pocket deep down; glanced at the captain and chief officers, away with the first-class passengers, lifting their gold-trimmed caps and prophesying optimistically in regard to the voyage. The three young women said but little. Even Miss Mitchell was silent now, and it was a relief when the young secretary came up on [-296-] deck with her son. That young man struggled to be free on catching sight of Mord Em'ly, and, once in her possession, chuckled at everything, as though under the impression that each remark she made represented a crystallisation of all the finest jokes in the world. The young secretary's husband had, it seemed, been appointed to a berth in Melbourne ; she was going out there to live with him, and her delight at meeting Mord Em'ly was only exceeded by the open satisfaction of her son and heir.
"And I'm going to look after you, young man," said Mord Em'ly to the baby, with severity, " and see that you behave like a perfect gentleman, and not go flirting with the other lady passengers."
"Birra—birra—birra," remarked the baby delightedly.
"Oh, it's no use contradicting me, sir," said Mord Em'ly; "I know all about you. You're a sossy old radical, that's what you are; a sossy, sossy, sossy old radical."
"Glug—glug—g1ug," said the baby argumentatively.
"Don't tell me it isn't your fault," said Mord Em'ly. "It is your fault, and well you know it. You go making eyes to every lady you see, you say things to 'em that you ought not to, you don't [-297-] care a bit whether they break their 'earts or not, and then you 'ave the impudence to laugh in their face. Oh, yes, you do. Don't argue with me, sir ; I know your character only too well. You're a desperate old scamp, that's what you are, so I don't deceive you."
Mord Emly pinched the baby's nose, and the baby so much enjoyed being rallied in this manner that he nearly kicked himself out of her arms. Below, a rattling bell sounded, and the farewells commenced. A second bell with a deep tone boomed presently a warning.
"Now for the shore, please. Now for the shore."
One of the gangways let down by the shouting Lascars, the other filled by descending friends. The China seemed to be bestirring itself; the black-faced men who had been peeping from doorways descended to the engine-room ; yet another bell rang, this time with an imploring tone, that begged the friends not to run the risk of being carried out and away to Gibraltar.
Miss Mitchell took out her handkerchief, and gave to the docks a fierce scent of lavender water,
"Farewell," said Miss Mitchell, " Sorry to leave London, ain't you?"
"Wish I could take it with me."
"You'll come back some day, I lay a penny."
[-298-] "'Ope so," said Mord Em'ly.
"And don't forget to send us some of your wedding-cake."
The word "cake" had a curious effect on the small baby in Mord Em'ly's arms. He plunged, and kicked, and wriggled, and punched.
"Steady on, young prize-fighter," protested Mord Em'ly. " Hit someone your own, size. See what you've been and done? You've made Mord Em'ly pretty nearly cry."
The baby was grieved at this, and apologised in the handsomest manner by putting his chubby little arms around her neck, and giving her a very damp kiss.
"Now we're chums again," said Mord Em'ly. She turned to Miss Mitchell. "You shall 'ave the wedding-cake all right. I'll remember. Goodbye."
"I shall put it under me pillow," called out Miss Mitchell over her shoulder, as she went down the gangway. "I don't profess to be superstitious, but still—"
"Goo'-bye, Mord Em'ly."
They kissed each other so many times that the baby interposed, and, to prevent argument, they both kissed him, and then he seemed more con-[-299-]tented. The young mother shook hands with Lieutenant Gilliken, and took charge, temporarily, of her baby, who complained in very strong terms of being thus parted, although for only a few moments, from his new friend. Miss Gilliken having retied the strings of her black straw bonnet with hands that trembled, made her way, with Mord Em'ly, through the crowd at the top of the gangway.
"I shall think—think of you, dear," said Miss Gilliken brokenly. " I daresay you won't mind feeling that you're not forgotten over here in London. And very likely, when you kneel down at night, you'll try sometimes to remember—"
"I sha'n't forget nothing," replied Mord Em'ly stoutly, but her under lip not quite under control. "Say good-bye to father for me, and drop me and 'Enry a line to say how he's getting on."
"Now, ladies, if you please."
"Give me another kiss;' said Mord Em'ly.
The passengers lined the upper deck, and watched their friends below on the quay. Some endeavoured to shout messages to each other whilst the China made up her mind to start cautiously out of the docks, but the task was difficult, because the breeze intercepted and blew the words away southward to the broad river. Nevertheless when the [-300-] last gangway down, the huge ship finally decided to move, shouted farewells went up, and some of them evaded the mischievous efforts of the wind. Mord Em'ly stood at the side between the omniscient ayah and the young secretary; the young secretary's baby, perched on her shoulder, waved gracious farewells to his native country with one chubby hand, with the other he tugged sportively at a stray wisp of Mord Em'ly's hair. This, perhaps, was why there were tears in her eyes as the voice of Miss Gilliken came across from the quay.
"Go' bless you, Mord Em'ly!"
Printed by Cowan and Co., Limited, Perth.