Lisa of Lambeth
Liza and her mother were having supper. Mrs. Kemp was an elderly woman, short, and rather stout, with a red face, and grey hair brushed tight back over her forehead. She had been a widow for many years, and since her husband's death had lived with Liza in the ground-floor front room in which they were now sitting. Her husband had been a soldier, and from a grateful country she received a pension large enough to keep her from starvation, and by charring and doing such odd jobs as she could get she earned a little extra to supply herself with liquor. Liza was able to make her own living by working at a factory.
Mrs. Kemp was rather sulky this evening.
'Wot was yer doin' this afternoon, Liza?' she asked.
'I was in the street.'
'You're always in the street when I want yer.'
'I didn't know as 'ow yer wanted me, mother,' answered Liza.
'Well, yer might 'ave come ter see! I might 'ave been dead, for all you knew.'
Liza said nothing.
'My rheumatics was thet bad to-dy, thet I didn't know wot ter do with myself. The doctor said I was to be rubbed with that stuff 'e give me, but yer won't never do nothin' for me.'
'Well, mother,' said Liza, 'your rheumatics was all right yesterday.'
'I know wot you was doin'; you was showin' off thet new dress of yours. Pretty waste of money thet is, instead of givin' it me ter sive up. An' for the matter of thet, I wanted a new dress far worse than you did. But, of course, I don't matter.'
Liza did not answer, and Mrs. Kemp, having nothing more to say, continued her supper in silence.
It was Liza who spoke next.
'There's some new people moved in the street. 'Ave you seen 'em?' she asked.
'No, wot are they?'
'I dunno; I've seen a chap, a big chap with a beard. I think 'e lives up at the other end.'
She felt herself blushing a little.
'No one any good you be sure,' said Mrs. Kemp. 'I can't swaller these new people as are comin' in; the street ain't wot it was when I fust come.'
When they had done, Mrs. Kemp got up, and having finished her half-pint of beer, said to her daughter:
'Put the things awy, Liza. I'm just goin' round to see Mrs. Clayton; she's just 'ad twins, and she 'ad nine before these come. It's a pity the Lord don't see fit ter tike some on 'em—thet's wot I say.'
After which pious remark Mrs. Kemp went out of the house and turned into another a few doors up.
Liza did not clear the supper things away as she was told, but opened the window and drew her chair to it. She leant on the sill, looking out into the street. The sun had set, and it was twilight, the sky was growing dark, bringing to view the twinkling stars; there was no breeze, but it was pleasantly and restfully cool. The good folk still sat at their doorsteps, talking as before on the same inexhaustible subjects, but a little subdued with the approach of night. The boys were still playing cricket, but they were mostly at the other end of the street, and their shouts were muffled before they reached Liza's ears.
She sat, leaning her head on her hands, breathing in the fresh air and feeling a certain exquisite sense of peacefulness which she was not used to. It was Saturday evening, and she thankfully remembered that there would be no factory on the morrow; she was glad to rest. Somehow she felt a little tired, perhaps it was through the excitement of the afternoon, and she enjoyed the quietness of the evening. It seemed so tranquil and still; the silence filled her with a strange delight, she felt as if she could sit there all through the night looking out into the cool, dark street, and up heavenwards at the stars. She was very happy, but yet at the same time experienced a strange new sensation of melancholy, and she almost wished to cry.
Suddenly a dark form stepped in front of the open window. She gave a little shriek.
''Oo's thet?' she asked, for it was quite dark, and she did not recognize the man standing in front of her.
'Me, Liza,' was the answer.
It was a young man with light yellow hair and a little fair moustache, which made him appear almost boyish; he was light-complexioned and blue-eyed, and had a frank and pleasant look mingled with a curious bashfulness that made him blush when people spoke to him.
'Wot's up?' asked Liza.
'Come aht for a walk, Liza, will yer?'
'No!' she answered decisively.
'You promised ter yesterday, Liza.'
'Yesterday an' ter-day's two different things,' was her wise reply.
'Yus, come on, Liza.'
'Na, I tell yer, I won't.'
'I want ter talk ter yer, Liza.' Her hand was resting on the window-sill, and he put his upon it. She quickly drew it back.
'Well, I don't want yer ter talk ter me.'
But she did, for it was she who broke the silence.
'Say, Tom, 'oo are them new folk as 'as come into the street? It's a big chap with a brown beard.'
'D'you mean the bloke as kissed yer this afternoon?'
Liza blushed again.
'Well, why shouldn't 'e kiss me?' she said, with some inconsequence.
'I never said as 'ow 'e shouldn't; I only arst yer if it was the sime.'
'Yea, thet's 'oo I mean.'
''Is nime is Blakeston—Jim Blakeston. I've only spoke to 'im once; he's took the two top rooms at No. 19 'ouse.'
'Wot's 'e want two top rooms for?'
''Im? Oh, 'e's got a big family—five kids. Ain't yer seen 'is wife abaht the street? She's a big, fat woman, as does 'er 'air funny.'
'I didn't know 'e 'ad a wife.'
There was another silence; Liza sat thinking, and Tom stood at the window, looking at her.
'Won't yer come aht with me, Liza?' he asked, at last.
'Na, Tom,' she said, a little more gently, 'it's too lite.'
'Liza,' he said, blushing to the roots of his hair.
'Liza'—he couldn't go on, and stuttered in his shyness—'Liza, I—I—I loves yer, Liza.'
He was quite brave now, and took hold of her hand.
'Yer know, Liza, I'm earnin' twenty-three shillin's at the works now, an' I've got some furniture as mother left me when she was took.'
The girl said nothing.
'Liza, will you 'ave me? I'll make yer a good 'usband, Liza, swop me bob, I will; an' yer know I'm not a drinkin' sort. Liza, will yer marry me?'
'Na, Tom,' she answered quietly.
'Oh, Liza, won't you 'ave me?'
'Na, Tom, I can't.'
'Why not? You've come aht walkin' with me ever since Whitsun.'
'Ah, things is different now.'
'You're not walkin' aht with anybody else, are you, Liza?' he asked quickly.
'Na, not that.'
'Well, why won't yer, Liza? Oh Liza, I do love yer, I've never loved anybody as I love you!'
'Oh, I can't, Tom!'
'There ain't no one else?'
'Then why not?'
'I'm very sorry, Tom, but I don't love yer so as ter marry yer.'
She could not see the look upon his face, but she heard the agony in his voice; and, moved with sudden pity, she bent out, threw her arms round his neck, and kissed him on both cheeks.
'Never mind old chap!' she said. 'I'm not worth troublin' abaht.'
And quickly drawing back, she slammed the window to, and moved into the further part of the room.