Lisa of Lambeth
Bank Holiday was a beautiful day: the cloudless sky threatened a stifling heat for noontide, but early in the morning, when Liza got out of bed and threw open the window, it was fresh and cool. She dressed herself, wondering how she should spend her day; she thought of Sally going off to Chingford with her lover, and of herself remaining alone in the dull street with half the people away. She almost wished it were an ordinary work-day, and that there were no such things as bank holidays. And it seemed to be a little like two Sundays running, but with the second rather worse than the first. Her mother was still sleeping, and she was in no great hurry about getting the breakfast, but stood quietly looking out of the window at the house opposite.
In a little while she saw Sally coming along. She was arrayed in purple and fine linen—a very smart red dress, trimmed with velveteen, and a tremendous hat covered with feathers. She had reaped the benefit of keeping her hair in curl-papers since Saturday, and her sandy fringe stretched from ear to ear. She was in enormous spirits.
''Ulloa, Liza!' she called as soon as she saw her at the window.
Liza looked at her a little enviously.
''Ulloa!' she answered quietly.
'I'm just goin' to the "Red Lion" to meet 'Arry.'
'At what time d'yer start?'
'The brake leaves at 'alf-past eight sharp.'
'Why, it's only eight; it's only just struck at the church. 'Arry won't be there yet, will he?'
'Oh, 'e's sure ter be early. I couldn't wite. I've been witin' abaht since 'alf-past six. I've been up since five this morning.'
'Since five! What 'ave you been doin'?'
'Dressin' myself and doin' my 'air. I woke up so early. I've been dreamin' all the night abaht it. I simply couldn't sleep.'
'Well, you are a caution!' said Liza.
'Bust it, I don't go on the spree every day! Oh, I do 'ope I shall enjoy myself.'
'Why, you simply dunno where you are!' said Liza, a little crossly.
'Don't you wish you was comin', Liza?' asked Sally.
'Na! I could if I liked, but I don't want ter.'
'You are a coughdrop—thet's all I can say. Ketch me refusin' when I 'ave the chanst.'
'Well, it's done now. I ain't got the chanst any more.' Liza said this with just a little regret in her voice.
'Come on dahn to the "Red Lion", Liza, and see us off,' said Sally.
'No, I'm damned if I do!' answered Liza, with some warmth.
'You might as well. P'raps 'Arry won't be there, an' you can keep me company till 'e comes. An' you can see the 'orses.'
Liza was really very anxious to see the brake and the horses and the people going; but she hesitated a little longer. Sally asked her once again. Then she said:
'Arright; I'll come with yer, and wite till the bloomin' old thing starts.'
She did not trouble to put on a hat, but just walked out as she was, and accompanied Sally to the public-house which was getting up the expedition.
Although there was still nearly half an hour to wait, the brake was drawn up before the main entrance; it was large and long, with seats arranged crosswise, so that four people could sit on each; and it was drawn by two powerful horses, whose harness the coachman was now examining. Sally was not the first on the scene, for already half a dozen people had taken their places, but Harry had not yet arrived. The two girls stood by the public-door, looking at the preparations. Huge baskets full of food were brought out and stowed away; cases of beer were hoisted up and put in every possible place—under the seats, under the driver's legs, and even beneath the brake. As more people came up, Sally began to get excited about Harry's non-appearance.
'I say, I wish 'e'd come!' she said. ''E is lite.'
Then she looked up and down the Westminster Bridge Road to see if he was in view.
'Suppose 'e don't turn up! I will give it 'im when 'e comes for keepin' me witin' like this.'
'Why, there's a quarter of an hour yet,' said Liza, who saw nothing at all to get excited about.
At last Sally saw her lover, and rushed off to meet him. Liza was left alone, rather disconsolate at all this bustle and preparation. She was not sorry that she had refused Tom's invitation, but she did wish that she had conscientiously been able to accept it. Sally and her friend came up; attired in his Sunday best, he was a fit match for his lady-love—he wore a shirt and collar, unusual luxuries—and be carried under his arm a concertina to make things merry on the way.
'Ain't you goin', Liza?' he asked in surprise at seeing her without a hat and with her apron on.
'Na,' said Sally, 'ain't she a soft? Tom said 'e'd tike 'er, an' she wouldn't.'
'Well, I'm dashed!'
Then they climbed the ladder and took their seats, so that Liza was left alone again. More people had come along, and the brake was nearly full. Liza knew them all, but they were too busy taking their places to talk to her. At last Tom came. He saw her standing there and went up to her.
'Won't yer change yer mind, Liza, an' come along with us?'
'Na, Tom, I told yer I wouldn't—it's not right like.' She felt she must repeat that to herself often.
'I shan't enjoy it a bit without you,' he said.
'Well, I can't 'elp it!' she answered, somewhat sullenly.
At that moment a man came out of the public-house with a horn in his hand; her heart gave a great jump, for if there was anything she adored it was to drive along to the tootling of a horn. She really felt it was very hard lines that she must stay at home when all these people were going to have such a fine time; and they were all so merry, and she could picture to herself so well the delights of the drive and the picnic. She felt very much inclined to cry. But she mustn't go, and she wouldn't go: she repeated that to herself twice as the trumpeter gave a preliminary tootle.
Two more people hurried along, and when they came near Liza saw that they were Jim Blakeston and a woman whom she supposed to be his wife.
'Are you comin', Liza?' Jim said to her.
'No,' she answered. 'I didn't know you was goin'.'
'I wish you was comin',' he replied, 'we shall 'ave a game.'
She could only just keep back the sobs; she so wished she were going. It did seem hard that she must remain behind; and all because she wasn't going to marry Tom. After all, she didn't see why that should prevent her; there really was no need to refuse for that. She began to think she had acted foolishly: it didn't do anyone any good that she refused to go out with Tom, and no one thought it anything specially fine that she should renounce her pleasure. Sally merely thought her a fool.
Tom was standing by her side, silent, and looking disappointed and rather unhappy. Jim said to her, in a low voice:
'I am sorry you're not comin'!'
It was too much. She did want to go so badly, and she really couldn't resist any longer. If Tom would only ask her once more, and if she could only change her mind reasonably and decently, she would accept; but he stood silent, and she had to speak herself. It was very undignified.
'Yer know, Tom.' she said, 'I don't want ter spoil your day.'
'Well, I don't think I shall go alone; it 'ud be so precious slow.'
Supposing he didn't ask her again! What should she do? She looked up at the clock on the front of the pub, and noticed that it only wanted five minutes to the half-hour. How terrible it would be if the brake started and he didn't ask her! Her heart beat violently against her chest, and in her agitation she fumbled with the corner of her apron.
'Well, what can I do, Tom dear?'
'Why, come with me, of course. Oh. Liza, do say yes.'
She had got the offer again, and it only wanted a little seemly hesitation, and the thing was done.
'I should like ter, Tom,' she said. 'But d'you think it 'ud be arright?'
'Yus, of course it would. Come on, Liza!' In his eagerness he clasped her hand.
'Well,' she remarked, looking down, 'if it'd spoil your 'oliday—.'
'I won't go if you don't—swop me bob, I won't!' he answered.
'Well, if I come, it won't mean that I'm keepin' company with you.'
'Na, it won't mean anythin' you don't like.'
'Arright!' she said.
'You'll come?' he could hardly believe her.
'Yus!' she answered, smiling all over her face.
'You're a good sort, Liza! I say, 'Arry, Liza's comin'!' he shouted.
'Liza? 'Oorray!' shouted Harry.
''S'at right, Liza?' called Sally.
And Liza feeling quite joyful and light of heart called back:
''Oorray!' shouted Sally in answer.
'Thet's right, Liza,' called Jim; and he smiled pleasantly as she looked at him.
'There's just room for you two 'ere,' said Harry, pointing to the vacant places by his side.
'Arright!' said Tom.
'I must jest go an' get a 'at an' tell mother,' said Liza.
'There's just three minutes. Be quick!' answered Tom, and as she scampered off as hard as she could go, he shouted to the coachman: ''Old 'ard; there' another passenger comin' in a minute.'
'Arright, old cock,' answered the coachman: 'no 'urry!'
Liza rushed into the room, and called to her mother, who was still asleep:
'Mother! mother! I'm going to Chingford!'
Then tearing off her old dress she slipped into her gorgeous violet one; she kicked off her old ragged shoes and put on her new boots. She brushed her hair down and rapidly gave her fringe a twirl and a twist—it was luckily still moderately in curl from the previous Saturday—and putting on her black hat with all the feathers, she rushed along the street, and scrambling up the brake steps fell panting on Tom's lap.
The coachman cracked his whip, the trumpeter tootled his horn, and with a cry and a cheer from the occupants, the brake clattered down the road.