Lisa of Lambeth
Mrs. Kemp was in the habit of slumbering somewhat heavily on Sunday mornings, or Liza would not have been allowed to go on sleeping as she did. When she woke, she rubbed her eyes to gather her senses together and gradually she remembered having gone to the theatre on the previous evening; then suddenly everything came back to her. She stretched out her legs and gave a long sigh of delight. Her heart was full; she thought of Jim, and the delicious sensation of love came over her. Closing her eyes, she imagined his warm kisses, and she lifted up her arms as if to put them round his neck and draw him down to her; she almost felt the rough beard on her face, and the strong heavy arms round her body. She smiled to herself and took a long breath; then, slipping back the sleeves of her nightdress, she looked at her own thin arms, just two pieces of bone with not a muscle on them, but very white and showing distinctly the interlacement of blue veins: she did not notice that her hands were rough, and red and dirty with the nails broken, and bitten to the quick. She got out of bed and looked at herself in the glass over the mantelpiece: with one hand she brushed back her hair and smiled at herself; her face was very small and thin, but the complexion was nice, clear and white, with a delicate tint of red on the cheeks, and her eyes were big and dark like her hair. She felt very happy.
She did not want to dress yet, but rather to sit down and think, so she twisted up her hair into a little knot, slipped a skirt over her nightdress, and sat on a chair near the window and began looking around. The decorations of the room had been centred on the mantelpiece; the chief ornament consisted of a pear and an apple, a pineapple, a bunch of grapes, and several fat plums, all very beautifully done in wax, as was the fashion about the middle of this most glorious reign. They were appropriately coloured—the apple blushing red, the grapes an inky black, emerald green leaves were scattered here and there to lend finish, and the whole was mounted on an ebonised stand covered with black velvet, and protected from dust and dirt by a beautiful glass cover bordered with red plush. Liza's eyes rested on this with approbation, and the pineapple quite made her mouth water. At either end of the mantelpiece were pink jars with blue flowers on the front; round the top in Gothic letters of gold was inscribed: 'A Present from a Friend'—these were products of a later, but not less artistic age. The intervening spaces were taken up with little jars and cups and saucers—gold inside, with a view of a town outside, and surrounding them, 'A Present from Clacton-on-Sea,' or, alliteratively, 'A Memento of Margate.' Of these many were broken, but they had been mended with glue, and it is well known that pottery in the eyes of the connoisseur loses none of its value by a crack or two. Then there were portraits innumerable—little yellow cartes-de-visite in velvet frames, some of which were decorated with shells; they showed strange people with old-fashioned clothes, the women with bodices and sleeves fitting close to the figure, stern-featured females with hair carefully parted in the middle and plastered down on each side, firm chins and mouths, with small, pig-like eyes and wrinkled faces, and the men were uncomfortably clad in Sunday garments, very stiff and uneasy in their awkward postures, with large whiskers and shaved chins and upper lips and a general air of horny-handed toil. Then there were one or two daguerreotypes, little full-length figures framed in gold paper. There was one of Mrs. Kemp's father and one of her mother, and there were several photographs of betrothed or newly-married couples, the lady sitting down and the man standing behind her with his hand on the chair, or the man sitting and the woman with her hand on his shoulder. And from all sides of the room, standing on the mantelpiece, hanging above it, on the wall and over the bed, they stared full-face into the room, self-consciously fixed for ever in their stiff discomfort.
The walls were covered with dingy, antiquated paper, and ornamented with coloured supplements from Christmas Numbers—there was a very patriotic picture of a soldier shaking the hand of a fallen comrade and waving his arm in defiance of a band of advancing Arabs; there was a 'Cherry Ripe,' almost black with age and dirt; there were two almanacks several years old, one with a coloured portrait of the Marquess of Lorne, very handsome and elegantly dressed, the object of Mrs. Kemp's adoration since her husband's demise; the other a Jubilee portrait of the Queen, somewhat losing in dignity by a moustache which Liza in an irreverent moment had smeared on with charcoal.
The furniture consisted of a wash-hand stand and a little deal chest of drawers, which acted as sideboard to such pots and pans and crockery as could not find room in the grate; and besides the bed there was nothing but two kitchen chairs and a lamp. Liza looked at it all and felt perfectly satisfied; she put a pin into one corner of the noble Marquess to prevent him from falling, fiddled about with the ornaments a little, and then started washing herself. After putting on her clothes she ate some bread-and-butter, swallowed a dishful of cold tea, and went out into the street.
She saw some boys playing cricket and went up to them.
'Let me ply,' she said.
'Arright, Liza,' cried half a dozen of them in delight; and the captain added: 'You go an' scout over by the lamp-post.'
'Go an' scout my eye!' said Liza, indignantly. 'When I ply cricket I does the battin'.'
'Na, you're not goin' ter bat all the time. 'Oo are you gettin' at?' replied the captain, who had taken advantage of his position to put himself in first, and was still at the wicket.
'Well, then I shan't ply,' answered Liza.
'Garn, Ernie, let 'er go in!' shouted two or three members of the team.
'Well, I'm busted!' remarked the captain, as she took his bat. 'You won't sty in long, I lay,' he said, as he sent the old bowler fielding and took the ball himself. He was a young gentleman who did not suffer from excessive backwardness.
'Aht!' shouted a dozen voices as the ball went past Liza's bat and landed in the pile of coats which formed the wicket. The captain came forward to resume his innings, but Liza held the bat away from him.
'Garn!' she said; 'thet was only a trial.'
'You never said trial,' answered the captain indignantly.
'Yus, I did,' said Liza; 'I said it just as the ball was comin'—under my breath.'
'Well, I am busted!' repeated the captain.
Just then Liza saw Tom among the lookers-on, and as she felt very kindly disposed to the world in general that morning, she called out to him:
''Ulloa, Tom!' she said. 'Come an' give us a ball; this chap can't bowl.'
'Well, I got yer aht, any'ow,' said that person.
'Ah, yer wouldn't 'ave got me aht plyin' square. But a trial ball—well, one don't ever know wot a trial ball's goin' ter do.'
Tom began bowling very slowly and easily, so that Liza could swing her bat round and hit mightily; she ran well, too, and pantingly brought up her score to twenty. Then the fielders interposed.
'I sy, look 'ere, 'e's only givin' 'er lobs; 'e's not tryin' ter git 'er aht.'
'You're spoilin' our gime.'
'I don't care; I've got twenty runs—thet's more than you could do. I'll go aht now of my own accord, so there! Come on, Tom.'
Tom joined her, and as the captain at last resumed his bat and the game went on, they commenced talking, Liza leaning against the wall of a house, while Tom stood in front of her, smiling with pleasure.
'Where 'ave you been idin' yerself, Tom? I ain't seen yer for I dunno 'ow long.'
'I've been abaht as usual; an' I've seen you when you didn't see me.'
'Well, yer might 'ave come up and said good mornin' when you see me.'
'I didn't want ter force myself on, yer, Liza.'
'Garn! You are a bloomin' cuckoo. I'm blowed!'
'I thought yer didn't like me 'angin' round yer; so I kep' awy.'
'Why, yer talks as if I didn't like yer. Yer don't think I'd 'ave come aht beanfeastin' with yer if I 'adn't liked yer?'
Liza was really very dishonest, but she felt so happy this morning that she loved the whole world, and of course Tom came in with the others. She looked very kindly at him, and he was so affected that a great lump came in his throat and he could not speak.
Liza's eyes turned to Jim's house, and she saw coming out of the door a girl of about her own age; she fancied she saw in her some likeness to Jim.
'Say, Tom,' she asked, 'thet ain't Blakeston's daughter, is it?'
'Yus thet's it.'
'I'll go an' speak to 'er,' said Liza, leaving Tom and going over the road.
'You're Polly Blakeston, ain't yer?' she said.
'Thet's me!' said the girl.
'I thought you was. Your dad, 'e says ter me, "You dunno my daughter, Polly, do yer?" says 'e. "Na," says I, "I don't." "Well," says 'e, "You can't miss 'er when you see 'er." An' right enough I didn't.'
'Mother says I'm all father, an' there ain't nothin' of 'er in me. Dad says it's lucky it ain't the other wy abaht, or e'd 'ave got a divorce.'
They both laughed.
'Where are you goin' now?' asked Liza, looking at the slop-basin she was carrying.
'I was just goin' dahn into the road ter get some ice-cream for dinner. Father 'ad a bit of luck last night, 'e says, and 'e'd stand the lot of us ice-cream for dinner ter-day.'
'I'll come with yer if yer like.'
'Come on!' And, already friends, they walked arm-in-arm to the Westminster Bridge Road. Then they went along till they came to a stall where an Italian was selling the required commodity, and having had a taste apiece to see if they liked it, Polly planked down sixpence and had her basin filled with a poisonous-looking mixture of red and white ice-cream.
On the way back, looking up the street, Polly cried:
Liza's heart beat rapidly and she turned red; but suddenly a sense of shame came over her, and casting down her head so that she might not see him, she said:
'I think I'll be off 'ome an' see 'ow mother's gettin' on.' And before Polly could say anything she had slipped away and entered her own house.
Mother was not getting on at all well.
'You've come in at last, you ——, you!' snarled Mrs. Kemp, as Liza entered the room.
'Wot's the matter, mother?'
'Matter! I like thet—matter indeed! Go an' matter yerself an' be mattered! Nice way ter treat an old woman like me—an' yer own mother, too!'
'Wot's up now?'
'Don't talk ter me; I don't want ter listen ter you. Leavin' me all alone, me with my rheumatics, an' the neuralgy! I've 'ad the neuralgy all the mornin', and my 'ead's been simply splittin', so thet I thought the bones 'ud come apart and all my brains go streamin' on the floor. An' when I wake up there's no one ter git my tea for me, an' I lay there witin' an' witin', an' at last I 'ad ter git up and mike it myself. And, my 'ead simply cruel! Why, I might 'ave been burnt ter death with the fire alight an' me asleep.'
'Well, I am sorry, mother; but I went aht just for a bit, an' didn't think you'd wike. An' besides, the fire wasn't alight.'
'Garn with yer! I didn't treat my mother like thet. Oh, you've been a bad daughter ter me—an' I 'ad more illness carryin' you than with all the other children put togither. You was a cross at yer birth, an' you've been a cross ever since. An' now in my old age, when I've worked myself ter the bone, yer leaves me to starve and burn to death.' Here she began to cry, and the rest of her utterances was lost in sobs.
The dusk had darkened into night, and Mrs. Kemp had retired to rest with the dicky-birds. Liza was thinking of many things; she wondered why she had been unwilling to meet Jim in the morning.
'I was a bally fool,' she said to herself.
It really seemed an age since the previous night, and all that had happened seemed very long ago. She had not spoken to Jim all day, and she had so much to say to him. Then, wondering whether he was about, she went to the window and looked out; but there was nobody there. She closed the window again and sat just beside it; the time went on, and she wondered whether he would come, asking herself whether he had been thinking of her as she of him; gradually her thoughts grew vague, and a kind of mist came over them. She nodded. Suddenly she roused herself with a start, fancying she had heard something; she listened again, and in a moment the sound was repeated, three or four gentle taps on the window. She opened it quickly and whispered:
'Thet's me,' he answered, 'come aht.'
Closing the window, she went into the passage and opened the street door; it was hardly unlocked before Jim had pushed his way in; partly shutting it behind him, he took her in his arms and hugged her to his breast. She kissed him passionately.
'I thought yer'd come ter-night, Jim; summat in my 'eart told me so. But you 'ave been long.'
'I wouldn't come before, 'cause I thought there'd be people abaht. Kiss us!' And again he pressed his lips to hers, and Liza nearly fainted with the delight of it.
'Let's go for a walk, shall we?' he said.
'Arright!' They were speaking in whispers. 'You go into the road through the passage, an' I'll go by the street.'
'Yus, thet's right,' and kissing her once more, he slid out, and she closed the door behind him.
Then going back to get her hat, she came again into the passage, waiting behind the door till it might be safe for her to venture. She had not made up her mind to risk it, when she heard a key put in the lock, and she hardly had time to spring back to prevent herself from being hit by the opening door. It was a man, one of the upstairs lodgers.
''Ulloa!' he said, ''oo's there?'
'Mr. 'Odges! Strikes me, you did give me a turn; I was just goin' aht.' She blushed to her hair, but in the darkness he could see nothing.
'Good night,' she said, and went out.
She walked close along the sides of the houses like a thief, and the policeman as she passed him turned round and looked at her, wondering whether she was meditating some illegal deed. She breathed freely on coming into the open road, and seeing Jim skulking behind a tree, ran up to him, and in the shadows they kissed again.