Liza of Lambeth/Chapter 3

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Liza of Lambeth by William Somerset Maugham
Chapter 3


The following day was Sunday. Liza when she was dressing herself in the morning, felt the hardness of fate in the impossibility of eating one's cake and having it; she wished she had reserved her new dress, and had still before her the sensation of a first appearance in it. With a sigh she put on her ordinary everyday working dress, and proceeded to get the breakfast ready, for her mother had been out late the previous night, celebrating the new arrivals in the street, and had the 'rheumatics' this morning.

'Oo, my 'ead!' she was saying, as she pressed her hands on each side of her forehead. 'I've got the neuralgy again, wot shall I do? I dunno 'ow it is, but it always comes on Sunday mornings. Oo, an' my rheumatics, they give me sich a doin' in the night!'

'You'd better go to the 'orspital mother.'

'Not I!' answered the worthy lady, with great decision. 'You 'as a dozen young chaps messin' you abaht, and lookin' at yer, and then they tells yer ter leave off beer and spirrits. Well, wot I says, I says I can't do withaht my glass of beer.' She thumped her pillow to emphasize the statement.

'Wot with the work I 'ave ter do, lookin' after you and the cookin' and gettin' everythin' ready and doin' all the 'ouse-work, and goin' aht charring besides well, I says, if I don't 'ave a drop of beer, I says, ter pull me together, I should be under the turf in no time.'

She munched her bread-and-butter and drank her tea.

'When you've done breakfast, Liza,' she said, 'you can give the grate a cleanin', an' my boots'd do with a bit of polishin'. Mrs. Tike, in the next 'ouse, 'll give yer some blackin'.'

She remained silent for a bit, then said:

'I don't think I shall get up ter-day. Liza. My rheumatics is bad. You can put the room straight and cook the dinner.'

'Arright, mother, you stay where you are, an' I'll do everythin' for yer.'

'Well, it's only wot yer ought to do, considerin' all the trouble you've been ter me when you was young, and considerin' thet when you was born the doctor thought I never should get through it. Wot 'ave you done with your week's money, Liza?'

'Oh, I've put it awy,' answered Liza quietly.

'Where?' asked her mother.

'Where it'll be safe.'

'Where's that?'

Liza was driven into a corner.

'Why d'you want ter know?' she asked.

'Why shouldn't I know; d'you think I want ter steal it from yer?'

'Na, not thet.'

'Well, why won't you tell me?'

'Oh, a thing's sifer when only one person knows where it is.'

This was a very discreet remark, but it set Mrs. Kemp in a whirlwind of passion. She raised herself and sat up in the bed, flourishing her clenched fist at her daughter.

'I know wot yer mean, you you!' Her language was emphatic, her epithets picturesque, but too forcible for reproduction. 'You think I'd steal it,' she went on. 'I know yer! D'yer think I'd go an' tike yer dirty money?'

'Well, mother,' said Liza, 'when I've told yer before, the money's perspired like.'

'Wot d'yer mean?'

'It got less.'

'Well, I can't 'elp thet, can I? Anyone can come in 'ere and tike the money.'

'If it's 'idden awy, they can't, can they, mother?' said Liza.

Mrs. Kemp shook her fist.

'You dirty slut, you,' she said, 'yer think I tike yer money! Why, you ought ter give it me every week instead of savin' it up and spendin' it on all sorts of muck, while I 'ave ter grind my very bones down to keep yer.'

'Yer know, mother, if I didn't 'ave a little bit saved up, we should be rather short when you're dahn in yer luck.'

Mrs. Kemp's money always ran out on Tuesday, and Liza had to keep things going till the following Saturday.

'Oh, don't talk ter me!' proceeded Mrs. Kemp. 'When I was a girl I give all my money ter my mother. She never 'ad ter ask me for nothin'. On Saturday when I come 'ome with my wiges, I give it 'er every farthin'. That's wot a daughter ought ter do. I can say this for myself, I be'aved by my mother like a gal should. None of your prodigal sons for me! She didn't 'ave ter ask me for three 'apence ter get a drop of beer.'

Liza was wise in her generation; she held her tongue, and put on her hat.

'Now, you're goin' aht, and leavin' me; I dunno wot you get up to in the street with all those men. No good, I'll be bound. An' 'ere am I left alone, an' I might die for all you care.'

In her sorrow at herself the old lady began to cry, and Liza slipped out of the room and into the street.

Leaning against the wall of the opposite house was Tom; he came towards her.

Ulloa!' she said, as she saw him. 'Wot are you doin' 'ere?'

'I was waitin' for you ter come aht, Liza,' he answered.

She looked at him quickly.

'I ain't comin' aht with yer ter-day, if thet's wot yer mean,' she said.

'I never thought of arskin' yer, Liza after wot you said ter me last night.'

His voice was a little sad, and she felt so sorry for him.

'But yer did want ter speak ter me, didn't yer, Tom?' she said, more gently.

'You've got a day off ter-morrow, ain't yer?'

'Bank 'Oliday. Yus! Why?'

'Why, 'cause they've got a drag startin' from the "Red Lion" that's goin' down ter Chingford for the day an' I'm goin'.'

'Yus!' she said.

He looked at her doubtfully.

'Will yer come too, Liza? It'll be a regular beeno; there's only goin' ter be people in the street. Eh, Liza?'

'Na, I can't.'

'Why not?'

'I ain't got I ain't got the ooftish.'

'I mean, won't yer come with me?'

'Na, Tom, thank yer; I can't do thet neither.'

'Yer might as well, Liza; it wouldn't 'urt yer.'

'Na, it wouldn't be right like; I can't come aht with yer, and then mean nothin'! It would be doin' yer aht of an outing.'

'I don't see why,' he said, very crestfallen.

'I can't go on keepin' company with you after what I said last night.'

'I shan't enjoy it a bit without you, Liza.'

'You git somebody else, Tom. You'll do withaht me all right.'

She nodded to him, and walked up the street to the house of her friend Sally. Having arrived in front of it, she put her hands to her mouth in trumpet form, and shouted:

I! 'I! 'I! Sally!'

A couple of fellows standing by copied her.

I! 'I! 'I! Sally!'

'Garn!' said Liza, looking round at them.

Sally did not appear and she repeated her call. The men imitated her, and half a dozen took it up, so that there was enough noise to wake the seven sleepers.

I! 'I! 'I! Sally!'

A head was put out of a top window, and Liza, taking off her hat, waved it, crying:

'Come on dahn, Sally!'

'Arright, old gal!' shouted the other. 'I'm comin'!'

'So's Christmas!' was Liza's repartee.

There was a clatter down the stairs, and Sally, rushing through the passage, threw herself on to her friend. They began fooling, in reminiscence of a melodrama they had lately seen together.

'Oh, my darlin' duck!' said Liza, kissing her and pressing her, with affected rapture, to her bosom.

'My sweetest sweet!' replied Sally, copying her.

'An' 'ow does your lidyship ter-day?'

'Oh!' with immense languor 'fust class; and is your royal 'ighness quite well?'

'I deeply regret,' answered Liza, 'but my royal 'ighness 'as got the collywobbles.'

Sally was a small, thin girl, with sandy hair and blue eyes, and a very freckled complexion. She had an enormous mouth, with terrible, square teeth set wide apart, which looked as if they could masticate an iron bar. She was dressed like Liza, in a shortish black skirt and an old-fashioned bodice, green and grey and yellow with age; her sleeves were tucked up to the elbow, and she wore a singularly dirty apron, that had once been white.

'Wot 'ave you got yer 'air in them things for?' asked Liza, pointing to the curl-papers. 'Goin' aht with yer young man ter-day?'

'No, I'm going ter stay 'ere all day.'

'Wot for, then?'

'Why, 'Arry's going ter tike me ter Chingford ter-morrer.'

'Oh? In the "Red Lion" brake?'

'Yus. Are you goin'?'

'Na!'

'Not! Well, why don't you get round Tom? 'E'll tike yer, and jolly glad 'e'll be, too.'

E arst me ter go with 'im, but I wouldn't.'

'Swop me bob why not?'

'I ain't keeping company with 'im.'

'Yer might 'ave gone with 'im all the sime.'

'Na. You're goin' with 'Arry, ain't yer?'

'Yus!'

'An' you're goin' to 'ave 'im?'

'Right again!'

'Well, I couldn't go with Tom, and then throw him over.'

'Well, you are a mug!'

The two girls had strolled down towards the Westminster Bridge Road, and Sally, meeting her young man, had gone to him. Liza walked back, wishing to get home in time to cook the dinner. But she went slowly, for she knew every dweller in the street, and as she passed the groups sitting at their doors, as on the previous evening, but this time mostly engaged in peeling potatoes or shelling peas, she stopped and had a little chat. Everyone liked her, and was glad to have her company. 'Good old Liza,' they would say, as she left them, 'she's a rare good sort, ain't she?'

She asked after the aches and pains of all the old people, and delicately inquired after the babies, past and future; the children hung on to her skirts and asked her to play with them, and she would hold one end of the rope while tiny little ragged girls skipped, invariably entangling themselves after two jumps.

She had nearly reached home, when she heard a voice cry:

'Mornin'!'

She looked round and recognized the man whom Tom had told her was called Jim Blakeston. He was sitting on a stool at the door of one of the houses, playing with two young children, to whom he was giving rides on his knee. She remembered his heavy brown beard from the day before, and she had also an impression of great size; she noticed this morning that he was, in fact, a big man, tall and broad, and she saw besides that he had large, masculine features and pleasant brown eyes. She supposed him to be about forty.

'Mornin'!' he said again, as she stopped and looked at him.

'Well, yer needn't look as if I was goin' ter eat yer up, 'cause I ain't,' he said.

Oo are you? I'm not afeard of yer.'

'Wot are yer so bloomin' red abaht?' he asked pointedly.

'Well, I'm 'ot.'

'You ain't shirty 'cause I kissed yer last night?'

'I'm not shirty; but it was pretty cool, considerin' like as I didn't know yer.'

'Well, you run into my arms.'

'Thet I didn't; you run aht and caught me.'

'An' kissed yer before you could say "Jack Robinson".' He laughed at the thought. 'Well, Liza,' he went on, 'seein' as 'ow I kissed yer against yer will, the best thing you can do ter make it up is to kiss me not against yer will.'

'Me?' said Liza, looking at him, open-mouthed. 'Well you are a pill!'

The children began to clamour for the riding, which had been discontinued on Liza's approach.

'Are them your kids?' she asked.

'Yus; them's two on 'em.'

Ow many 'ave yer got?'

'Five; the eldest gal's fifteen, and the next one 'oo's a boy's twelve, and then there are these two and baby.'

'Well, you've got enough for your money.'

'Too many for me and more comin'.'

'Ah well,' said Liza, laughing, 'thet's your fault, ain't it?'

Then she bade him good morning, and strolled off.

He watched her as she went, and saw half a dozen little boys surround her and beg her to join them in their game of cricket. They caught hold of her arms and skirts, and pulled her to their pitch.

'No, I can't,' she said trying to disengage herself. 'I've got the dinner ter cook.'

'Dinner ter cook?' shouted one small boy. 'Why, they always cooks the cats' meat at the shop.'

'You little so-and-so!' said Liza, somewhat inelegantly, making a dash at him.

He dodged her and gave a whoop; then turning he caught her round the legs, and another boy catching hold of her round the neck they dragged her down, and all three struggled on the ground, rolling over and over; the other boys threw themselves on the top, so that there was a great heap of legs and arms and heads waving and bobbing up and down.

Liza extricated herself with some difficulty, and taking off her hat she began cuffing the boys with it, using all the time the most lively expressions. Then, having cleared the field, she retired victorious into her own house and began cooking the dinner.