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Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965)
Liza of Lambeth 09


Thus began a time of love and joy. As soon as her work was over and
she had finished tea, Liza would slip out and at some appointed spot
meet Jim. Usually it would be at the church, where the Westminster
Bridge Road bends down to get to the river, and they would go off,
arm-in-arm, till they came to some place where they could sit down and
rest. Sometimes they would walk along the Albert Embankment to
Battersea Park, and here sit on the benches, watching the children
play. The female cyclist had almost abandoned Battersea for the parks
on the other side of the river, but often enough one went by, and
Liza, with the old-fashioned prejudice of her class, would look after
the rider and make some remark about her, not seldom more forcible
than ladylike. Both Jim and she liked children, and, tiny, ragged
urchins would gather round to have rides on the man's knees or mock
fights with Liza.

They thought themselves far away from anyone in Vere Street, but
twice, as they were walking along, they were met by people they knew.
Once it was two workmen coming home from a job at Vauxhall: Liza did
not see them till they were quite near; she immediately dropped Jim's
arm, and they both cast their eyes to the ground as the men passed,
like ostriches, expecting that if they did not look they would not be

'D'you see 'em, Jim?' asked Liza, in a whisper, when they had gone by.
'I wonder if they see us.' Almost instinctively she turned round, and
at the same moment one of the men turned too; then there was no doubt
about it.

'Thet did give me a turn,' she said.

'So it did me,' answered Jim; 'I simply went 'ot all over.'

'We was bally fools,' said Liza; 'we oughter 'ave spoken to 'em! D'you
think they'll let aht?'

They heard nothing of it, when Jim afterwards met one of the men in a
public-house he did not mention a meeting, and they thought that
perhaps they had not been recognized. But the second time was worse.

It was on the Albert Embankment again. They were met by a party of
four, all of whom lived in the street. Liza's heart sank within her,
for there was no chance of escape; she thought of turning quickly and
walking in the opposite direction, but there was not time, for the men
had already seen them. She whispered to Jim:

'Back us up,' and as they met she said to one of the men:

''Ulloa there! Where are you off to?'

The men stopped, and one of them asked the question back.

'Where are you off to?'

'Me? Oh, I've just been to the 'orspital. One of the gals at our place
is queer, an' so I says ter myself, "I'll go an' see 'er."' She
faltered a little as she began, but quickly gathered herself together,
lying fluently and without hesitation.

'An' when I come aht,' she went on, ''oo should I see just passin' the
'orspital but this 'ere cove, an' 'e says to me, "Wot cheer," says 'e,
"I'm goin' ter Vaux'all, come an' walk a bit of the wy with us."
"Arright," says I, "I don't mind if I do."'

One man winked, and another said: 'Go it, Liza!'

She fired up with the dignity of outraged innocence.

'Wot d'yer mean by thet?' she said; 'd'yer think I'm kiddin'?'

'Kiddin'? No! You've only just come up from the country, ain't yer?'

'Think I'm kidding? What d'yer think I want ter kid for? Liars never
believe anyone, thet's fact.'

'Na then, Liza, don't be saucy.'

'Saucy! I'll smack yer in the eye if yer sy much ter me. Come on,' she
said to Jim, who had been standing sheepishly by; and they walked

The men shouted: 'Now we shan't be long!' and went off laughing.

After that they decided to go where there was no chance at all of
their being seen. They did not meet till they got over Westminster
Bridge, and thence they made their way into the park; they would lie
down on the grass in one another's arms, and thus spend the long
summer evenings. After the heat of the day there would be a gentle
breeze in the park, and they would take in long breaths of the air; it
seemed far away from London, it was so quiet and cool; and Liza, as
she lay by Jim's side, felt her love for him overflowing to the rest
of the world and enveloping mankind itself in a kind of grateful
happiness. If it could only have lasted! They would stay and see the
stars shine out dimly, one by one, from the blue sky, till it grew
late and the blue darkened into black, and the stars glittered in
thousands all above them. But as the nights grew cooler, they found it
cold on the grass, and the time they had there seemed too short for
the long journey they had to make; so, crossing the bridge as before,
they strolled along the Embankment till they came to a vacant bench,
and there they would sit, with Liza nestling close up to her lover and
his great arms around her. The rain of September made no difference to
them; they went as usual to their seat beneath the trees, and Jim
would take Liza on his knee, and, opening his coat, shelter her with
it, while she, with her arms round his neck, pressed very close to
him, and occasionally gave a little laugh of pleasure and delight.
They hardly spoke at all through these evenings, for what had they to
say to one another? Often without exchanging a word they would sit for
an hour with their faces touching, the one feeling on his cheek the
hot breath from the other's mouth; while at the end of the time the
only motion was an upraising of Liza's lips, a bending down of Jim's,
so that they might meet and kiss. Sometimes Liza fell into a light
doze, and Jim would sit very still for fear of waking her, and when
she roused herself she would smile, while he bent down again and
kissed her. They were very happy. But the hours passed by so quickly,
that Big Ben striking twelve came upon them as a surprise, and
unwillingly they got up and made their way homewards; their partings
were never ending-- each evening Jim refused to let her go from his
arms, and tears stood in his eyes at the thought of the separation.

'I'd give somethin',' he would say, 'if we could be togither always.'

'Never mind, old chap!' Liza would answer, herself half crying, 'it
can't be 'elped, so we must jolly well lump it.'

But notwithstanding all their precautions people in Vere Street
appeared to know. First of all Liza noticed that the women did not
seem quite so cordial as before, and she often fancied they were
talking of her; when she passed by they appeared to look at her, then
say something or other, and perhaps burst out laughing; but when she
approached they would immediately stop speaking, and keep silence in a
rather awkward, constrained manner. For a long time she was unwilling
to believe that there was any change in them, and Jim who had observed
nothing, persuaded her that it was all fancy. But gradually it became
clearer, and Jim had to agree with her that somehow or other people
had found out. Once when Liza had been talking to Polly, Jim's
daughter, Mrs. Blakeston had called her, and when the girl had come to
her mother Liza saw that she spoke angrily, and they both looked
across at her. When Liza caught Mrs. Blakeston's eye she saw in her
face a surly scowl, which almost frightened her; she wanted to brave
it out, and stepped forward a little to go and speak with the woman,
but Mrs. Blakeston, standing still, looked so angrily at her that she
was afraid to. When she told Jim his face grew dark, and he said:
'Blast the woman! I'll give 'er wot for if she says anythin' ter you.'

'Don't strike 'er, wotever 'appens, will yer, Jim?' said Liza.

'She'd better tike care then!' he answered, and he told her that
lately his wife had been sulking, and not speaking to him. The
previous night, on coming home after the day's work and bidding her
'Good evenin',' she had turned her back on him without answering.

'Can't you answer when you're spoke to?' he had said.

'Good evenin',' she had replied sulkily, with her back still turned.

After that Liza noticed that Polly avoided her.

'Wot's up, Polly?' she said to her one day. 'You never speaks now;
'ave you 'ad yer tongue cut aht?'

'Me? I ain't got nothin' ter speak abaht, thet I knows of,' answered
Polly, abruptly walking off. Liza grew very red and quickly looked to
see if anyone had noticed the incident. A couple of youths, sitting on
the pavement, had seen it, and she saw them nudge one another and

Then the fellows about the street began to chaff her.

'You look pale,' said one of a group to her one day.

'You're overworkin' yerself, you are,' said another.

'Married life don't agree with Liza, thet's wot it is,' added a third.

''Oo d'yer think yer gettin' at? I ain't married, an' never like ter
be,' she answered.

'Liza 'as all the pleasures of a 'usband an' none of the trouble.'

'Bli'me if I know wot yer mean!' said Liza.

'Na, of course not; you don't know nothin', do yer?'

'Innocent as a bibe. Our Father which art in 'eaven!'

''Aven't been in London long, 'ave yer?'

They spoke in chorus, and Liza stood in front of them, bewildered, not
knowing what to answer.

'Don't you mike no mistake abaht it, Liza knows a thing or two.'

'O me darlin', I love yer fit to kill, but tike care your missus ain't
round the corner.' This was particularly bold, and they all laughed.

Liza felt very uncomfortable, and fiddled about with her apron,
wondering how she should get away.

'Tike care yer don't git into trouble, thet's all,' said one of the
men, with burlesque gravity.

'Yer might give us a chanst, Liza, you come aht with me one evenin'.
You oughter give us all a turn, just ter show there's no ill-feelin'.'

'Bli'me if I know wot yer all talkin' abaht. You're all barmy on the
crumpet,' said Liza indignantly, and, turning her back on them, made
for home.

Among other things that had happened was Sally's marriage. One
Saturday a little procession had started from Vere Street, consisting
of Sally, in a state of giggling excitement, her fringe magnificent
after a whole week of curling-papers, clad in a perfectly new
velveteen dress of the colour known as electric blue; and Harry,
rather nervous and ill at ease in the unaccustomed restraint of a
collar; these two walked arm-in-arm, and were followed by Sally's
mother and uncle, also arm-in-arm, and the procession was brought up
by Harry's brother and a friend. They started with a flourish of
trumpets and an old boot, and walked down the middle of Vere Street,
accompanied by the neighbours' good wishes; but as they got into the
Westminster Bridge Road and nearer to the church, the happy couple
grew silent, and Harry began to perspire freely, so that his collar
gave him perfect torture. There was a public-house just opposite the
church, and it was suggested that they should have a drink before
going in. As it was a solemn occasion they went into the private bar,
and there Sally's uncle, who was a man of means, ordered six pots of

'Feel a bit nervous, 'Arry?' asked his friend.

'Na,' said Harry, as if he had been used to getting married every day
of his life; 'bit warm, thet's all.'

'Your very good 'ealth, Sally,' said her mother, lifting her mug;
'this is the last time as I shall ever address you as miss.'

'An' may she be as good a wife as you was,' added Sally's uncle.

'Well, I don't think my old man ever 'ad no complaint ter mike abaht
me. I did my duty by 'im, although it's me as says it,' answered the
good lady.

'Well, mates,' said Harry's brother, 'I reckon it's abaht time to go
in. So 'ere's to the 'ealth of Mr. 'Enry Atkins an' 'is future missus.'

'An' God bless 'em!' said Sally's mother.

Then they went into the church, and as they solemnly walked up the
aisle a pale-faced young curate came out of the vestry and down to the
bottom of the chancel. The beer had had a calming effect on their
troubled minds, and both Harry and Sally began to think it rather a
good joke. They smiled on each other, and at those parts of the
service which they thought suggestive violently nudged one another in
the ribs. When the ring had to be produced, Harry fumbled about in
different pockets, and his brother whispered:

'Swop me bob, 'e's gone and lorst it!'

However, all went right, and Sally having carefully pocketed the
certificate, they went out and had another drink to celebrate the
happy event.

In the evening Liza and several friends came into the couple's room,
which they had taken in the same house as Sally had lived in before,
and drank the health of the bride and bridegroom till they thought fit
to retire.

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