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Somerset Maugham
Liza of Lambeth 11
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XI


A few days afterwards Liza was talking with Sally, who did not seem
very much happier than when Liza had last seen her.

''E ain't wot I thought 'e wos,' she said. 'I don't mind sayin' thet;
but 'e 'as a lot ter put up with; I expect I'm rather tryin'
sometimes, an' 'e means well. P'raps 'e'll be kinder like when the
biby's born.'

'Cheer up, old gal,' answered Liza, who had seen something of the
lives of many married couples; 'it won't seem so bad after yer gets
used to it; it's a bit disappointin' at fust, but yer gits not ter
mind it.'

After a little Sally said she must go and see about her husband's tea.
She said good-bye, and then rather awkwardly:

'Say, Liza, tike care of yerself!'

'Tike care of meself-- why?' asked Liza, in surprise.

'Yer know wot I mean.'

'Na, I'm darned if I do.'

'Thet there Mrs. Blakeston, she's lookin' aht for you.'

'Mrs. Blakeston!' Liza was startled.

'Yus; she says she's goin' ter give you somethin' if she can git 'old
on yer. I should advise yer ter tike care.'

'Me?' said Liza.

Sally looked away, so as not to see the other's face.

'She says as 'ow yer've been messin' abaht with 'er old man.'

Liza didn't say anything, and Sally, repeating her good-bye, slid off.

Liza felt a chill run through her. She had several times noticed a
scowl and a look of anger on Mrs. Blakeston's face, and she had avoided
her as much as possible; but she had no idea that the woman meant to
do anything to her. She was very frightened, a cold sweat broke out
over her face. If Mrs. Blakeston got hold of her she would be helpless,
she was so small and weak, while the other was strong and muscular.
Liza wondered what she would do if she did catch her.

That night she told Jim, and tried to make a joke of it.

'I say, Jim, your missus-- she says she's goin' ter give me socks if
she catches me.'

'My missus! 'Ow d'yer know?'

'She's been tellin' people in the street.'

'Go' lumme,' said Jim, furious, 'if she dares ter touch a 'air of your
'ead, swop me dicky I'll give 'er sich a 'idin' as she never 'ad
before! By God, give me the chanst, an' I would let 'er 'ave it; I'm
bloomin' well sick of 'er sulks!' He clenched his fist as he spoke.

Liza was a coward. She could not help thinking of her enemy's threat;
it got on her nerves, and she hardly dared go out for fear of meeting
her; she would look nervously in front of her, quickly turning round
if she saw in the distance anyone resembling Mrs. Blakeston. She
dreamed of her at night; she saw the big, powerful form, the heavy,
frowning face, and the curiously braided brown hair; and she would
wake up with a cry and find herself bathed in sweat.

It was the Saturday afternoon following this, a chill November day,
with the roads sloshy, and a grey, comfortless sky that made one's
spirits sink. It was about three o'clock, and Liza was coming home
from work; she got into Vere Street, and was walking quickly towards
her house when she saw Mrs. Blakeston coming towards her. Her heart
gave a great jump. Turning, she walked rapidly in the direction she
had come; with a screw round of her eyes she saw that she was being
followed, and therefore went straight out of Vere Street. She went
right round, meaning to get into the street from the other end and,
unobserved, slip into her house, which was then quite close; but she
dared not risk it immediately for fear Mrs. Blakeston should still be
there; so she waited about for half an hour. It seemed an age.
Finally, taking her courage in both hands, she turned the corner and
entered Vere Street. She nearly ran into the arms of Mrs. Blakeston,
who was standing close to the public-house door.

Liza gave a little cry, and the woman said, with a sneer:

'Yer didn't expect ter see me, did yer?'

Liza did not answer, but tried to walk past her. Mrs. Blakeston stepped
forward and blocked her way.

'Yer seem ter be in a mighty fine 'urry,' she said.

'Yus, I've got ter git 'ome,' said Liza, again trying to pass.

'But supposin' I don't let yer?' remarked Mrs. Blakeston, preventing
her from moving.

'Why don't yer leave me alone?' Liza said. 'I ain't interferin' with
you!'

'Not interferin' with me, aren't yer? I like thet!'

'Let me go by,' said Liza. 'I don't want ter talk ter you.'

'Na, I know thet,' said the other; 'but I want ter talk ter you, an' I
shan't let yer go until I've said wot I wants ter sy.'

Liza looked round for help. At the beginning of the altercation the
loafers about the public-house had looked up with interest, and
gradually gathered round in a little circle. Passers-by had joined in,
and a number of other people in the street, seeing the crowd, added
themselves to it to see what was going on. Liza saw that all eyes were
fixed on her, the men amused and excited, the women unsympathetic,
rather virtuously indignant. Liza wanted to ask for help, but there
were so many people, and they all seemed so much against her, that she
had not the courage to. So, having surveyed the crowd, she turned her
eyes to Mrs. Blakeston, and stood in front of her, trembling a little,
and very white.

'Na, 'e ain't there,' said Mrs. Blakeston, sneeringly, 'so yer needn't
look for 'im.'

'I dunno wot yer mean,' answered Liza, 'an' I want ter go awy. I ain't
done nothin' ter you.'

'Not done nothin' ter me?' furiously repeated the woman. 'I'll tell
yer wot yer've done ter me-- you've robbed me of my 'usbind, you 'ave.
I never 'ad a word with my 'usbind until you took 'im from me. An' now
it's all you with 'im. 'E's got no time for 'is wife an' family-- it's
all you. An' 'is money, too. I never git a penny of it; if it weren't
for the little bit I 'ad saved up in the siving-bank, me an' my
children 'ud be starvin' now! An' all through you!' She shook her fist
at her.

'I never 'ad any money from anyone.'

'Don' talk ter me; I know yer did. Yer dirty bitch! You oughter be
ishimed of yourself tikin' a married man from 'is family, an' 'im old
enough ter be yer father.'

'She's right there!' said one or two of the onlooking women. 'There
can't be no good in 'er if she tikes somebody else's 'usbind.'

'I'll give it yer!' proceeded Mrs. Blakeston, getting more hot and
excited, brandishing her fist, and speaking in a loud voice, hoarse
with rage. 'Oh, I've been tryin' ter git 'old on yer this four weeks.
Why, you're a prostitute-- that's wot you are!'

'I'm not!' answered Liza indignantly.

'Yus, you are,' repeated Mrs. Blakeston, advancing menacingly, so that
Liza shrank back. 'An' wot's more, 'e treats yer like one. I know 'oo
give yer thet black eye; thet shows what 'e thinks of yer! An' serve
yer bloomin' well right if 'e'd give yer one in both eyes!'

Mrs. Blakeston stood close in front of her, her heavy jaw protruded and
the frown of her eyebrows dark and stern. For a moment she stood
silent, contemplating Liza, while the surrounders looked on in
breathless interest.

'Yer dirty little bitch, you!' she said at last. 'Tike that!' and with
her open hand she gave her a sharp smack on the cheek.

Liza started back with a cry and put her hand up to her face.

'An' tike thet!' added Mrs. Blakeston, repeating the blow. Then,
gathering up the spittle in her mouth, she spat in Liza's face.

Liza sprang on her, and with her hands spread out like claws buried
her nails in the woman's face and drew them down her cheeks. Mrs.
Blakeston caught hold of her hair with both hands and tugged at it as
hard as she could. But they were immediately separated.

''Ere, 'old 'ard!' said some of the men. 'Fight it aht fair and
square. Don't go scratchin' and maulin' like thet.'

'I'll fight 'er, I don't mind!' shouted Mrs. Blakeston, tucking up her
sleeves and savagely glaring at her opponent.

Liza stood in front of her, pale and trembling; as she looked at her
enemy, and saw the long red marks of her nails, with blood coming from
one or two of them, she shrank back.

'I don't want ter fight,' she said hoarsely.

'Na, I don't suppose yer do,' hissed the other, 'but yer'll damn well
'ave ter!'

'She's ever so much bigger than me; I've got no chanst,' added Liza
tearfully.

'You should 'ave thought of thet before. Come on!' and with these
words Mrs. Blakeston rushed upon her. She hit her with both fists one
after the other. Liza did not try to guard herself, but imitating the
woman's motion, hit out with her own fists; and for a minute or two
they continued thus, raining blows on one another with the same
windmill motion of the arms. But Liza could not stand against the
other woman's weight; the blows came down heavy and rapid all over her
face and head. She put up her hands to cover her face and turned her
head away, while Mrs. Blakeston kept on hitting mercilessly.

'Time!' shouted some of the men-- 'Time!' and Mrs. Blakeston stopped to
rest herself.

'It don't seem 'ardly fair to set them two on tergether. Liza's got no
chanst against a big woman like thet,' said a man among the crowd.

'Well, it's er' own fault,' answered a woman; 'she didn't oughter mess
about with 'er 'usbind.'

'Well, I don't think it's right,' added another man. 'She's gettin' it
too much.'

'An' serve 'er right too!' said one of the women. 'She deserves all
she gets an' a damn sight more inter the bargain.'

'Quite right,' put in a third; 'a woman's got no right ter tike
someone's 'usbind from 'er. An' if she does she's bloomin' lucky if
she gits off with a 'idin'-- thet's wot I think.'

'So do I. But I wouldn't 'ave thought it of Liza. I never thought she
was a wrong 'un.'

'Pretty specimen she is!' said a little dark woman, who looked like a
Jewess. 'If she messed abaht with my old man, I'd stick 'er-- I swear I
would!'

'Now she's been carryin' on with one, she'll try an' git others-- you
see if she don't.'

'She'd better not come round my 'ouse; I'll soon give 'er wot for.'

Meanwhile Liza was standing at one corner of the ring, trembling all
over and crying bitterly. One of her eyes was bunged up, and her hair,
all dishevelled, was hanging down over her face. Two young fellows,
who had constituted themselves her seconds, were standing in front of
her, offering rather ironical comfort. One of them had taken the
bottom corners of her apron and was fanning her with it, while the
other was showing her how to stand and hold her arms.

'You stand up to 'er, Liza,' he was saying; 'there ain't no good
funkin' it, you'll simply get it all the worse. You 'it 'er back. Give
'er one on the boko, like this-- see; yer must show a bit of pluck, yer
know.'

Liza tried to check her sobs.

'Yus, 'it 'er 'ard, that's wot yer've got ter do,' said the other.
'An' if yer find she's gettin' the better on yer, you close on 'er and
catch 'old of 'er 'air and scratch 'er.'

'You've marked 'er with yer nails, Liza. By gosh, you did fly on her
when she spat at yer! thet's the way ter do the job!'

Then turning to his fellow, he said:

'D'yer remember thet fight as old Mother Cregg 'ad with another woman
in the street last year?'

'Na,' he answered, 'I never saw thet.'

'It was a cawker; an' the cops come in and took 'em both off ter
quod.'

Liza wished the policemen would come and take her off; she would
willingly have gone to prison to escape the fiend in front of her; but
no help came.

'Time's up!' shouted the referee. 'Fire away!'

'Tike care of the cops!' shouted a man.

'There's no fear abaht them,' answered somebody else. 'They always
keeps out of the way when there's anythin' goin' on.'

'Fire away!'

Mrs. Blakeston attacked Liza madly; but the girl stood up bravely, and
as well as she could gave back the blows she received. The spectators
grew tremendously excited.

'Got 'im again!' they shouted. 'Give it 'er, Liza, thet's a good
'un!-- 'it 'er 'ard!'

'Two ter one on the old 'un!' shouted a sporting gentleman; but Liza
found no backers.

'Ain't she standin' up well now she's roused?' cried someone.

'Oh, she's got some pluck in 'er, she 'as!'

'Thet's a knock-aht!' they shouted as Mrs. Blakeston brought her fist
down on to Liza's nose; the girl staggered back, and blood began to
flow. Then, losing all fear, mad with rage, she made a rush on her
enemy, and rained down blows all over her nose and eyes and mouth. The
woman recoiled at the sudden violence of the onslaught, and the men
cried:

'By God, the little 'un's gettin' the best of it!'

But quickly recovering herself the woman closed with Liza, and dug her
nails into her flesh. Liza caught hold of her hair and pulled with all
her might, and turning her teeth on Mrs. Blakeston tried to bite her.
And thus for a minute they swayed about, scratching, tearing, biting,
sweat and blood pouring down their faces, and their eyes fixed on one
another, bloodshot and full of rage. The audience shouted and cheered
and clapped their hands.

'Wot the 'ell's up 'ere?'

'I sy, look there,' said some of the women in a whisper. 'It's the
'usbind!'

He stood on tiptoe and looked over the crowd.

'My Gawd,' he said, 'it's Liza!'

Then roughly pushing the people aside, he made his way through the
crowd into the centre, and thrusting himself between the two women,
tore them apart. He turned furiously on his wife.

'By Gawd, I'll give yer somethin' for this!'

And for a moment they all three stood silently looking at one another.

Another man had been attracted by the crowd, and he, too, pushed his
way through.

'Come 'ome, Liza,' he said.

'Tom!'

He took hold of her arm, and led her through the people, who gave way
to let her pass. They walked silently through the street, Tom very
grave, Liza weeping bitterly.

'Oh, Tom,' she sobbed after a while, 'I couldn't 'elp it!' Then, when
her tears permitted, 'I did love 'im so!'

When they got to the door she plaintively said: 'Come in,' and he
followed her to her room. Here she sank on to a chair, and gave
herself up to her tears.

Tom wetted the end of a towel and began wiping her face, grimy with
blood and tears. She let him do it, just moaning amid her sobs:

'You are good ter me, Tom.'

'Cheer up, old gal,' he said kindly, 'it's all over now.'

After a while the excess of crying brought its cessation. She drank
some water, and then taking up a broken handglass she looked at
herself, saying:

'I am a sight!' and proceeded to wind up her hair. 'You 'ave been good
ter me, Tom,' she repeated, her voice still broken with sobs; and as
he sat down beside her she took his hand.

'Na, I ain't,' he answered; 'it's only wot anybody 'ud 'ave done.'

'Yer know, Tom,' she said, after a little silence, 'I'm so sorry I
spoke cross like when I met yer in the street; you ain't spoke ter me
since.'

'Oh, thet's all over now, old lidy, we needn't think of thet.'

'Oh, but I 'ave treated yer bad. I'm a regular wrong 'un, I am.'

He pressed her hand without speaking.

'I say, Tom,' she began, after another pause. 'Did yer know
thet-- well, you know-- before ter-day?'

He blushed as he answered:

'Yus.'

She spoke very sadly and slowly.

'I thought yer did; yer seemed so cut up like when I used to meet yer.
Yer did love me then, Tom, didn't yer?'

'I do now, dearie,' he answered.

'Ah, it's too lite now,' she sighed.

'D'yer know, Liza,' he said, 'I just abaht kicked the life aht of a
feller 'cause 'e said you was messin' abaht with-- with 'im.'

'An' yer knew I was?'

'Yus-- but I wasn't goin' ter 'ave anyone say it before me.'

'They've all rounded on me except you, Tom. I'd 'ave done better if
I'd tiken you when you arst me; I shouldn't be where I am now, if I
'ad.'

'Well, won't yer now? Won't yer 'ave me now?'

'Me? After wot's 'appened?'

'Oh, I don't mind abaht thet. Thet don't matter ter me if you'll marry
me. I fair can't live without yer, Liza-- won't yer?'

She groaned.

'Na, I can't, Tom, it wouldn't be right.'

'Why, not, if I don't mind?'

'Tom,' she said, looking down, almost whispering, 'I'm like that-- you
know!'

'Wot d'yer mean?'

She could scarcely utter the words--

'I think I'm in the family wy.'

He paused a moment; then spoke again.

'Well-- I don't mind, if yer'll only marry me.'

'Na, I can't, Tom,' she said, bursting into tears; 'I can't, but you
are so good ter me; I'd do anythin' ter mike it up ter you.'

She put her arms round his neck and slid on to his knees.

'Yer know, Tom, I couldn't marry yer now; but anythin' else-- if yer
wants me ter do anythin' else, I'll do it if it'll mike you 'appy.'

He did not understand, but only said:

'You're a good gal, Liza,' and bending down he kissed her gravely on
the forehead.

Then with a sigh he lifted her down, and getting up left her alone.
For a while she sat where he left her, but as she thought of all she
had gone through her loneliness and misery overcame her, the tears
welled forth, and throwing herself on the bed she buried her face in
the pillows.

* * * * *

Jim stood looking at Liza as she went off with Tom, and his wife
watched him jealously.

'It's 'er you're thinkin' abaht. Of course you'd 'ave liked ter tike
'er 'ome yerself, I know, an' leave me to shift for myself.'

'Shut up!' said Jim, angrily turning upon her.

'I shan't shut up,' she answered, raising her voice. 'Nice 'usbind you
are. Go' lumme, as good as they mike 'em! Nice thing ter go an' leave
yer wife and children for a thing like thet! At your age, too! You
oughter be ashimed of yerself. Why, it's like messin' abaht with your
own daughter!'

'By God!'-- he ground his teeth with rage-- 'if yer don't leave me
alone, I'll kick the life aht of yer!'

'There!' she said, turning to the crowd-- 'there, see 'ow 'e treats me!
Listen ter that! I've been 'is wife for twenty years, an' yer couldn't
'ave 'ad a better wife, an' I've bore 'im nine children, yet say
nothin' of a miscarriage, an' I've got another comin', an' thet's 'ow
'e treats me! Nice 'usbind, ain't it?' She looked at him scornfully,
then again at the surrounders as if for their opinion.

'Well, I ain't goin' ter stay 'ere all night; get aht of the light!'
He pushed aside the people who barred his way, and the one or two who
growled a little at his roughness, looking at his angry face, were
afraid to complain.

'Look at 'im!' said his wife. ''E's afraid, 'e is. See 'im slinkin'
awy like a bloomin' mongrel with 'is tail between 'is legs. Ugh!' She
walked just behind him, shouting and brandishing her arms.

'Yer dirty beast, you,' she yelled, 'ter go foolin' abaht with a
little girl! Ugh! I wish yer wasn't my 'usbind; I wouldn't be seen
drowned with yer, if I could 'elp it. Yer mike me sick ter look at
yer.'

The crowd followed them on both sides of the road, keeping at a
discreet distance, but still eagerly listening.

Jim turned on her once or twice and said:

'Shut up!'

But it only made her more angry. 'I tell yer I shan't shut up. I don't
care 'oo knows it, you're a ----, you are! I'm ashimed the children
should 'ave such a father as you. D'yer think I didn't know wot you
was up ter them nights you was awy-- courtin', yus, courtin'? You're a
nice man, you are!'

Jim did not answer her, but walked on. At last he turned round to the
people who were following and said:

'Na then, wot d'you want 'ere? You jolly well clear, or I'll give some
of you somethin'!'

They were mostly boys and women, and at his words they shrank back.

''E's afraid ter sy anythin' ter me,' jeered Mrs. Blakeston. ''E's a
beauty!'

Jim entered his house, and she followed him till they came up into
their room. Polly was giving the children their tea. They all started
up as they saw their mother with her hair and clothes in disorder,
blotches of dried blood on her face, and the long scratch-marks.

'Oh, mother,' said Polly, 'wot is the matter?'

''E's the matter.' she answered, pointing to her husband. 'It's
through 'im I've got all this. Look at yer father, children; e's a
father to be proud of, leavin' yer ter starve an' spendin' 'is week's
money on a dirty little strumper.'

Jim felt easier now he had not got so many strange eyes on him.

'Now, look 'ere,' he said, 'I'm not goin' ter stand this much longer,
so just you tike care.'

'I ain't frightened of yer. I know yer'd like ter kill me, but yer'll
get strung up if you do.'

'Na, I won't kill yer, but if I 'ave any more of your sauce I'll do
the next thing to it.'

'Touch me if yer dare,' she said, 'I'll 'ave the law on you. An' I
shouldn't mind 'ow many month's 'ard you got.'

'Be quiet!' he said, and, closing his hand, gave her a heavy blow in
the chest that made her stagger.

'Oh, you ----!' she screamed.

She seized the poker, and in a fury of rage rushed at him.

'Would yer?' he said, catching hold of it and wrenching it from her
grasp. He threw it to the end of the room and grappled with her. For a
moment they swayed about from side to side, then with an effort he
lifted her off her feet and threw her to the ground; but she caught
hold of him and he came down on the top of her. She screamed as her
head thumped down on the floor, and the children, who were standing
huddled up in a corner, terrified, screamed too.

Jim caught hold of his wife's head and began beating it against the
floor.

She cried out: 'You're killing me! Help! help!'

Polly in terror ran up to her father and tried to pull him off.

'Father, don't 'it 'er! Anythin' but thet-- for God's sike!'

'Leave me alone,' he said, 'or I'll give you somethin' too.'

She caught hold of his arm, but Jim, still kneeling on his wife, gave
Polly a backhanded blow which sent her staggering back.

'Tike that!'

Polly ran out of the room, downstairs to the first-floor front, where
two men and two women were sitting at tea.

'Oh, come an' stop father!' she cried. ''E's killin' mother!'

'Why, wot's 'e doin'?'

'Oh, 'e's got 'er on the floor, an' 'e's bangin' 'er 'ead. 'E's payin'
'er aht for givin' Liza Kemp a 'idin'.'

One of the women started up and said to her husband:

'Come on, John, you go an' stop it.'

'Don't you, John,' said the other man. 'When a man's givin' 'is wife
socks it's best not ter interfere.'

'But 'e's killin' 'er,' repeated Polly, trembling with fright.

'Garn!' rejoined the man, 'she'll git over it; an' p'raps she deserves
it, for all you know.'

John sat undecided, looking now at Polly, now at his wife, and now at
the other man.

'Oh, do be quick-- for God's sike!' said Polly.

At that moment a sound as of something smashing was heard upstairs,
and a woman's shriek. Mrs. Blakeston, in an effort to tear herself away
from her husband, had knocked up against the wash-hand stand, and the
whole thing had crashed down.

'Go on, John,' said the wife.

'No, I ain't goin'; I shan't do no good, an' 'e'll only round on me.'

'Well, you are a bloomin' lot of cowards, thet's all I can say,'
indignantly answered the wife. 'But I ain't goin' ter see a woman
murdered; I'll go an' stop 'im.'

With that she ran upstairs and threw open the door. Jim was still
kneeling on his wife, hitting her furiously, while she was trying to
protect her head and face with her hands.

'Leave off!' shouted the woman.

Jim looked up. ''Oo the devil are you?' he said.

'Leave off, I tell yer. Aren't yer ashimed of yerself, knockin' a
woman abaht like that?' And she sprang at him, seizing his fist.

'Let go,' he said, 'or I'll give you a bit.'

'Yer'd better not touch me,' she said. 'Yer dirty coward! Why, look at
'er, she's almost senseless.'

Jim stopped and gazed at his wife. He got up and gave her a kick.

'Git up!' he said; but she remained huddled up on the floor, moaning
feebly. The woman from downstairs went on her knees and took her head
in her arms.

'Never mind, Mrs. Blakeston. 'E's not goin' ter touch yer. 'Ere, drink
this little drop of water.' Then turning to Jim, with infinite
disdain: 'Yer dirty blackguard, you! If I was a man I'd give you
something for this.'

Jim put on his hat and went out, slamming the door, while the woman
shouted after him: 'Good riddance!'

* * * * *

'Lord love yer,' said Mrs. Kemp, 'wot is the matter?'

She had just come in, and opening the door had started back in
surprise at seeing Liza on the bed, all tears. Liza made no answer,
but cried as if her heart were breaking. Mrs. Kemp went up to her and
tried to look at her face.

'Don't cry, dearie; tell us wot it is.'

Liza sat up and dried her eyes.

'I am so un'appy!'

'Wot 'ave yer been doin' ter yer fice? My!'

'Nothin'.'

'Garn! Yer can't 'ave got a fice like thet all by itself.'

'I 'ad a bit of a scrimmage with a woman dahn the street,' sobbed out
Liza.

'She 'as give yer a doin'; an' yer all upset-- an' look at yer eye! I
brought in a little bit of stike for ter-morrer's dinner; you just cut
a bit off an' put it over yer optic, that'll soon put it right. I
always used ter do thet myself when me an' your poor father 'ad
words.'

'Oh, I'm all over in a tremble, an' my 'ead, oo, my 'ead does feel
bad!'

'I know wot yer want,' remarked Mrs. Kemp, nodding her head, 'an' it so
'appens as I've got the very thing with me.' She pulled a medicine
bottle out of her pocket, and taking out the cork smelt it. 'Thet's
good stuff, none of your firewater or your methylated spirit. I don't
often indulge in sich things, but when I do I likes to 'ave the best.'

She handed the bottle to Liza, who took a mouthful and gave it her
back; she had a drink herself, and smacked her lips.

Thet's good stuff. 'Ave a drop more.'

'Na,' said Liza, 'I ain't used ter drinkin' spirits.'

She felt dull and miserable, and a heavy pain throbbed through her
head. If she could only forget!

'Na, I know you're not, but, bless your soul, thet won' 'urt yer.
It'll do you no end of good. Why, often when I've been feelin' thet
done up thet I didn't know wot ter do with myself, I've just 'ad a
little drop of whisky or gin-- I'm not partic'ler wot spirit it is-- an'
it's pulled me up wonderful.'

Liza took another sip, a slightly longer one; it burnt as it went down
her throat, and sent through her a feeling of comfortable warmth.

'I really do think it's doin' me good,' she said, wiping her eyes and
giving a sigh of relief as the crying ceased.

'I knew it would. Tike my word for it, if people took a little drop of
spirits in time, there'd be much less sickness abaht.'

They sat for a while in silence, then Mrs. Kemp remarked:

'Yer know, Liza, it strikes me as 'ow we could do with a drop more.
You not bein' in the 'abit of tikin' anythin' I only brought just this
little drop for me; an' it ain't took us long ter finish thet up. But
as you're an invalid like we'll git a little more this time; it's sure
ter turn aht useful.'

'But you ain't got nothin' ter put it in.'

'Yus, I 'ave,' answered Mrs. Kemp; 'there's thet bottle as they gives
me at the 'orspital. Just empty the medicine aht into the pile, an'
wash it aht, an' I'll tike it round to the pub myself.'

Liza, when she was left alone, began to turn things over in her mind.
She did not feel so utterly unhappy as before, for the things she had
gone through seemed further away.

'After all,' she said, 'it don't so much matter.'

Mrs. Kemp came in.

''Ave a little drop more, Liza.' she said.

'Well, I don't mind if I do. I'll get some tumblers, shall I? There's
no mistike abaht it,' she added, when she had taken a little, 'it do
buck yer up.'

'You're right, Liza-- you're right. An' you wanted it badly. Fancy you
'avin' a fight with a woman! Oh, I've 'ad some in my day, but then I
wasn't a little bit of a thing like you is. I wish I'd been there, I
wouldn't 'ave stood by an' looked on while my daughter was gettin' the
worst of it; although I'm turned sixty-five, an' gettin' on for
sixty-six, I'd 'ave said to 'er: "If you touch my daughter you'll 'ave
me ter deal with, so just look aht!"'

She brandished her glass, and that reminding her, she refilled it and
Liza's.

'Ah, Liza,' she remarked, 'you're a chip of the old block. Ter see you
settin' there an' 'avin' your little drop, it mikes me feel as if I
was livin' a better life. Yer used ter be rather 'ard on me, Liza,
'cause I took a little drop on Saturday nights. An', mind, I don't sy
I didn't tike a little drop too much sometimes-- accidents will occur
even in the best regulated of families, but wot I say is this-- it's
good stuff, I say, an' it don't 'urt yer.'

'Buck up, old gal!' said Liza, filling the glasses, 'no 'eel-taps. I
feel like a new woman now. I was thet dahn in the dumps-- well, I
shouldn't 'ave cared if I'd been at the bottom of the river, an'
thet's the truth.'

'You don't sy so,' replied her affectionate mother.

'Yus, I do, an' I mean it too, but I don't feel like thet now. You're
right, mother, when you're in trouble there's nothin' like a bit of
spirits.'

'Well, if I don't know, I dunno 'oo does, for the trouble I've 'ad, it
'ud be enough to kill many women. Well, I've 'ad thirteen children,
an' you can think wot thet was; everyone I 'ad I used ter sy I
wouldn't 'ave no more-- but one does, yer know. You'll 'ave a family
some day, Liza, an' I shouldn't wonder if you didn't 'ave as many as
me. We come from a very prodigal family, we do, we've all gone in ter
double figures, except your Aunt Mary, who only 'ad three-- but then
she wasn't married, so it didn't count, like.'

They drank each other's health. Everything was getting blurred to
Liza, she was losing her head.

'Yus,' went on Mrs. Kemp, 'I've 'ad thirteen children an' I'm proud of
it. As your poor dear father used ter sy, it shows as 'ow one's got
the blood of a Briton in one. Your poor dear father, 'e was a great
'and at speakin' 'e was: 'e used ter speak at parliamentary
meetin's-- I really believe 'e'd 'ave been a Member of Parliament if
'e'd been alive now. Well, as I was sayin', your father 'e used ter
sy, "None of your small families for me, I don't approve of them,"
says 'e. 'E was a man of very 'igh principles, an' by politics 'e was
a Radical. "No," says 'e, when 'e got talkin', "when a man can 'ave a
family risin' into double figures, it shows 'e's got the backbone of a
Briton in 'im. That's the stuff as 'as built up England's nime and
glory! When one thinks of the mighty British Hempire," says 'e, "on
which the sun never sets from mornin' till night, one 'as ter be proud
of 'isself, an' one 'as ter do one's duty in thet walk of life in
which it 'as pleased Providence ter set one-- an' every man's fust duty
is ter get as many children as 'e bloomin' well can." Lord love
yer-- 'e could talk, I can tell yer.'

'Drink up, mother,' said Liza. 'You're not 'alf drinkin'.' She
flourished the bottle. 'I don't care a twopanny 'ang for all them
blokes; I'm quite 'appy, an' I don't want anythin' else.'

'I can see you're my daughter now,' said Mrs. Kemp. 'When yer used ter
round on me I used ter think as 'ow if I 'adn't carried yer for nine
months, it must 'ave been some mistike, an' yer wasn't my daughter at
all. When you come ter think of it, a man 'e don't know if it's 'is
child or somebody else's, but yer can't deceive a woman like thet. Yer
couldn't palm off somebody else's kid on 'er.'

'I am beginnin' ter feel quite lively,' said Liza. 'I dunno wot it is,
but I feel as if I wanted to laugh till I fairly split my sides.'

And she began to sing: 'For 'e's a jolly good feller-- for 'e's a jolly
good feller!'

Her dress was all disarranged; her face covered with the scars of
scratches, and clots of blood had fixed under her nose; her eye had
swollen up so that it was nearly closed, and red; her hair was hanging
over her face and shoulders, and she laughed stupidly and leered with
heavy, sodden ugliness.

'Disy, Disy! I can't afford a kerridge.
But you'll look neat, on the seat
Of a bicycle mide for two.'

She shouted out the tunes, beating time on the table, and her mother,
grinning, with her thin, grey hair hanging dishevelled over her head,
joined in with her weak, cracked voice--

'Oh, dem golden kippers, oh!'

Then Liza grew more melancholy and broke into 'Auld Lang Syne'.

'Should old acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?

* * * * *

For old lang syne'.

Finally they both grew silent, and in a little while there came a
snore from Mrs. Kemp; her head fell forward to her chest; Liza tumbled
from her chair on to the bed, and sprawling across it fell asleep.

'"Although I am drunk and bad, be you kind,
Cast a glance at this heart which is bewildered and distressed.
O God, take away from my mind my cry and my complaint.
Offer wine, and take sorrow from my remembrance.
Offer wine."'
 

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