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Somerset Maugham
Liza of Lambeth 10
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It was November. The fine weather had quite gone now, and with it much
of the sweet pleasure of Jim and Liza's love. When they came out at
night on the Embankment they found it cold and dreary; sometimes a
light fog covered the river-banks, and made the lamps glow out dim and
large; a light rain would be falling, which sent a chill into their
very souls; foot passengers came along at rare intervals, holding up
umbrellas, and staring straight in front of them as they hurried along
in the damp and cold; a cab would pass rapidly by, splashing up the
mud on each side. The benches were deserted, except, perhaps, for some
poor homeless wretch who could afford no shelter, and, huddled up in a
corner, with his head buried in his breast, was sleeping heavily, like
a dead man. The wet mud made Liza's skirts cling about her feet, and
the damp would come in and chill her legs and creep up her body, till
she shivered, and for warmth pressed herself close against Jim.
Sometimes they would go into the third-class waiting-rooms at Waterloo
or Charing Cross and sit there, but it was not like the park or the
Embankment on summer nights; they had warmth, but the heat made their
wet clothes steam and smell, and the gas flared in their eyes, and
they hated the people perpetually coming in and out, opening the doors
and letting in a blast of cold air; they hated the noise of the guards
and porters shouting out the departure of the trains, the shrill
whistling of the steam-engine, the hurry and bustle and confusion.
About eleven o'clock, when the trains grew less frequent, they got
some quietness; but then their minds were troubled, and they felt
heavy, sad and miserable.

One evening they had been sitting at Waterloo Station; it was foggy
outside-- a thick, yellow November fog, which filled the waiting-room,
entering the lungs, and making the mouth taste nasty and the eyes
smart. It was about half-past eleven, and the station was unusually
quiet; a few passengers, in wraps and overcoats, were walking to and
fro, waiting for the last train, and one or two porters were standing
about yawning. Liza and Jim had remained for an hour in perfect
silence, filled with a gloomy unhappiness, as of a great weight on
their brains. Liza was sitting forward, with her elbows on her knees,
resting her face on her hands.

'I wish I was straight,' she said at last, not looking up.

'Well, why won't yer come along of me altogether, an' you'll be
arright then?' he answered.

'Na, that's no go; I can't do thet.' He had often asked her to live
with him entirely, but she had always refused.

'You can come along of me, an' I'll tike a room in a lodgin' 'ouse in
'Olloway, an' we can live there as if we was married.'

'Wot abaht yer work?'

'I can get work over the other side as well as I can 'ere. I'm abaht
sick of the wy things is goin' on.'

'So am I; but I can't leave mother.'

'She can come, too.'

'Not when I'm not married. I shouldn't like 'er ter know as I'd-- as
I'd gone wrong.'

'Well, I'll marry yer. Swop me bob, I wants ter badly enough.'

'Yer can't; yer married already.'

'Thet don't matter! If I give the missus so much a week aht of my
screw, she'll sign a piper ter give up all clime ter me, an' then we
can get spliced. One of the men as I works with done thet, an' it was
arright.'

Liza shook her head.

'Na, yer can't do thet now; it's bigamy, an' the cop tikes yer, an'
yer gits twelve months' 'ard for it.'

'But swop me bob, Liza, I can't go on like this. Yer knows the
missus-- well, there ain't no bloomin' doubt abaht it, she knows as you
an' me are carryin' on, an' she mikes no bones abaht lettin' me see
it.'

'She don't do thet?'

'Well, she don't exactly sy it, but she sulks an' won't speak, an'
then when I says anythin' she rounds on me an' calls me all the nimes
she can think of. I'd give 'er a good 'idin', but some'ow I don't like
ter! She mikes the plice a 'ell ter me, an' I'm not goin' ter stand it
no longer!'

'You'll ave ter sit it, then; yer can't chuck it.'

'Yus I can, an' I would if you'd come along of me. I don't believe you
like me at all, Liza, or you'd come.'

She turned towards him and put her arms round his neck.

'Yer know I do, old cock,' she said. 'I like yer better than anyone
else in the world; but I can't go awy an' leave mother.'

'Bli'me me if I see why; she's never been much ter you. She mikes yer
slave awy ter pay the rent, an' all the money she earns she boozes.'

'Thet's true, she ain't been wot yer might call a good mother ter
me-- but some'ow she's my mother, an' I don't like ter leave 'er on 'er
own, now she's so old-- an' she can't do much with the rheumatics. An'
besides, Jim dear, it ain't only mother, but there's yer own kids, yer
can't leave them.'

He thought for a while, and then said:

'You're abaht right there, Liza; I dunno if I could get on without the
kids. If I could only tike them an' you too, swop me bob, I should be
'appy.'

Liza smiled sadly.

'So yer see, Jim, we're in a bloomin' 'ole, an' there ain't no way aht
of it thet I can see.'

He took her on his knees, and pressing her to him, kissed her very
long and very lovingly.

'Well, we must trust ter luck,' she said again, 'p'raps somethin' 'll
'appen soon, an' everythin' 'll come right in the end-- when we gets
four balls of worsted for a penny.'

It was past twelve, and separating, they went by different ways along
the dreary, wet, deserted roads till they came to Vere Street.

The street seemed quite different to Liza from what it had been three
months before. Tom, the humble adorer, had quite disappeared from her
life. One day, three or four weeks after the August Bank Holiday, she
saw him dawdling along the pavement, and it suddenly struck her that
she had not seen him for a long time; but she had been so full of her
happiness that she had been unable to think of anyone but Jim. She
wondered at his absence, since before wherever she had been there was
he certain to be also. She passed him, but to her astonishment he did
not speak to her. She thought by some wonder he had not seen her, but
she felt his gaze resting upon her. She turned back, and suddenly he
dropped his eyes and looked down, walking on as if he had not seen
her, but blushing furiously.

'Tom,' she said, 'why don't yer speak ter me.'

He started and blushed more than ever.

'I didn't know yer was there,' he stuttered.

'Don't tell me,' she said, 'wot's up?'

'Nothin' as I knows of,' he answered uneasily.

'I ain't offended yer, 'ave I, Tom?'

'Na, not as I knows of,' he replied, looking very unhappy.

'You don't ever come my way now,' she said.

'I didn't know as yer wanted ter see me.'

'Garn! Yer knows I likes you as well as anybody.'

'Yer likes so many people, Liza,' he said, flushing.

'What d'yer mean?' said Liza indignantly, but very red; she was afraid
he knew now, and it was from him especially she would have been so
glad to hide it.

'Nothin',' he answered.

'One doesn't say things like thet without any meanin', unless one's a
blimed fool.'

'You're right there, Liza,' he answered. 'I am a blimed fool.' He
looked at her a little reproachfully, she thought, and then he said
'Good-bye,' and turned away.

At first she was horrified that he should know of her love for Jim,
but then she did not care. After all, it was nobody's business, and
what did anything matter as long as she loved Jim and Jim loved her?
Then she grew angry that Tom should suspect her; he could know nothing
but that some of the men had seen her with Jim near Vauxhall, and it
seemed mean that he should condemn her for that. Thenceforward, when
she ran against Tom, she cut him; he never tried to speak to her, but
as she passed him, pretending to look in front of her, she could see
that he always blushed, and she fancied his eyes were very sorrowful.
Then several weeks went by, and as she began to feel more and more
lonely in the street she regretted the quarrel; she cried a little as
she thought that she had lost his faithful gentle love and she would
have much liked to be friends with him again. If he had only made some
advance she would have welcomed him so cordially, but she was too
proud to go to him herself and beg him to forgive her-- and then how
could he forgive her?

She had lost Sally too, for on her marriage Harry had made her give up
the factory; he was a young man with principles worthy of a Member of
Parliament, and he had said:

'A woman's plice is 'er 'ome, an' if 'er old man can't afford ter keep
'er without 'er workin' in a factory-- well, all I can say is thet 'e'd
better go an' git single.'

'Quite right, too,' agreed his mother-in-law; 'an' wot's more, she'll
'ave a baby ter look after soon, an' thet'll tike 'er all 'er time,
an' there's no one as knows thet better than me, for I've 'ad twelve,
ter sy nothin' of two stills an' one miss.'

Liza quite envied Sally her happiness, for the bride was brimming
over with song and laughter; her happiness overwhelmed her.

'I am 'appy,' she said to Liza one day a few weeks after her marriage.
'You dunno wot a good sort 'Arry is. 'E's just a darlin', an' there's
no mistikin' it. I don't care wot other people sy, but wot I says is,
there's nothin' like marriage. Never a cross word passes his lips, an'
mother 'as all 'er meals with us an' 'e says all the better. Well I'm
thet 'appy I simply dunno if I'm standin' on my 'ead or on my 'eels.'

But alas! it did not last too long. Sally was not so full of joy when
next Liza met her, and one day her eyes looked very much as if she had
been crying.

'Wot's the matter?' asked Liza, looking at her. 'Wot 'ave yer been
blubberin' abaht?'

'Me?' said Sally, getting very red. 'Oh, I've got a bit of a
toothache, an'-- well, I'm rather a fool like, an' it 'urt so much that
I couldn't 'elp cryin'.'

Liza was not satisfied, but could get nothing further out of her. Then
one day it came out. It was a Saturday night, the time when women in
Vere Street weep. Liza went up into Sally's room for a few minutes on
her way to the Westminster Bridge Road, where she was to meet Jim.
Harry had taken the top back room, and Liza, climbing up the second
flight of stairs, called out as usual.

'Wot ho, Sally!'

The door remained shut, although Liza could see that there was a light
in the room; but on getting to the door she stood still, for she heard
the sound of sobbing. She listened for a minute and then knocked:
there was a little flurry inside, and someone called out:

''Oo's there?'

'Only me,' said Liza, opening the door. As she did so she saw Sally
rapidly wipe her eyes and put her handkerchief away. Her mother was
sitting by her side, evidently comforting her.

'Wot's up, Sal?' asked Liza.

'Nothin',' answered Sally, with a brave little gasp to stop the
crying, turning her face downwards so that Liza should not see the
tears in her eyes; but they were too strong for her, and, quickly
taking out her handkerchief, she hid her face in it and began to sob
broken-heartedly. Liza looked at the mother in interrogation.

'Oh, it's thet man again!' said the lady, snorting and tossing her
head.

'Not 'Arry?' asked Liza, in surprise.

'Not 'Arry-- 'oo is it if it ain't 'Arry? The villin!'

'Wot's 'e been doin', then?' asked Liza again.

'Beatin' 'er, that's wot 'e's been doin'! Oh, the villin, 'e oughter
be ashimed of 'isself 'e ought!'

'I didn't know 'e was like that!' said Liza.

'Didn't yer? I thought the 'ole street knew it by now,' said Mrs.
Cooper indignantly. 'Oh, 'e's a wrong 'un, 'e is.'

'It wasn't 'is fault,' put in Sally, amidst her sobs; 'it's only
because 'e's 'ad a little drop too much. 'E's arright when 'e's
sober.'

'A little drop too much! I should just think 'e'd 'ad, the beast! I'd
give it 'im if I was a man. They're all like thet-- 'usbinds is all
alike; they're arright when they're sober-- sometimes-- but when
they've got the liquor in 'em, they're beasts, an' no mistike. I 'ad
a 'usbind myself for five-an'-twenty years, an' I know 'em.'

'Well, mother,' sobbed Sally, 'it was all my fault. I should 'ave come
'ome earlier.'

'Na, it wasn't your fault at all. Just you look 'ere, Liza: this is
wot 'e done an' call 'isself a man. Just because Sally'd gone aht to
'ave a chat with Mrs. McLeod in the next 'ouse, when she come in 'e
start bangin' 'er abaht. An' me, too, wot d'yer think of that!' Mrs.
Cooper was quite purple with indignation.

'Yus,' she went on, 'thet's a man for yer. Of course, I wasn't goin'
ter stand there an' see my daughter bein' knocked abaht; it wasn't
likely-- was it? An' 'e rounds on me, an' 'e 'its me with 'is fist.
Look 'ere.' She pulled up her sleeves and showed two red and brawny
arms. ''E's bruised my arms; I thought 'e'd broken it at fust. If I
'adn't put my arm up, 'e'd 'ave got me on the 'ead, an' 'e might 'ave
killed me. An' I says to 'im, "If you touch me again, I'll go ter the
police-station, thet I will!" Well, that frightened 'im a bit, an'
then didn't I let 'im 'ave it! "You call yerself a man," says I, "an'
you ain't fit ter clean the drains aht." You should 'ave 'eard the
language 'e used. "You dirty old woman," says 'e, "you go away; you're
always interferin' with me." Well, I don't like ter repeat wot 'e
said, and thet's the truth. An' I says ter 'im, "I wish yer'd never
married my daughter, an' if I'd known you was like this I'd 'ave died
sooner than let yer."'

'Well, I didn't know 'e was like thet!' said Liza.

''E was arright at fust,' said Sally.

'Yus, they're always arright at fust! But ter think it should 'ave
come to this now, when they ain't been married three months, an' the
first child not born yet! I think it's disgraceful.'

Liza stayed a little while longer, helping to comfort Sally, who kept
pathetically taking to herself all the blame of the dispute; and then,
bidding her good night and better luck, she slid off to meet Jim.

When she reached the appointed spot he was not to be found. She waited
for some time, and at last saw him come out of the neighbouring pub.

'Good night, Jim,' she said as she came up to him.

'So you've turned up, 'ave yer?' he answered roughly, turning round.

'Wot's the matter, Jim?' she asked in a frightened way, for he had
never spoken to her in that manner.

'Nice thing ter keep me witin' all night for yer to come aht.'

She saw that he had been drinking, and answered humbly.

'I'm very sorry, Jim, but I went in to Sally, an' 'er bloke 'ad been
knockin' 'er abaht, an' so I sat with 'er a bit.'

'Knockin' 'er abaht, 'ad 'e? and serve 'er damn well right too; an'
there's many more as could do with a good 'idin'!'

Liza did not answer. He looked at her, and then suddenly said:

'Come in an' 'ave a drink.'

'Na, I'm not thirsty; I don't want a drink,' she answered.

'Come on,' he said angrily.

'Na, Jim, you've had quite enough already.'

''Oo are you talkin' ter?' he said. 'Don't come if yer don't want ter;
I'll go an' 'ave one by myself.'

'Na, Jim, don't.' She caught hold of his arm.

'Yus, I shall,' he said, going towards the pub, while she held him
back. 'Let me go, can't yer! Let me go!' He roughly pulled his arm
away from her. As she tried to catch hold of it again, he pushed her
back, and in the little scuffle caught her a blow over the face.

'Oh!' she cried, 'you did 'urt!'

He was sobered at once.

'Liza,' he said. 'I ain't 'urt yer?' She didn't answer, and he took
her in his arms. 'Liza, I ain't 'urt you, 'ave I? Say I ain't 'urt
yer. I'm so sorry, I beg your pardon, Liza.'

'Arright, old chap,' she said, smiling charmingly on him. 'It wasn't
the blow that 'urt me much; it was the wy you was talkin'.'

'I didn't mean it, Liza.' He was so contrite, he could not humble
himself enough. 'I 'ad another bloomin' row with the missus ter-night,
an' then when I didn't find you 'ere, an' I kept witin' an'
witin'-- well, I fair downright lost my 'air. An' I 'ad two or three
pints of four 'alf, an'-- well, I dunno--'

'Never mind, old cock. I can stand more than thet as long as yer loves
me.'

He kissed her and they were quite friends again. But the little
quarrel had another effect which was worse for Liza. When she woke up
next morning she noticed a slight soreness over the ridge of bone
under the left eye, and on looking in the glass saw that it was black
and blue and green. She bathed it, but it remained, and seemed to get
more marked. She was terrified lest people should see it, and kept
indoors all day; but next morning it was blacker than ever. She went
to the factory with her hat over her eyes and her head bent down; she
escaped observation, but on the way home she was not so lucky. The
sharp eyes of some girls noticed it first.

'Wot's the matter with yer eye?' asked one of them.

'Me?' answered Liza, putting her hand up as if in ignorance. 'Nothin'
thet I knows of.'

Two or three young men were standing by, and hearing the girl, looked
up.

'Why, yer've got a black eye, Liza!'

'Me? I ain't got no black eye!'

'Yus you 'ave; 'ow d'yer get it?'

'I dunno,' said Liza. 'I didn't know I 'ad one.'

'Garn! tell us another!' was the answer. 'One doesn't git a black eye
without knowin' 'ow they got it.'

'Well, I did fall against the chest of drawers yesterday; I suppose I
must 'ave got it then.'

'Oh yes, we believe thet, don't we?'

'I didn't know 'e was so 'andy with 'is dukes, did you, Ted?' asked
one man of another.

Liza felt herself grow red to the tips of her toes.

'Who?' she asked.

'Never you mind; nobody you know.'

At that moment Jim's wife passed and looked at her with a scowl. Liza
wished herself a hundred miles away, and blushed more violently than
ever.

'Wot are yer blushin' abaht?' ingenuously asked one of the girls.

And they all looked from her to Mrs. Blakeston and back again. Someone
said: ''Ow abaht our Sunday boots on now?' And a titter went through
them. Liza's nerve deserted her; she could think of nothing to say,
and a sob burst from her. To hide the tears which were coming from her
eyes she turned away and walked homewards. Immediately a great shout
of laughter broke from the group, and she heard them positively
screaming till she got into her own house.
 

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