Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1033
Liza Kemp spent most of her free time on the streets of Lambeth. She was not exactly a loose girl, but her dress and actions provoked whistles and jeers whenever she appeared. Liza’s father was dead, and her mother, living on a small pension, earned enough as a charwoman to keep herself in beer. She never spoke a kind word to her daughter, although she expected Liza to hand over all of her money and spend all her time with her mother. Like most girls of her class, Liza worked in a factory and made only enough money to live and to buy a few items of cheap finery.
After a merry dance in the streets of Lambeth, Liza was chased by several young men trying to kiss her. As she fled, only half in earnest, she ran straight into the arms of a stranger and was soundly kissed. She flounced off and found herself strangely moved by the unexpected experience. That night Tom, her earnest and persistent suitor, called on her as usual. Although Liza liked Tom, she did not love him, and so she tried to send him away without hurting his feelings. Tom, however, was stubborn. He begged her to take time to consider his proposal. When he asked her to go on an outing the next day, she refused. She did not want him to spend his money or his hopes on her.
Later, her friend Sally also begged her to go on the outing. When she learned that the stranger who had kissed her would be one of the party, Liza relented against her better judgment. She had learned that the stranger was Jim Blakeston, a married man and the father of five children. Jim’s wife went on the outing too, but Jim paid little attention to her. Instead, he spent most of his time following Liza and Tom around. Jim’s actions angered Tom, but the poor young man was too much in love to blame Liza for encouraging the older man.
After the excursion, Jim followed Liza home and kissed her passionately. She knew that she should be angry, but she was also flattered and pleased. From that night on, Liza was lost. When Jim asked her to walk with him or to meet him at a show, she refused; then she kept the appointment anyway. Although she knew they were both wrong, she seemed powerless to withdraw from his influence. They tried to avoid people they knew, but Liza was afraid that they would be seen sooner or later. At last, she grew reckless and allowed Jim to seduce her.
The next few weeks were heaven for Liza. She loved Jim deeply, and he returned her love; but Liza knew that people were beginning to talk about her. Young men and girls yelled insults to her. Even Tom insulted her once, and that fact hurt her because she knew that Tom was good and kind and she hated to lose his former opinion of her. Her love was too strong, however, to be permanently affected by the insults she received. Jim even offered to leave his wife and take her away to another part of the city, but Liza knew that they would always be in danger of being caught. She also realized that Jim loved his children and would be unhappy away from them. Furthermore, Liza felt that she could not leave her mother. Although the old woman had never been much of a mother, Liza thought it her duty to stay with her. There seemed nothing for Liza and Jim to do but to continue as they were or to part entirely. Neither could think of parting.
After Liza’s friend Sally was married, her happiness made Liza even more miserable in her own shame. Later, she learned that Sally’s happiness was only superficial. Her husband beat her regularly, but the girl was too proud to let anyone but Liza know. Liza also had a shock. Once she was late for an appointment with Jim, and he drank too much while he waited for her. When she tried to keep him from going back into the pub for more beer, he struck her in the eye. He was instantly contrite, but the damage to Liza’s heart never quite mended.
Sally warned Liza one day that Jim’s wife was looking for her. To avoid a public scene, Liza tried to keep clear of Mrs. Blakeston, who was much the larger and stronger of the two. In a fight, Liza realized that she would be bested; but at last they met, and Mrs. Blakeston gave Liza a horrible beating. Outclassed from the beginning, the girl fought gamely. Tom and Jim appeared almost simultaneously and stopped the fight, Tom carrying Liza home tenderly and Jim threatening to kill his wife for hurting Liza.
Tom loved Liza so much that he wanted to marry her, although he knew all the gossip about her; he had insulted her in the past because of his hurt. Even when she told him that she was going to have Jim’s baby, Tom still wanted to have her for his wife. Liza, however, refused him again; Tom was too good to be tied to a woman of her reputation.
Jim himself almost killed his wife. He was prevented from doing so only by the intervention of a neighbor woman.
Later that night, Liza awoke with a burning fever and intense pain. For the next day or two, she suffered terribly, and at last her mother became worried enough to send for a midwife. The woman knew at once that Liza had miscarried and was gravely ill. Although they sent for a doctor, the midwife knew that there was little hope for the girl. Tom called regularly, out of his mind with worry. When she was conscious, Liza looked only for Jim. He came as soon as he heard about her condition, but he was too late to give any comfort to the dying girl. She lay unconscious for several hours and then quietly died. As the doctor covered her face, Jim turned away, weary and defeated.
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