J.M. Barrie.

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Three nice old ladies and a criminal, who is even nicer, are discussing
the war over a cup of tea. The criminal, who is the hostess, calls it a
dish of tea, which shows that she comes from Caledonia; but that is not
her crime.

They are all London charwomen, but three of them, including the hostess,
are what are called professionally 'charwomen _and_' or simply
'ands.' An 'and' is also a caretaker when required; her name is entered
as such in ink in a registry book, financial transactions take place
across a counter between her and the registrar, and altogether she is of
a very different social status from one who, like Mrs. Haggerty, is a
charwoman but nothing else. Mrs. Haggerty, though present, is not at the
party by invitation; having seen Mrs. Dowey buying the winkles, she
followed her downstairs, so has shuffled into the play and sat down in
it against our wish. We would remove her by force, or at least print her
name in small letters, were it not that she takes offence very readily
and says that nobody respects her. So, as you have slipped in, you sit
there, Mrs. Haggerty; but keep quiet.

There is nothing doing at present in the caretaking way for Mrs. Dowey,
our hostess; but this does not damp her, caretaking being only to such
as she an extra financially and a halo socially. If she had the honour
of being served with an income-tax paper she would probably fill in one
of the nasty little compartments with the words, 'Trade - charring;
Profession (if any) - caretaking.' This home of hers (from which, to look
after your house, she makes occasionally temporary departures in great
style, escorting a barrow) is in one of those what-care-I streets that
you discover only when you have lost your way; on discovering them, your
duty is to report them to the authorities, who immediately add them to
the map of London. That is why we are now reporting Friday Street. We
shall call it, in the rough sketch drawn for to-morrow's press, 'Street
in which the criminal resided'; and you will find Mrs. Dowey's home
therein marked with a X.

Her abode really consists of one room, but she maintains that there are
two; so, rather than argue, let us say that there are two. The other one
has no window, and she could not swish her old skirts in it without
knocking something over; its grandest display is of tin pans and
crockery on top of a dresser which has a lid to it; you have but to whip
off the utensils and raise the lid, and, behold, a bath with hot and
cold. Mrs. Dowey is very proud of this possession, and when she shows it
off, as she does perhaps too frequently, she first signs to you with
closed fist (funny old thing that she is) to approach softly. She then
tiptoes to the dresser and pops off the lid, as if to take the bath
unawares. Then she sucks her lips, and is modest if you have the grace
to do the exclamations.

In the real room is a bed, though that is putting the matter too
briefly. The fair way to begin, if you love Mrs. Dowey, is to say to her
that it is a pity she has no bed. If she is in her best form she will
chuckle, and agree that the want of a bed tries her sore; she will keep
you on the hooks, so to speak, as long as she can; and then, with that
mouse-like movement again, she will suddenly spring the bed on you. You
thought it was a wardrobe, but she brings it down from the wall; and lo,
a bed. There is nothing else in her abode (which we now see to contain
four rooms - kitchen, pantry, bedroom, and bathroom) that is absolutely
a surprise; but it is full of 'bits,' every one of which has been paid
ready money for, and gloated over and tended until it has become part of
its owner. Genuine Doweys, the dealers might call them, though there is
probably nothing in the place except the bed that would fetch

Her home is in the basement, so that the view is restricted to the lower
half of persons passing overhead beyond the area stairs. Here at the
window Mrs. Dowey sometimes sits of a summer evening gazing, not
sentimentally at a flower-pot which contains one poor bulb, nor
yearningly at some tiny speck of sky, but with unholy relish at holes in
stockings, and the like, which are revealed to her from her point of
vantage. You, gentle reader, may flaunt by, thinking that your finery
awes the street, but Mrs. Dowey can tell (and does) that your soles are
in need of neat repair.

Also, lower parts being as expressive as the face to those whose view is
thus limited, she could swear to scores of the passers-by in a court of

These four lively old codgers are having a good time at the tea-table,
and wit is flowing free. As you can see by their everyday garments, and
by their pails and mops (which are having a little tea-party by
themselves in the corner), it is not a gathering by invitations
stretching away into yesterday, it is a purely informal affair; so much
more attractive, don't you think? than banquets elaborately prearranged.
You know how they come about, especially in war-time. Very likely Mrs.
Dowey met Mrs. Twymley and Mrs. Mickleham quite casually in the street,
and meant to do no more than the time of day; then, naturally enough,
the word camouflage was mentioned, and they got heated, but in the end
Mrs. Twymley apologised; then, in the odd way in which one thing leads
to another, the winkle man appeared, and Mrs. Dowey remembered that she
had that pot of jam and that Mrs. Mickleham had stood treat last time;
and soon they were all three descending the area stairs, followed
cringingly by the Haggerty Woman.

They have been extremely merry, and never were four hard-worked old
ladies who deserved it better. All a woman can do in war-time they do
daily and cheerfully. Just as their men-folk are doing it at the Front;
and now, with the mops and pails laid aside, they sprawl gracefully at
ease. There is no intention on their part to consider peace terms until
a decisive victory has been gained in the field (Sarah Ann Dowey), until
the Kaiser is put to the right-about (Emma Mickleham), and singing very
small (Amelia Twymley).

At this tea-party the lady who is to play the part of Mrs. Dowey is sure
to want to suggest that our heroine has a secret sorrow, namely, the
crime; but you should see us knocking that idea out of her head! Mrs.
Dowey knows she is a criminal, but, unlike the actress, she does not
know that she is about to be found out; and she is, to put it bluntly in
her own Scotch way, the merriest of the whole clanjamfry. She presses
more tea on her guests, but they wave her away from them in the pretty
manner of ladies who know that they have already had more than enough.

MRS. DOWEY. 'Just one more winkle, Mrs. Mickleham?' Indeed there is only
one more.

But Mrs. Mickleham indicates politely that if she took this one it would
have to swim for it. (The Haggerty Woman takes it long afterwards when
she thinks, erroneously, that no one is looking.)

Mrs. Twymley is sulking. Evidently some one has contradicted her.
Probably the Haggerty Woman.

MRS. TWYMLEY. 'I say it is so.'

THE HAGGERTY WOMAN. 'I say it may be so.'

MRS. TWYMLEY. 'I suppose I ought to know: me that has a son a prisoner
in Germany.' She has so obviously scored that all good feeling seems to
call upon her to end here. But she continues rather shabbily, 'Being the
only lady present that has that proud misfortune.' The others are stung.

MRS. DOWEY. 'My son is fighting in France.'

MRS. MICKLEHAM. 'Mine is wounded in two places.'

THE HAGGERTY WOMAN. 'Mine is at Salonaiky.'

The absurd pronunciation of this uneducated person moves the others to

MRS. DOWEY. 'You'll excuse us, Mrs. Haggerty, but the correct
pronunciation is Salonikky.'

THE HAGGERTY WOMAN, to cover her confusion. 'I don't think.' She feels
that even this does not prove her case. 'And I speak as one that has War
Savings Certificates.'

MRS. TWYMLEY. 'We all have them.'

The Haggerty Woman whimpers, and the other guests regard her with
unfeeling disdain.

MRS. DOWEY, to restore cheerfulness, 'Oh, it's a terrible war.'

ALL, brightening, 'It is. You may say so.'

MRS. DOWEY, encouraged, 'What I say is, the men is splendid, but I'm
none so easy about the staff. That's your weak point, Mrs. Mickleham.'

MRS. MICKLEHAM, on the defence, but determined to reveal nothing that
might be of use to the enemy, 'You may take it from me, the staff's all

MRS. DOWEY. 'And very relieved I am to hear you say it.'

It is here that the Haggerty Woman has the remaining winkle.

MRS. MICKLEHAM. 'You don't understand properly about trench warfare. If
I had a map - - '

MRS. DOWEY, wetting her finger to draw lines on the table. 'That's the
river Sommy. Now, if we had barrages here - - '

MRS. TWYMLEY. 'Very soon you would be enfilided. Where's your supports,
my lady?' Mrs. Dowey is damped.

MRS. MICKLEHAM. 'What none of you grasps is that this is a artillery
war - - '

THE HAGGERTY WOMAN, strengthened by the winkle, 'I say that the word is

The others purse their lips.

MRS. TWYMLEY, with terrible meaning, 'We'll change the subject. Have you
seen this week's _Fashion Chat_?' She has evidently seen and
devoured it herself, and even licked up the crumbs. 'The gabardine with
accordion pleats has quite gone out.'

MRS. DOWEY, her old face sparkling. 'My sakes! You tell me?'

MRS. TWYMLEY, with the touch of haughtiness that comes of great topics,
'The plain smock has come in again, with silk lacing, giving that
charming chic effect.'

MRS. DOWEY. 'Oho!'

MRS. MICKLEHAM. 'I must say I was always partial to the straight
line' - thoughtfully regarding the want of line in Mrs. Twymley's
person - 'though trying to them as is of too friendly a figure.'

It is here that the Haggerty Woman's fingers close unostentatiously upon
a piece of sugar.

MRS. TWYMLEY, sailing into the Empyrean, 'Lady Dolly Kanister was seen
conversing across the railings in a dainty _de jou_.'

MRS. DOWEY. 'Fine would I have liked to see her.'

MRS. TWYMLEY. 'She is equally popular as maid, wife, and
munition-worker. Her two children is inset. Lady Pops Babington was
married in a tight tulle.'

MRS. MICKLEHAM. 'What was her going-away dress?'

MRS. TWYMLEY. 'A champagny cream velvet with dreamy corsage. She's
married to Colonel the Hon. Chingford - "Snubs," they called him at

THE HAGGERTY WOMAN, having disposed of the sugar, 'Very likely he'll be
sent to Salonaiky.'

MRS. MICKLEHAM. 'Wherever he is sent, she'll have the same tremors as
the rest of us. She'll be as keen to get the letters wrote with pencils
as you or me.'

MRS. TWYMLEY. 'Them pencil letters!'

MRS. DOWEY, in her sweet Scotch voice, timidly, afraid she may be going
too far, 'And women in enemy lands gets those pencil letters and then
stop getting them, the same as ourselves. Let's occasionally think of

She has gone too far. Chairs are pushed back.


MRS. MICKLEHAM. 'That's hardly language, Mrs. Dowey.'

MRS. DOWEY, scared, 'Kindly excuse. I swear to death I'm none of your

MRS. MICKLEHAM. 'Freely granted.'

MRS. TWYMLEY. 'I've heard of females that have no male relations, and so
they have no man-party at the wars. I've heard of them, but I don't mix
with them.'

MRS. MICKLEHAM. 'What can the likes of us have to say to them? It's not
their war.'

MRS. DOWEY, wistfully, 'They are to be pitied.'

MRS. MICKLEHAM. 'But the place for them, Mrs. Dowey, is within doors
with the blinds down.'

MRS. DOWEY, hurriedly, 'That's the place for them.'

MRS. MICKLEHAM. 'I saw one of them to-day buying a flag. I thought it
was very impudent of her.'

MRS. DOWEY, meekly, 'So it was.'

MRS. MICKLEHAM, trying to look modest with indifferent success, 'I had
a letter from my son, Percy, yesterday.'

MRS. TWYMLEY. 'Alfred sent me his photo.'

THE HAGGERTY WOMAN. 'Letters from Salonaiky is less common.'

Three bosoms heave, but not, alas, Mrs. Dowey's. Nevertheless she
doggedly knits her lips.

MRS. DOWEY, the criminal, 'Kenneth writes to me every week.' There are
exclamations. The dauntless old thing holds aloft a packet of letters.
'Look at this. All his.'

The Haggerty Woman whimpers.

MRS. TWYMLEY. 'Alfred has little time for writing, being a bombardier.'

MRS. DOWEY, relentlessly, 'Do your letters begin "Dear mother"?'

MRS. TWYMLEY. 'Generally.'

MRS. MICKLEHAM. 'Invariable.'


MRS. DOWEY, delivering the knock-out blow, 'Kenneth's begin "Dearest

No one can think of the right reply.

MRS. TWYMLEY, doing her best, 'A short man, I should say, judging by

She ought to have left it alone.

MRS. DOWEY. 'Six feet two-and a half.'

The gloom deepens.

MRS. MICKLEHAM, against her better judgment, 'A kilty, did you tell me?'

MRS. DOWEY. 'Most certainly. He's in the famous Black Watch.'

THE HAGGERTY WOMAN, producing her handkerchief, 'The Surrey Rifles is
the famousest.'

MRS. MICKLEHAM. 'There you and the King disagrees, Mrs. Haggerty. His
choice is the Buffs, same as my Percy's.'

MRS. TWYMLEY, magnanimously, 'Give me the R.H.A. and you can keep all
the rest.'

MRS. DOWEY. 'I'm sure I have nothing to say against the Surreys and the
R.H.A. and the Buffs; but they are just breeches regiments, I

THE HAGGERTY WOMAN. 'We can't all be kilties.'

MRS. DOWEY, crushingly, 'That's very true.'

MRS. TWYMLEY. It is foolish of her, but she can't help saying it. 'Has
your Kenneth great hairy legs?'

MRS. DOWEY. 'Tremendous.'

The wicked woman: but let us also say 'Poor Sarah Ann Dowey.' For at
this moment, enter Nemesis. In other words, the less important part of
a clergyman appears upon the stair.

MRS. MICKLEHAM. 'It's the reverent gent!'

MRS. DOWEY, little knowing what he is bringing her, 'I see he has had
his boots heeled.'

It may be said of Mr. Willings that his happy smile always walks in
front of him. This smile makes music of his life, it means that once
again he has been chosen, in his opinion, as the central figure in
romance. No one can well have led a more drab existence, but he will
never know it; he will always think of himself, humbly though elatedly,
as the chosen of the gods. Of him must it have been originally written
that adventures are for the adventurous. He meets them at every street
corner. For instance, he assists an old lady off a bus, and asks her if
he can be of any further help. She tells him that she wants to know the
way to Maddox the butcher's. Then comes the kind, triumphant smile; it
always comes first, followed by its explanation, 'I was there
yesterday!' This is the merest sample of the adventures that keep Mr.
Willings up to the mark.

Since the war broke out, his zest for life has become almost terrible.
He can scarcely lift a newspaper and read of a hero without remembering
that he knows some one of the name. The Soldiers' Rest he is connected
with was once a china emporium, and (mark my words), he had bought his
tea service at it. Such is life when you are in the thick of it.
Sometimes he feels that he is part of a gigantic spy drama. In the
course of his extraordinary comings and goings he meets with Great
Personages, of course, and is the confidential recipient of secret news.
Before imparting the news he does not, as you might expect, first smile
expansively; on the contrary, there comes over his face an awful
solemnity, which, however, means the same thing. When divulging the
names of the personages, he first looks around to make sure that no
suspicious character is about, and then, lowering his voice, tells you,
'I had that from Mr. Farthing himself - he is the secretary of the
Bethnal Green Branch, - h'sh!'

There is a commotion about finding a worthy chair for the reverent, and
there is also some furtive pulling down of sleeves, but he stands
surveying the ladies through his triumphant smile. This amazing man
knows that he is about to score again.

MR. WILLINGS, waving aside the chairs, 'I thank you. But not at all.
Friends, I have news.'


THE HAGGERTY WOMAN. 'From the Front?'

MRS. TWYMLEY. 'My Alfred, sir?'

They are all grown suddenly anxious - all except the hostess, who knows
that there can never be any news from the Front for her.

MR. WILLINGS. 'I tell you at once that all is well. The news is for Mrs.

She stares.

MRS. DOWEY. 'News for me?'

MR. WILLINGS. 'Your son, Mrs. Dowey - he has got five days' leave.' She
shakes her head slightly, or perhaps it only trembles a little on its
stem. 'Now, now, good news doesn't kill.'

MRS. TWYMLEY. 'We're glad, Mrs. Dowey.'

MRS. DOWEY. 'You're sure?'

MR. WILLINGS. 'Quite sure. He has arrived.'

MRS. DOWEY. 'He is in London?'

MR. WILLINGS. 'He is. I have spoken to him.'

MRS. MICKLEHAM. 'You lucky woman.'

They might see that she is not looking lucky, but experience has told
them how differently these things take people.

MR. WILLINGS, marvelling more and more as he unfolds his tale, 'Ladies,
it is quite a romance, I was in the - - ' he looks around cautiously, but
he knows that they are all to be trusted - 'in the Church Army quarters
in Central Street, trying to get on the track of one or two of our
missing men. Suddenly my eyes - I can't account for it - but suddenly my
eyes alighted on a Highlander seated rather drearily on a bench, with
his kit at his feet.'


MR. WILLINGS. 'A great brawny fellow.' The Haggerty Woman groans. '"My
friend," I said at once, "welcome back to Blighty." I make a point of
calling it Blighty. "I wonder," I said, "if there is anything I can do
for you?" He shook his head. "What regiment?" I asked.' Here Mr.
Willings very properly lowers his voice to a whisper. '"Black Watch, 5th
Battalion," he said. "Name?" I asked. "Dowey," he said.'

MRS. MICKLEHAM. 'I declare. I do declare.'

MR. WILLINGS, showing how the thing was done, with the help of a chair,
'I put my hand on his shoulder as it might be thus. "Kenneth Dowey," I
said, "I know your mother."'

MRS. DOWEY, wetting her lips, 'What did he say to that?'

MR. WILLINGS. 'He was incredulous. Indeed, he seemed to think I was
balmy. But I offered to bring him straight to you. I told him how much
you had talked to me about him.'

MRS. DOWEY. 'Bring him here!'

MRS. MICKLEHAM. 'I wonder he needed to be brought.'

MR. WILLINGS. 'He had just arrived, and was bewildered by the great
city. He listened to me in the taciturn Scotch way, and then he gave
a curious laugh.'

MRS. TWYMLEY. 'Laugh?'

MR. WILLINGS, whose wild life has brought him into contact with the
strangest people, 'The Scotch, Mrs. Twymley, express their emotions
differently from us. With them tears signify a rollicking mood, while
merriment denotes that they are plunged in gloom. When I had finished he
said at once, "Let us go and see the old lady."'

MRS. DOWEY, backing, which is the first movement she has made since he
began his tale, 'Is he - coming?'

MR. WILLINGS, gloriously, 'He has come. He is up there. I told him I
thought I had better break the joyful news to you.'

Three women rush to the window. Mrs. Dowey looks at her pantry door, but
perhaps she remembers that it does not lock on the inside. She stands
rigid, though her face has gone very grey.

MRS. DOWEY. 'Kindly get them to go away.'

MR. WILLINGS. 'Ladies, I think this happy occasion scarcely requires
you.' He is not the man to ask of woman a sacrifice that he is not
prepared to make himself. 'I also am going instantly.' They all survey
Mrs. Dowey, and understand - or think they understand.

MRS. TWYMLEY, pail and mop in hand, 'I would thank none for their
company if my Alfred was at the door.'

MRS. MICKLEHAM, similarly burdened, 'The same from me. Shall I send him
down, Mrs. Dowey?' The old lady does not hear her. She is listening,
terrified, for a step on the stairs. 'Look at the poor, joyous thing,
sir. She has his letters in her hand.'

The three women go. Mr. Willings puts a kind hand on Mrs. Dowey's
shoulder. He thinks he so thoroughly understands the situation.

MR. WILLINGS. 'A good son, Mrs. Dowey, to have written to you so often.'

Our old criminal quakes, but she grips the letters more tightly. Private
Dowey descends.

'Dowey, my friend, there she is, waiting for you, with your letters in
her hand.'

DOWEY, grimly, 'That's great.'

Mr. Willings ascends the stair without one backward glance, like the
good gentleman he is; and the Doweys are left together, with nearly the
whole room between them. He is a great rough chunk of Scotland, howked
out of her not so much neatly as liberally; and in his Black Watch
uniform, all caked with mud, his kit and nearly all his worldly
possessions on his back, he is an apparition scarcely less fearsome (but
so much less ragged) than those ancestors of his who trotted with Prince
Charlie to Derby. He stands silent, scowling at the old lady, daring her
to raise her head; and she would like very much to do it, for she longs
to have a first glimpse of her son. When he does speak, it is to jeer at

'Do you recognise your loving son, missis?' ('Oh, the fine Scotch tang
of him,' she thinks.) 'I'm pleased I wrote so often.' ('Oh, but he's
_raized_,' she thinks.) He strides towards her, and seizes the
letters roughly, 'Let's see them.'

There is a string round the package, and he unties it, and examines the
letters at his leisure with much curiosity. The envelopes are in order,
all addressed in pencil to Mrs. Dowey, with the proud words 'Opened by
Censor' on them. But the letter paper inside contains not a word of

'Nothing but blank paper! Is this your writing in pencil on the
envelope?' She nods, and he gives the matter further consideration.

'The covey told me you were a charwoman; so I suppose you picked the
envelopes out of waste-paper baskets, or such like, and then changed the
addresses?' She nods again; still she dare not look up, but she is
admiring his legs. When, however, he would cast the letters into the
fire, she flames up with sudden spirit. She clutches them.

'Don't you burn them letters, mister.'

'They're not real letters.'

'They're all I have.'

He returns to irony. 'I thought you had a son?'

'I never had a man nor a son nor anything. I just call myself Missis to
give me a standing.'

'Well, it's past my seeing through.'

He turns to look for some explanation from the walls. She gets a peep at
him at last. Oh, what a grandly set-up man! Oh, the stride of him. Oh,
the noble rage of him. Oh, Samson had been like this before that woman
took him in hand.

He whirls round on her. 'What made you do it?'

'It was everybody's war, mister, except mine.' She beats her arms.
'I wanted it to be my war too.'

'You'll need to be plainer. And yet I'm d - - d if I care to hear you,
you lying old trickster.'

The words are merely what were to be expected, and so are endurable; but
he has moved towards the door.

'You're not going already, mister?'

'Yes, I just came to give you an ugly piece of my mind.'

She holds out her arms longingly. 'You haven't gave it to me yet.'

'You have a cheek!'

She gives further proof of it. 'You wouldn't drink some tea?'

'Me! I tell you I came here for the one purpose of blazing away at you.'

It is such a roaring negative that it blows her into a chair. But she is
up again in a moment, is this spirited old lady. 'You could drink the
tea while you was blazing away. There's winkles.'

'Is there?' He turns interestedly towards the table, but his proud Scots
character checks him, which is just as well, for what she should have
said was that there had been winkles. 'Not me. You're just a common
rogue.' He seats himself far from the table. 'Now, then, out with it.
Sit down!' She sits meekly; there is nothing she would not do for him.
'As you char, I suppose you are on your feet all day.'

'I'm more on my knees.'

'That's where you should be to me.'

'Oh, mister, I'm willing.'

'Stop it. Go on, you accomplished liar.'

'It's true that my name is Dowey.'

'It's enough to make me change mine.'

'I've been charring and charring and charring as far back as I mind.
I've been in London this twenty years.'

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