Israel Zangwill. Merely Mary Ann
Produced by Al Haines
MERELY MARY ANN
AUTHOR OF 'CHILDREN OF THE GHETTO,' 'THE MASTER,' ETC.
LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN
First Impression, September, 1904
New Impressions, September, 1904 (twice).
POPULAR SHILLING CLOTH EDITION, 1913.
The wrapper design is reproduced, by special
permission, from a painting by Mr. Louis Loeb
of Miss Eleanor Robson, the original 'Mary Ann.'
MERELY MARY ANN
Sometimes Lancelot's bell rang up Mrs. Leadbatter herself, but far more often merely Mary Ann.
The first time Lancelot saw Mary Ann she was cleaning the steps. He avoided treading upon her, being kind to animals. For the moment she was merely a quadruped, whose head was never lifted to the stars. Her faded print dress showed like the quivering hide of some crouching animal. There were strange irregular splashes of pink in the hide, standing out in bright contrast with the neutral background. These were scraps of the original material neatly patched in.
The cold, damp steps gave Lancelot a shudder, for the air was raw. He passed by the prostrate figure as quickly as he could, and hastened to throw himself into the easy-chair before the red fire.
There was a lamp-post before the door, so he knew the house from its neighbours. Baker's Terrace as a whole was a defeated aspiration after gentility. The more auspicious houses were marked by white stones, the steps being scrubbed and hearthstoned almost daily; the gloomier doorsteps were black, except on Sundays. Thus variety was achieved by houses otherwise as monotonous and prosaic as a batch of fourpenny loaves. This was not the reason why the little South London side-street was called Baker's Terrace, though it might well seem so; for Baker was the name of the builder, a worthy gentleman whose years and virtues may still be deciphered on a doddering, round-shouldered stone in a deceased cemetery not far from the scene of his triumphs.
The second time Lancelot saw Mary Ann he did not remember having seen her before. This time she was a biped, and wore a white cap. Besides, he hardly glanced at her. He was in a bad temper, and Beethoven was barking terribly at the intruder who stood quaking in the doorway, so that the crockery clattered on the tea-tray she bore. With a smothered oath Lancelot caught up the fiery little spaniel and rammed him into the pocket of his dressing-gown, where he quivered into silence like a struck gong. While the girl was laying his breakfast, Lancelot, who was looking moodily at the pattern of the carpet as if anxious to improve upon it, was vaguely conscious of relief in being spared his landlady's conversation. For Mrs. Leadbatter was a garrulous body, who suffered from the delusion that small-talk is a form of politeness, and that her conversation was a part of the 'all inclusive' her lodgers stipulated for. The disease was hereditary, her father having been a barber, and remarkable for the coolness with which, even as a small boy whose function was lathering and nothing more, he exchanged views about the weather with his victims.
The third time Lancelot saw Mary Ann he noticed that she was rather pretty. She had a slight, well-built figure, not far from tall, small shapely features, and something of a complexion. This did not displease him: she was a little aesthetic touch amid the depressing furniture.
'Don't be afraid, Polly,' he said, more kindly. 'The little devil won't bite. He's all bark. Call him Beethoven and throw him a bit of sugar.'
The girl threw Beethoven the piece of sugar, but did not venture on the name. It seemed to her a long name for such a little dog. As she timidly took the sugar from the basin by the aid of the tongs, Lancelot saw how coarse and red her hand was. It gave him the same sense of repugnance and refrigescence as the cold, damp steps. Something he was about to say froze on his lips. He did not look at Mary Ann for some days; by which time Beethoven had conquered his distrust of her, though she was still distrustful of Beethoven, drawing her skirts tightly about her as if he were a rat. What forced Mary Ann again upon Lancelot's morose consciousness was a glint of winter sunshine that settled on her light brown hair. He said: 'By the way, Susan, tell your mistress-or is it your mother?'
Mary Ann shook her head but did not speak.
'Oh: you are not Miss Leadbatter?'
'No; Mary Ann.'
She spoke humbly; her eyes were shy and would not meet his. He winced as he heard the name, though her voice was not unmusical.
'Ah, Mary Ann! and I've been calling you Jane all along. Mary Ann what?'
She seemed confused and flushed a little.
'Mary Ann!' she murmured.
'Merely Mary Ann?'
He smiled. 'Seems a sort of white Topsy,' he was thinking.
She stood still, holding in her hand the tablecloth she had just folded. Her eyes were downcast, and the glint of sunshine had leapt upon the long lashes.
'Well, Mary Ann, tell your mistress there is a piano coming. It will stand over there-you'll have to move the sideboard somewhere else.'
'A piano!' Mary Ann opened her eyes, and Lancelot saw that they were large and pathetic. He could not see the colour for the glint of sunshine that touched them with false fire.
'Yes; I suppose it will have to come up through the window, these staircases are so beastly narrow. Do you never have a stout person in the house, I wonder?'
'Oh yes, sir. We had a lodger here last year as was quite a fat man.'
'And did he come up through the window by a pulley?'
He smiled at the image, and expected to see Mary Ann smile in response. He was disappointed when she did not; it was not only that her stolidity made his humour seem feeble-he half wanted to see how she looked when she smiled.
'Oh dear no,' said Mary Ann; 'he lived on the ground floor!'
'Oh!' murmured Lancelot, feeling the last sparkle taken from his humour. He was damped to the skin by Mary Ann's platitudinarian style of conversation. Despite its prettiness, her face was dulness incarnate.
'Anyhow, remember to take in the piano if I'm out,' he said tartly. 'I suppose you've seen a piano-you'll know it from a kangaroo?'
'Yessir,' breathed Mary Ann.
'Oh, come, that's something. There is some civilisation in Baker's Terrace after all. But are you quite sure?' he went on, the teasing instinct getting the better of him. 'Because, you know, you've never seen a kangaroo.'
Mary Ann's face lit up a little. 'Oh, yes I have, sir; it came to the village fair when I was a girl.'