Merely Mary Ann

Produced by Al Haines

MERELY MARY ANN

BY

ISRAEL ZANGWILL

AUTHOR OF “CHILDREN OF THE GHETTO,” “THE MASTER,” ETC.

POPULAR EDITION

LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN

MCMXIII

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

I

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?”

“Yessir.”

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!”

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