Part 1 out of 8
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She stood on the platform watching the receding train. A few bushes hid
the curve of the line; the white vapour rose above them, evaporating in
the pale evening. A moment more and the last carriage would pass out of
sight. The white gates swung forward slowly and closed over the line.
An oblong box painted reddish brown and tied with a rough rope lay on the
seat beside her. The movement of her back and shoulders showed that the
bundle she carried was a heavy one, the sharp bulging of the grey linen
cloth that the weight was dead. She wore a faded yellow dress and a black
jacket too warm for the day. A girl of twenty, short, strongly built, with
short, strong arms. Her neck was plump, and her hair of so ordinary a
brown that it passed unnoticed. The nose was too thick, but the nostrils
were well formed. The eyes were grey, luminous, and veiled with dark
lashes. But it was only when she laughed that her face lost its habitual
expression, which was somewhat sullen; then it flowed with bright humour.
She laughed now, showing a white line of almond-shaped teeth. The porter
had asked her if she were afraid to leave her bundle with her box. Both,
he said, would go up together in the donkey-cart. The donkey-cart came
down every evening to fetch parcels.... That was the way to Woodview,
right up the lane. She could not miss it. She would find the lodge gate in
that clump of trees. The man lingered, for she was an attractive girl, but
the station-master called him away to remove some luggage.
It was a barren country. Once the sea had crawled at high tide half-way up
the sloping sides of those downs. It would do so now were it not for the
shingle bank which its surging had thrown up along the coast. Between the
shingle bank and the shore a weedy river flowed and the little town stood
clamped together, its feet in the water's edge. There were decaying
shipyards about the harbour, and wooden breakwaters stretched long, thin
arms seawards for ships that did not come. On the other side of the
railway apple blossoms showed above a white-washed wall; some market
gardening was done in the low-lying fields, whence the downs rose in
gradual ascents. On the first slope there was a fringe of trees. That was
The girl gazed on this bleak country like one who saw it for the first
time. She saw without perceiving, for her mind was occupied with personal
consideration. She found it difficult to decide whether she should leave
her bundle with her box. It hung heavy in her hand, and she did not know
how far Woodview was from the station. At the end of the platform the
station-master took her ticket, and she passed over the level-crossing
still undecided. The lane began with iron railings, laurels, and French
windows. She had been in service in such houses, and knew if she were
engaged in any of them what her duties would be. But the life in Woodview
was a great dream, and she could not imagine herself accomplishing all
that would be required of her. There would be a butler, a footman, and a
page; she would not mind the page--but the butler and footman, what would
they think? There would be an upper-housemaid and an under-housemaid, and
perhaps a lady's-maid, and maybe that these ladies had been abroad with
the family. She had heard of France and Germany. Their conversation would,
no doubt, turn on such subjects. Her silence would betray her. They would
ask her what situations she had been in, and when they learned the truth
she would have to leave disgraced. She had not sufficient money to pay for
a ticket to London. But what excuse could she give to Lady Elwin, who had
rescued her from Mrs. Dunbar and got her the place of kitchen-maid at
Woodview? She must not go back. Her father would curse her, and perhaps
beat her mother and her too. Ah! he would not dare to strike her again,
and the girl's face flushed with shameful remembrance. And her little
brothers and sisters would cry if she came back. They had little enough to
eat as it was. Of course she must not go back. How silly of her to think
of such a thing!
She smiled, and her face became as bright as the month: it was the first
day of June. Still she would be glad when the first week was over. If she
had only a dress to wear in the afternoons! The old yellow thing on her
back would never do. But one of her cotton prints was pretty fresh; she
must get a bit of red ribbon--that would make a difference. She had heard
that the housemaids in places like Woodview always changed their dresses
twice a day, and on Sundays went out in silk mantles and hats in the
newest fashion. As for the lady's-maid, she of course had all her
mistress's clothes, and walked with the butler. What would such people
think of a little girl like her! Her heart sank at the thought, and she
sighed, anticipating much bitterness and disappointment. Even when her
first quarter's wages came due she would hardly be able to buy herself a
dress: they would want the money at home. Her quarter's wages! A month's
wages most like, for she'd never be able to keep the place. No doubt all
those fields belonged to the Squire, and those great trees too; they must
be fine folk, quite as fine as Lady Elwin--finer, for she lived in a house
like those near the station.
On both sides of the straight road there were tall hedges, and the
nursemaids lay in the wide shadows on the rich summer grass, their
perambulators at a little distance. The hum of the town died out of the
ear, and the girl continued to imagine the future she was about to enter
on with increasing distinctness. Looking across the fields she could see
two houses, one in grey stone, the other in red brick with a gable covered
with ivy; and between them, lost in the north, the spire of a church. On
questioning a passer-by she learnt that the first house was the Rectory,
the second was Woodview Lodge. If that was the lodge, what must the house
Two hundred yards further on the road branched, passing on either side of
a triangular clump of trees, entering the sea road; and under the leaves
the air was green and pleasant, and the lungs of the jaded town girl drew
in a deep breath of health. Behind the plantation she found a large
white-painted wooden gate. It opened into a handsome avenue, and the
gatekeeper told her to keep straight on, and to turn to the left when she
got to the top. She had never seen anything like it before, and stopped
to admire the uncouth arms of elms, like rafters above the roadway; pink
clouds showed through, and the monotonous dove seemed the very heart of
Her doubts returned; she never would be able to keep the place. The avenue
turned a little, and she came suddenly upon a young man leaning over the
paling, smoking his pipe.
"Please sir, is this the way to Woodview?"
"Yes, right up through the stables, round to the left." Then, noticing the
sturdily-built figure, yet graceful in its sturdiness, and the bright
cheeks, he said, "You look pretty well done; that bundle is a heavy one,
let me hold it for you."
"I am a bit tired," she said, leaning the bundle on the paling. "They told
me at the station that the donkey-cart would bring up my box later on."
"Ah, then you are the new kitchen-maid? What's your name?"
"My mother's the cook here; you'll have to mind your p's and q's or else
you'll be dropped on. The devil of a temper while it lasts, but not a bad
sort if you don't put her out."
"Are you in service here?"
"No, but I hope to be afore long. I could have been two years ago, but
mother did not like me to put on livery, and I don't know how I'll face
her when I come running down to go out with the carriage."
"Is the place vacant?" Esther asked, raising her eyes timidly, looking at
"Yes, Jim Story got the sack about a week ago. When he had taken a drop
he'd tell every blessed thing that was done in the stables. They'd get him
down to the 'Red Lion' for the purpose; of course the squire couldn't
"And shall you take the place?"
"Yes. I'm not going to spend my life carrying parcels up and down the
King's Road, Brighton, if I can squeeze in here. It isn't so much the
berth that I care about, but the advantages, information fresh from the
fountain-head. You won't catch me chattering over the bar at the 'Red
Lion' and having every blessed word I say wired up to London and printed
next morning in all the papers."
Esther wondered what he was talking about, and, looking at him, she saw a
low, narrow forehead, a small, round head, a long nose, a pointed chin,
and rather hollow, bloodless cheeks. Notwithstanding the shallow chest, he
was powerfully built, the long arms could deal a swinging blow. The low
forehead and the lustreless eyes told of a slight, unimaginative brain,
but regular features and a look of natural honesty made William Latch a
man that ten men and eighteen women out of twenty would like.
"I see you have got books in that bundle," he said at the end of a long
silence. "Fond of readin'?"
"They are mother's books," she replied, hastily. "I was afraid to leave
them at the station, for it would be easy for anyone to take one out, and
I should not miss it until I undid the bundle."
"Sarah Tucker--that's the upper-housemaid--will be after you to lend them
to her. She is a wonderful reader. She has read every story that has come
out in _Bow Bells_ for the last three years, and you can't puzzle her, try
as you will. She knows all the names, can tell you which lord it was that
saved the girl from the carriage when the 'osses were tearing like mad
towards a precipice a 'undred feet deep, and all about the baronet for
whose sake the girl went out to drown herself in the moonlight, I 'aven't
read the books mesel', but Sarah and me are great pals,"
Esther trembled lest he might ask her again if she were fond of reading;
she could not read. Noticing a change in the expression of her face, he
concluded that she was disappointed to hear that he liked Sarah and
regretted his indiscretion.
"Good friends, you know--no more. Sarah and me never hit it off; she will
worry me with the stories she reads. I don't know what is your taste, but
I likes something more practical; the little 'oss in there, he is more to
my taste." Fearing he might speak again of her books, she mustered up
courage and said--
"They told me at the station that the donkey-cart would bring up my box."
"The donkey-cart isn't going to the station to-night--you'll want your
things, to be sure. I'll see the coachman; perhaps he is going down with
the trap. But, golly! it has gone the half-hour. I shall catch it for
keeping you talking, and my mother has been expecting you for the last
hour. She hasn't a soul to help her, and six people coming to dinner. You
must say the train was late."
"Let us go, then," cried Esther. "Will you show me the way?"
Over the iron gate which opened into the pleasure-ground, thick branches
of evergreen oaks made an arch of foliage, and between the trees a glimpse
was caught of the angles and urns of an Italian house--distant about a
hundred yards. A high brick wall separated the pleasure-ground from the
stables, and as William and Esther turned to the left and walked up the
roadway he explained that the numerous buildings were stables. They passed
by many doors, hearing the trampling of horses and the rattling of chains.
Then the roadway opened into a handsome yard overlooked by the house, the
back premises of which had been lately rebuilt in red brick. There were
gables and ornamental porches, and through the large kitchen windows the
servants were seen passing to and fro. At the top of this yard was a gate.
It led into the park, and, like the other gate, was overhung by bunched
evergreens. A string of horses came towards this gate, and William ran to
open it. The horses were clothed in grey cloth. They wore hoods, and
Esther noticed the black round eyes looking through the eyelet holes. They
were ridden by small, ugly boys, who swung their little legs, and struck
them with ash plants when they reached their heads forward chawing at the
bits. When William returned he said, "Look there, the third one; that's
he--that's Silver Braid."
An impatient knocking at the kitchen window interrupted his admiration,
and William, turning quickly, said, "Mind you say the train was late;
don't say I kept you, or you'll get me into the devil of a pickle. This
way." The door let into a wide passage covered with coconut matting. They
walked a few yards; the kitchen was the first door, and the handsome room
she found herself in did not conform to anything that Esther had seen or
heard of kitchens. The range almost filled one end of the room, and on it
a dozen saucepans were simmering; the dresser reached to the ceiling, and
was covered with a multitude of plates and dishes. Esther thought how she
must strive to keep it in its present beautiful condition, and the elegant
white-capped servants passing round the white table made her feel her own
"This is the new kitchen-maid, mother."
"Ah, is it indeed?" said Mrs. Latch looking up from the tray of tartlets
which she had taken from the oven and was filling with jam. Esther noticed
the likeness that Mrs. Latch bore to her son. The hair was iron grey, and,
as in William's face, the nose was the most prominent feature.
"I suppose you'll tell me the train was late?"
"Yes, mother, the train was a quarter of an hour late," William chimed in.
"I didn't ask you, you idle, lazy, good-for-nothing vagabond. I suppose it
was you who kept the girl all this time. Six people coming to dinner, and
I've been the whole day without a kitchen-maid. If Margaret Gale hadn't
come down to help me, I don't know where we should be; as it is, the
dinner will be late."
The two housemaids, both in print dresses, stood listening. Esther's face
clouded, and when Mrs. Latch told her to take her things off and set to
and prepare the vegetables, so that she might see what she was made of,
Esther did not answer at once. She turned away, saying under her breath,
"I must change my dress, and my box has not come up from the station yet."
"You can tuck your dress up, and Margaret Gale will lend you her apron."
"What you've got on don't look as if it could come to much damage. Come,
now, set to."
The housemaids burst into loud laughter, and then a sullen look of dogged
obstinacy passed over and settled on Esther's face, even to the point of
visibly darkening the white and rose complexion.
A sloping roof formed one end of the room, and through a broad, single
pane the early sunlight fell across a wall papered with blue and white
flowers. Print dresses hung over the door. On the wall were two
pictures--a girl with a basket of flowers, the coloured supplement of an
illustrated newspaper, and an old and dilapidated last century print. On
the chimney-piece there were photographs of the Gale family in Sunday
clothes, and the green vases that Sarah had given Margaret on her
And in a low, narrow iron bed, pushed close against the wall in the full
glare of the sunlight, Esther lay staring half-awake, her eyes open but
still dim with dreams. She looked at the clock. It was not yet time to get
up, and she raised her arms as if to cross them behind her head, but a
sudden remembrance of yesterday arrested her movement, and a sudden shadow
settled on her face. She had refused to prepare the vegetables. She hadn't
answered, and the cook had turned her out of the kitchen. She had rushed
from the house under the momentary sway of hope that she might succeed in
walking back to London; but William had overtaken her in the avenue, he
had expostulated with her, he had refused to allow her to pass. She had
striven to tear herself from him, and, failing, had burst into tears.
However, he had been kind, and at last she had allowed him to lead her
back, and all the time he had filled her ears with assurances that he
would make it all right with his mother. But Mrs. Latch had closed her
kitchen against her, and she had had to go to her room. Even if they paid
her fare back to London, how was she to face her mother? What would father
say? He would drive her from the house. But she had done nothing wrong.
Why did cook insult her?
As she pulled on her stockings she stopped and wondered if she should
awake Margaret Gale. Margaret's bed stood in the shadow of the obliquely
falling wall; and she lay heavily, one arm thrown forward, her short,
square face raised to the light. She slept so deeply that for a moment
Esther felt afraid. Suddenly the eyes opened, and Margaret looked at her
vaguely, as if out of eternity. Raising her hands to her eyes she said--
"What time is it?"
"It has just gone six."
"Then there's plenty of time; we needn't be down before seven. You get on
with your dressing; there's no use in my getting up till you are
done--we'd be tumbling over each other. This is no room to put two girls
to sleep in--one glass not much bigger than your hand. You'll have to get
your box under your bed.... In my last place I had a beautiful room with a
Brussels carpet, and a marble washstand. I wouldn't stay here three days
if it weren't----" The girl laughed and turned lazily over.
Esther did not answer.
"Now, isn't it a grubby little room to put two girls to sleep in? What was
your last place like?"
Esther answered that she had hardly been in service before. Margaret was
too much engrossed in her own thoughts to notice the curtness of the
"There's only one thing to be said for Woodview, and that is the eating;
we have anything we want, and we'd have more than we want if it weren't
for the old cook: she must have her little bit out of everything and she
cuts us short in our bacon in the morning. But that reminds me! You have
set the cook against you; you'll have to bring her over to your side if
you want to remain here."
"Why should I be asked to wash up the moment I came in the house, before
even I had time to change my dress."
"It was hard on you. She always gets as much as she can out of her
kitchen-maid. But last night she was pressed, there was company to dinner.
I'd have lent you an apron, and the dress you had on wasn't of much
"It isn't because a girl is poor----"
"Oh, I didn't mean that; I know well enough what it is to be hard up."
Margaret clasped her stays across her plump figure and walked to the door
for her dress. She was a pretty girl, with a snub nose and large, clear
eyes. Her hair was lighter in tone than Esther's, and she had brushed it
from her forehead so as to obviate the defect of her face, which was too
Esther was on her knees saying her prayers when Margaret turned to the
light to button her boots.
"Well, I never!" she exclaimed. "Do you think prayers any good?"
Esther looked up angrily.
"I don't want to say anything against saying prayers, but I wouldn't
before the others if I was you--they'll chaff dreadful, and call you
"Oh, Margaret, I hope they won't do anything so wicked. But I am afraid I
shan't be long here, so it doesn't matter what they think of _me_."
When they got downstairs they opened the windows and doors, and Margaret
took Esther round, showing her where the things were kept, and telling her
for how many she must lay the table. At that moment a number of boys and
men came clattering up the passage. They cried to Esther to hurry up,
declaring that they were late. Esther did not know who they were, but she
served them as best she might. They breakfasted hastily and rushed away to
the stables; and they had not been long gone when the squire and his son
Arthur appeared in the yard. The Gaffer, as he was called, was a man of
about medium height. He wore breeches and gaiters, and in them his legs
seemed grotesquely thick. His son was a narrow-chested, undersized young
man, absurdly thin and hatchet-faced. He was also in breeches and gaiters,
and to his boots were attached long-necked spurs. His pale yellow hair
gave him a somewhat ludicrous appearance, as he stood talking to his
father, but the moment he prepared to get into the saddle he seemed quite
different. He rode a beautiful chestnut horse, a little too thin, Esther
thought, and the ugly little boys were mounted on horses equally thin. The
squire rode a stout grey cob, and he watched the chestnut, and was also
interested in the brown horse that walked with its head in the air,
pulling at the smallest of all the boys, a little freckled, red-headed
"That's Silver Braid, the brown horse, the one that the Demon is riding;
the chestnut is Bayleaf, Ginger is riding him: he won the City and
Suburban. Oh, we did have a fine time then, for we all had a bit on. The
betting was twenty to one, and I won twelve and six pence. Grover won
thirty shillings. They say that John--that's the butler--won a little
fortune; but he is so close no one knows what he has on. Cook wouldn't
have anything on; she says that betting is the curse of servants--you know
what is said, that it was through betting that Mrs. Latch's husband got
into trouble. He was steward here, you know, in the late squire's time."
Then Margaret told all she had heard on the subject. The late Mr. Latch
had been a confidential steward, and large sums of money were constantly
passing through his hands for which he was never asked for any exact
account. Contrary to all expectation, Marksman was beaten for the Chester
Cup, and the squire's property was placed under the charge of a receiver.
Under the new management things were gone into more closely, and it was
then discovered that Mr. Latch's accounts were incapable of satisfactory
explanation. The defeat of Marksman had hit Mr. Latch as hard as it had
hit the squire, and to pay his debts of honour he had to take from the
money placed in his charge, confidently hoping to return it in a few
months. The squire's misfortunes anticipated the realization of his
intentions; proceedings were threatened, but were withdrawn when Mrs.
Latch came forward with all her savings and volunteered to forego her
wages for a term of years. Old Latch died soon after, some lucky bets set
the squire on his legs again, the matter was half forgotten, and in the
next generation it became the legend of the Latch family. But to Mrs.
Latch it was an incurable grief, and to remove her son from influences
which, in her opinion, had caused his father's death, Mrs. Latch had
always refused Mr. Barfield's offers to do something for William. It was
against her will that he had been taught to ride; but to her great joy he
soon grew out of all possibility of becoming a jockey. She had then placed
him in an office in Brighton; but the young man's height and shape marked
him out for livery, and Mrs. Latch was pained when Mr. Barfield proposed
it. "Why cannot they leave me my son?" she cried; for it seemed to her
that in that hateful cloth, buttons and cockade, he would be no more her
son, and she could not forget what the Latches had been long ago.
"I believe there's going to be a trial this morning," said Margaret;
"Silver Braid was stripped--you noticed that--and Ginger always rides in
"I don't know what a trial is," said Esther. "They are not
carriage-horses, are they? They look too slight."
"Carriage-horses, you ninny! Where have you been to all this while--can't
you see that they are race-horses?"
Esther hung down her head and murmured something which Margaret didn't
"To tell the truth, I didn't know much about them when I came, but then
one never hears anything else here. And that reminds me--it is as much as
your place is worth to breathe one syllable about them horses; you must
know nothing when you are asked. That's what Jim Story got sacked
for--saying in the 'Red Lion' that Valentine pulled up lame. We don't know
how it came to the Gaffer's ears. I believe that it was Mr. Leopold that
told; he finds out everything. But I was telling you how I learnt about
the race-horses. It was from Jim Story--Jim was my pal--Sarah is after
William, you know, the fellow who brought you into the kitchen last night.
Jim could never talk about anything but the 'osses. We'd go every night
and sit in the wood-shed, that's to say if it was wet; if it was fine we'd
walk in the drove-way. I'd have married Jim, I know I should, if he hadn't
been sent away. That's the worst of being a servant. They sent Jim away
just as if he was a dog. It was wrong of him to say the horse pulled up
lame; I admit that, but they needn't have sent him away as they did."
Esther was absorbed in the consideration of her own perilous position.
Would they send her away at the end of the week, or that very afternoon?
Would they give her a week's wages, or would they turn her out destitute
to find her way back to London as best she might? What should she do if
they turned her out-of-doors that very afternoon? Walk back to London? She
did not know if that was possible. She did not know how far she had
come--a long distance, no doubt. She had seen woods, hills, rivers, and
towns flying past. Never would she be able to find her way back through
that endless country; besides, she could not carry her box on her back....
What was she to do? Not a friend, not a penny in the world. Oh, why did
such misfortune fall on a poor little girl who had never harmed anyone in
the world! And if they did give her her fare back--what then?... Should
she go home?... To her mother--to her poor mother, who would burst into
tears, who would say, "Oh, my poor darling, I don't know what we shall do;
your father will never let you stay here."
For Mrs. Latch had not spoken to her since she had come into the kitchen,
and it seemed to Esther that she had looked round with the air of one
anxious to discover something that might serve as a pretext for blame. She
had told Esther to make haste and lay the table afresh. Those who had gone
were the stable folk, and breakfast had now to be prepared for the other
servants. The person in the dark green dress who spoke with her chin in
the air, whose nose had been pinched to purple just above the nostrils,
was Miss Grover, the lady's-maid. Grover addressed an occasional remark to
Sarah Tucker, a tall girl with a thin freckled face and dark-red hair. The
butler, who was not feeling well, did not appear at breakfast, and Esther
was sent to him with a cup of tea.
There were the plates to wash and the knives to clean, and when they were
done there were potatoes, cabbage, onions to prepare, saucepans to fill
with water, coal to fetch for the fire. She worked steadily without
flagging, fearful of Mrs. Barfield, who would come down, no doubt, about
ten o'clock to order dinner. The race-horses were coming through the
paddock-gate; Margaret called to Mr. Randal, a little man, wizen, with a
face sallow with frequent indigestions.
"Well, do you think the Gaffer's satisfied?" said Margaret. John made no
articulate reply, but he muttered something, and his manner showed that he
strongly deprecated all female interest in racing; and when Sarah and
Grover came running down the passage and overwhelmed him with questions,
crowding around him, asking both together if Silver Braid had won his
trial, he testily pushed them aside, declaring that if he had a race-horse
he would not have a woman-servant in the place.... "A positive curse, this
chatter, chatter. Won his trial, indeed! What business had a lot of female
folk----" The rest of John's sarcasm was lost in his shirt collar as he
hurried away to his pantry, closing the door after him.
"What a testy little man he is!" said Sarah; "he might have told us which
won. He has known the Gaffer so long that he knows the moment he looks at
him whether the gees are all right."
"One can't speak to a chap in the lane that he doesn't know all about it
next day," said Margaret. "Peggy hates him; you know the way she skulks
about the back garden and up the 'ill so that she may meet young Johnson
as he is ridin' home."
"I'll have none of this scandal-mongering going on in my kitchen," said
Mrs. Latch. "Do you see that girl there? She can't get past to her
Esther would have managed pretty well if it had not been for the
dining-room lunch. Miss Mary was expecting some friends to play tennis
with her, and, besides the roast chicken, there were the cotelettes a la
Soubise and a curry. There was for dessert a jelly and a blancmange, and
Esther did not know where any of the things were, and a great deal of time
was wasted. "Don't you move, I might as well get it myself," said the old
woman. Mr. Randal, too, lost his temper, for she had no hot plates ready,
nor could she distinguish between those that were to go to the dining-room
and those that were to go to the servants' hall. She understood, however,
that it would not be wise to give way to her feeling, and that the only
way she could hope to retain her situation was by doing nothing to attract
attention. She must learn to control that temper of hers--she must and
would. And it was in this frame of mind and with this determination that
she entered the servants' hall.
There were not more than ten or eleven at dinner, but sitting close
together they seemed more numerous, and quite half the number of faces
that looked up as she took her place next to Margaret Gale, were unknown
to her. There were the four ugly little boys whom she had seen on the race
horses, but she did not recognize them at first, and nearly opposite,
sitting next to the lady's-maid, was a small, sandy-haired man about
forty: he was beginning to show signs of stoutness, and two little round
whiskers grew out of his pallid cheeks. Mr. Randal sat at the end of the
table helping the pudding. He addressed the sandy-haired man as Mr.
Swindles; but Esther learnt afterwards his real name was Ward, and that he
was Mr. Barfield's head groom. She learnt, too, that "the Demon" was not
the real name of the little carroty-haired boy, and she looked at him in
amazement when he whispered in her ear that he would dearly love a real
go-in at that pudding, but that it was so fattening that he didn't ever
dare to venture on more than a couple of sniffs. Seeing that the girl did
not understand, he added, by way of explanation, "You know that I must
keep under the six stone, and at times it becomes awful 'ard."
Esther thought him a nice little fellow, and tried to persuade him to
forego his resolution not to touch pudding, until Mr. Swindles told her to
desist. The attention of the whole table being thus drawn towards the boy,
Esther was still further surprised at the admiration he seemed so easily
to command and the important position he seemed to occupy, notwithstanding
his diminutive stature, whereas the bigger boys were treated with very
little consideration. The long-nosed lad, with weak eyes and sloping
shoulders, who sat on the other side of the table on Mr. Swindles' left,
was everybody's laughing-stock, especially Mr. Swindles', who did not
cease to poke fun at him. Mr. Swindles was now telling poor Jim's
misadventures with the Gaffer.
"But why do you call him Mr. Leopold when his name is Mr. Randal?" Esther
ventured to inquire of the Demon.
"On account of Leopold Rothschild," said the Demon; "he's pretty near as
rich, if the truth was known--won a pile over the City and Sub. Pity you
weren't there; might have had a bit on."
"I have never seen the City," Esther replied innocently.
"Never seen the City and Sub!... I was up, had a lot in hand, so I came
away from my 'orses the moment I got into the dip. The Tinman nearly
caught me on the post--came with a terrific rush; he is just hawful, that
Tinman is. I did catch it from the Gaffer--he did give it me."
The plates of all the boys except the Demon's were now filled with
beefsteak pudding, potatoes, and greens, likewise Esther's. Mr. Leopold,
Mr. Swindles, the housemaid, and the cook dined off the leg of mutton, a
small slice of which was sent to the Demon. "That for a dinner!" and as he
took up his knife and fork and cut a small piece of his one slice, he
said, "I suppose you never had to reduce yourself three pounds; girls
never have. I do run to flesh so, you wouldn't believe it. If I don't walk
to Portslade and back every second day, I go up three or four pounds. Then
there's nothing for it but the physic, and that's what settles me. Can you
"I took three Beecham's pills once."
"Oh, that's nothing. Can you take castor-oil?"
Esther looked in amazement at the little boy at her side. Swindles had
overheard the question and burst into a roar of laughter. Everyone wanted
to know what the joke was, and, feeling they were poking fun at her,
Esther refused to answer.
The first helpings of pudding or mutton had taken the edge off their
appetites, and before sending their plates for more they leaned over the
table listening and laughing open-mouthed. It was a bare room, lit with
one window, against which Mrs. Latch's austere figure appeared in
dark-grey silhouette. The window looked on one of the little back courts
and tiled ways which had been built at the back of the house; and the
shadowed northern light softened the listening faces with grey tints.
"You know," said Mr. Swindles, glancing at Jim as if to assure himself
that the boy was there and unable to escape from the hooks of his sarcasm,
"how fast the Gaffer talks, and how he hates to be asked to repeat his
words. Knowing this, Jim always says, 'Yes, sir; yes, sir.' 'Now do you
quite understand?' says the Gaffer. 'Yes, sir; yes, sir,' replies Jim, not
having understood one word of what was said; but relying on us to put him
right. 'Now what did he say I was to do?' says Jim, the moment the Gaffer
is out of hearing. But this morning we were on ahead, and the Gaffer had
Jim all to himself. As usual he says, 'Now do you quite understand?' and
as usual Jim says, 'Yes, sir; yes, sir.' Suspecting that Jim had not
understood, I said when he joined us, 'Now if you are not sure what he
said you had better go back and ask him,' but Jim declared that he had
perfectly understood. 'And what did he tell you to do?' said I. 'He told
me,' says Jim, 'to bring the colt along and finish up close by where he
would be standing at the end of the track.' I thought it rather odd to
send Firefly such a stiff gallop as all that, but Jim was certain that he
had heard right. And off they went, beginning the other side of Southwick
Hill. I saw the Gaffer with his arms in the air, and don't know now what
he said. Jim will tell you. He did give it you, didn't he, you old
Woolgatherer?" said Mr. Swindles, slapping the boy on the shoulder.
"You may laugh as much as you please, but I'm sure he did tell me to come
along three-quarter speed after passing the barn," replied Jim, and to
change the conversation he asked Mr. Leopold for some more pudding, and
the Demon's hungry eyes watched the last portion being placed on the
Woolgatherer's plate. Noticing that Esther drank no beer, he exclaimed--
"Well, I never; to see yer eat and drink one would think that it was you
who was a-wasting to ride the crack at Goodwood."
The remark was received with laughter, and, excited by his success, the
Demon threw his arms round Esther, and seizing her hands, said, "Now yer a
jest beginning to get through yer 'osses, and when you get on a level----"
But the Demon, in his hungry merriment, had bestowed no thought of finding
a temper in such a staid little girl, and a sound box on the ear threw him
backwards into his seat surprised and howling. "Yer nasty thing!" he
blubbered out. "Couldn't you see it was only a joke?" But passion was hot
in Esther. She had understood no word that had been said since she had sat
down to dinner, and, conscious of her poverty and her ignorance, she
imagined that a great deal of the Demon's conversation had been directed
against her; and, choking with indignation, she only heard indistinctly
the reproaches with which the other little boys covered her--"nasty,
dirty, ill-tempered thing, scullery-maid," etc.; nor did she understand
their whispered plans to duck her when she passed the stables. All looked
a little askance, especially Grover and Mr. Leopold. Margaret said--
"That will teach these impertinent little jockey-boys that the servants'
hall is not the harness-room; they oughtn't to be admitted here at all."
Mr. Leopold nodded, and told the Demon to leave off blubbering. "You can't
be so much hurt as all that. Come, wipe your eyes and have a piece of
currant tart, or leave the room. I want to hear from Mr. Swindles an
account of the trial. We know that Silver Braid won, but we haven't heard
how he won nor yet what the weights were."
"Well," said Mr. Swindles, "what I makes out is this. I was riding within
a pound or two of nine stone, and The Rake is, as you know, seven pounds,
no more, worse than Bayleaf. Ginger rides usually as near as possible my
weight--we'll say he was riding nine two--I think he could manage
that--and the Demon, we know, he is now riding over the six stone; in his
ordinary clothes he rides six seven."
"Yes, yes, but how do we know that there was any lead to speak of in the
"The Demon says there wasn't above a stone. Don't you, Demon?"
"I don't know nothing! I'm not going to stand being clouted by the
"Oh, shut up, or leave the room," said Mr. Leopold; "we don't want to hear
any more about that."
"I started making the running according to orders. Ginger was within
three-quarters of a length of me, being pulled out of the saddle. The
Gaffer was standing at the three-quarters of the mile, and there Ginger
won fairly easily, but they went on to the mile--them were the orders--and
there the Demon won by half a length, that is to say if Ginger wasn't
a-kidding of him."
"A-kidding of me!" said the Demon. "When we was a hundred yards from 'ome
I steadied without his noticing me, and then I landed in the last fifty
yards by half a length. Ginger can't ride much better than any other
"Yer see," said Mr. Swindles, "he'd sooner have a box on the ear from the
kitchen-maid than be told a gentleman could kid him at a finish. He
wouldn't mind if it was the Tinman, eh, Demon?"
"We know," said Mr. Leopold, "that Bayleaf can get the mile; there must
have been a lot of weight between them. Besides, I should think that the
trial was at the three-quarters of the mile. The mile was so much kid."
"I should say," replied Mr. Swindles, "that the 'orses were tried at
twenty-one pounds, and if Silver Braid can beat Bayleaf at that weight,
he'll take a deal of beating at Goodwood."
And leaning forward, their arms on the table, with large pieces of cheese
at the end of their knives, the maid-servants and the jockey listened
while Mr. Leopold and Mr. Swindles discussed the chances the stable had of
pulling off the Stewards' Cup with Silver Braid.
"But he will always keep on trying them," said Mr. Swindles, "and what's
the use, says I, of trying 'orses that are no more than 'alf fit? And them
downs is just rotten with 'orse watchers; it has just come to this, that
you can't comb out an 'orse's mane without seeing it in the papers the day
after. If I had my way with them gentry----" Mr. Swindles finished his
beer at a gulp, and he put down his glass as firmly as he desired to put
down the horse watchers. At the end of a long silence Mr. Leopold said--
"Come into my pantry and smoke a pipe. Mr. Arthur will be down presently.
Perhaps he'll tell us what weight he was riding this morning."
"Cunning old bird," said Mr. Swindles, as he rose from the table and wiped
his shaven lips with the back of his hand; "and you'd have us believe that
you didn't know, would you? You'd have us believe, would you, that the
Gaffer don't tell you everything when you bring up his hot water in the
morning, would you?"
Mr. Leopold laughed under his breath, and looking mysterious and very
rat-like he led the way to his pantry. Esther watched them in strange
trouble of soul. She had heard of racecourses as shameful places where men
were led to their ruin, and betting she had always understood to be
sinful, but in this house no one seemed to think of anything else. It was
no place for a Christian girl.
"Let's have some more of the story," Margaret said. "You've got the new
number. The last piece was where he is going to ask the opera-singer to
run away with him."
Sarah took an illustrated journal out of her pocket and began to read
Esther was one of the Plymouth Brethren. In their chapel, if the house in
which they met could be called a chapel, there were neither pictured
stories of saints, nor vestments, nor music, nor even imaginative
stimulant in the shape of written prayers. Her knowledge of life was
strictly limited to her experience of life; she knew no drama of passion
except that which the Gospels relate: this story in the _Family Reader_
was the first representation of life she had met with, and its humanity
thrilled her like the first idol set up for worship. The actress told
Norris that she loved him. They were on a balcony, the sky was blue, the
moon was shining, the warm scent of the mignonette came up from the garden
below, the man was in evening dress with diamond shirt studs, the
actress's arm was large and white. They had loved each other for years.
The strangest events had happened for the purpose of bringing them
together, and, fascinated against her will, Esther could not but listen.
But at the end of the chapter the racial instinct forced reproval from
"I am sure it is wicked to read such tales."
Sarah looked at her in mute astonishment. Grover said--
"You shouldn't be here at all. Can't Mrs. Latch find nothing for you to do
in the scullery?"
"Then," said Sarah, awaking to a sense of the situation, "I suppose that
where you come from you were not so much as allowed to read a tale;
... dirty little chapel-going folk!"
The incident might have closed with this reproval had not Margaret
volunteered the information that Esther's box was full of books.
"I should like to see them books," said Sarah. "I'll be bound that they
are only prayer-books."
"I don't mind what you say to me, but you shall not insult my religion."
"Insult your religion! I said you never had read a book in your life
unless it was a prayer-book."
"We don't use prayer-books."
"Then what books have you read?"
Esther hesitated, her manner betrayed her, and, suspecting the truth,
"I don't believe that you can read at all. Come, I'll bet you twopence
that you can't read the first five lines of my story."
Esther pushed the paper from her and walked out of the room in a tumult of
grief and humiliation. Woodview and all belonging to it had grown
unbearable, and heedless to what complaint the cook might make against her
she ran upstairs and shut herself into her room. She asked why they should
take pleasure in torturing her. It was not her fault if she did not know
how to read. There were the books she loved for her mother's sake, the
books that had brought such disgrace upon her. Even the names she could
not read, and the shame of her ignorance lay upon her heavier than a
weight of lead. "Peter Parley's Annual," "Sunny Memories of Foreign
Lands," "Children of the Abbey," "Uncle Tom's Cabin," Lamb's "Tales of
Shakespeare's Plays," a Cooking Book, "Roda's Mission of Love," the Holy
Bible and the Common Prayer Book.
She turned them over, wondering what were the mysteries that this print
held from her. It was to her mysterious as the stars.
Esther Waters came from Barnstaple. She had been brought up in the
strictness of the Plymouth Brethren, and her earliest memories were of
prayers, of narrow, peaceful family life. This early life had lasted till
she was ten years old. Then her father died. He had been a house-painter,
but in early youth he had been led into intemperance by some wild
companions. He was often not in a fit state to go to work, and one day the
fumes of the beer he had drunk overpowered him as he sat in the strong
sunlight on his scaffolding. In the hospital he called upon God to relieve
him of his suffering; then the Brethren said, "You never thought of God
before. Be patient, your health is coming back; it is a present from God;
you would like to know Him and thank Him from the bottom of your heart?"
John Waters' heart was touched. He became one of the Brethren, renouncing
those companions who refused to follow into the glory of God. His
conversion and subsequent grace won for him the sympathies of Mary
Thornby. But Mary's father would not consent to the marriage unless John
abandoned his dangerous trade of house-painter. John Waters consented to
do this, and old James Thornby, who had made a competence in the curiosity
line, offered to make over his shop to the young couple on certain
conditions; these conditions were accepted, and under his father-in-law's
direction John drove a successful trade in old glass, old jewellery, and
The Brethren liked not this trade, and they often came to John to speak
with him on the subject, and their words were----
"Of course this is between you and the Lord, but these things" (pointing
to the old glass and jewellery) "often are but snares for the feet, and
lead weaker brethren into temptation. Of course, it is between you and the
So John Waters was tormented with scruples concerning the righteousness of
his trade, but his wife's gentle voice and eyes, and the limitations that
his accident, from which he had never wholly recovered, had set upon his
life, overruled his scruples, and he remained until he died a dealer in
artistic ware, eliminating, however, from his dealings those things to
which the Brethren most strongly objected.
When he died his widow strove to carry on the business, but her father,
who was now a confirmed invalid, could not help her. In the following year
she lost both her parents. Many changes were taking place in Barnstaple,
new houses were being built, a much larger and finer shop had been opened
in the more prosperous end of the town, and Mrs. Waters found herself
obliged to sell her business for almost nothing, and marry again. Children
were born of this second marriage in rapid succession, the cradle was
never empty, and Esther was spoken of as the little nurse.
Her great solicitude was for her poor mother, who had lost her health,
whose blood was impoverished by constant child-bearing. Mother and
daughter were seen in the evenings, one with a baby at her breast, the
other with an eighteen months old child in her arms. Esther did not dare
leave her mother, and to protect her she gave up school, and this was why
she had never learnt how to read.
One of the many causes of quarrel between Mrs. Saunders and her husband
was her attendance at prayer-meetings when he said she should be at home
minding her children. He used to accuse her of carrying on with the
Scripture-readers, and to punish her he would say, "This week I'll spend
five bob more in the public--that'll teach you, if beating won't, that I
don't want none of your hypocritical folk hanging round my place." So it
befell the Saunders family to have little to eat; and Esther often
wondered how she should get a bit of dinner for her sick mother and her
hungry little brothers and sisters. Once they passed nearly thirty hours
without food. She called them round her, and knelt down amid them: they
prayed that God might help them; and their prayers were answered, for at
half-past twelve a Scripture lady came in with flowers in her hands. She
asked Mrs. Saunders how her appetite was. Mrs. Saunders answered that it
was more than she could afford, for there was nothing to eat in the house.
Then the Scripture lady gave them eighteen pence, and they all knelt down
and thanked God together.
But although Saunders spent a great deal of his money in the public-house,
he rarely got drunk and always kept his employment. He was a painter of
engines, a first-rate hand, earning good money, from twenty-five to thirty
shillings a week. He was a proud man, but so avaricious that he stopped at
nothing to get money. He was an ardent politician, yet he would sell his
vote to the highest bidder, and when Esther was seventeen he compelled her
to take service regardless of the character of the people or of what the
place was like. They had left Barnstaple many months, and were now living
in a little street off the Vauxhall Bridge Road, near the factory where
Saunders worked; and since they had been in London Esther had been
constantly in service. Why should he keep her? She wasn't one of his
children, he had quite enough of his own. Sometimes of an evening, when
Esther could escape from her drudgery for a few minutes, her mother would
step round, and mother and daughter, wrapped in the same shawl, would walk
to and fro telling each other their troubles, just as in old times. But
these moments were few. In grimy lodging-houses she worked from early
morning till late at night, scrubbing grates, preparing bacon and eggs,
cooking chops, and making beds. She had become one of those London girls
to whom rest, not to say pleasure, is unknown, who if they should sit down
for a few moments hear the mistress's voice, "Now, Eliza, have you nothing
to do, that you are sitting there idle?" Two of her mistresses, one after
the other, had been sold up, and now all the rooms in the neighbourhood
were unlet, no one wanted a "slavey," and Esther was obliged to return
home. It was on the last of these occasions that her father had taken her
by the shoulders, saying----
"No lodging-houses that want a slavey? I'll see about that. Tell me,
first, have you been to 78?"
"Yes, but another girl was before me, and the place was taken when I
"I wonder what you were doing that you didn't get there sooner; dangling
about after your mother, I suppose! Well, what about 27 in the Crescent?"
"I couldn't go there--that Mrs. Dunbar is a bad woman."
"Bad woman! Who are you, I should like to know, that you can take a lady's
character away? Who told you she was a bad woman? One of the
Scripture-readers, I suppose! I knew it was. Well, then, just get out of
"Where shall I go?"
"Go to hell for all I care. Do you hear me? Get out!"
Esther did not move--words, and then blows. Esther's escape from her
stepfather seemed a miracle, and his anger was only appeased by Mrs.
Saunders promising that Esther should accept the situation.
"Only for a little while. Perhaps Mrs. Dunbar is a better woman than you
think for. For my sake, dearie. If you don't he may kill you and me too."
Esther looked at her one moment, then she said, "Very well, mother,
to-morrow I'll take the place."
No longer was the girl starved, no longer was she made to drudge till the
thought of another day was a despair and a terror. And seeing that she was
a good girl, Mrs. Dunbar respected her scruples. Indeed, she was very
kind, and Esther soon learnt to like her, and, through her affection for
her, to think less of the life she led. A dangerous point is this in a
young girl's life. Esther was young, and pretty, and weary, and out of
health; and it was at this critical moment that Lady Elwin, who, while
visiting, had heard her story, promised Mrs. Saunders to find Esther
another place. And to obviate all difficulties about references and
character, Lady Elwin proposed to take Esther as her own servant for a
sufficient while to justify her in recommending her.
And now, as she turned over her books--the books she could not read--her
pure and passionate mind was filled with the story of her life. She
remembered her poor little brothers and sisters and her dear mother, and
that tyrant revenging himself upon them because of the little she might
eat and drink. No, she must bear with all insults and scorn, and forget
that they thought her as dirt under their feet. But what were such
sufferings compared to those she would endure were she to return home? In
truth they were as nothing. And yet the girl longed to leave Woodview. She
had never been out of sight of home before. Amid the violences of her
stepfather there had always been her mother and the meeting-house. In
Woodview there was nothing, only Margaret, who had come to console and
persuade her to come downstairs. The resolution she had to call out of her
soul to do this exhausted her, and she went downstairs heedless of what
anyone might say.
Two and three days passed without anything occurring that might suggest
that the Fates were for or against her remaining. Mrs. Barfield continued
to be indisposed, but at the end of the week Esther, while she was at work
in the scullery, heard a new voice speaking with Mrs. Latch. This must be
Mrs. Barfield. She heard Mrs. Latch tell the story of her refusal to go to
work the evening she arrived. But Mrs. Barfield told her that she would
listen to no further complaints; this was the third kitchen-maid in four
months, and Mrs. Latch must make up her mind to bear with the faults and
failings of this last one, whatever they were. Then Mrs. Barfield called
Esther; and when she entered the kitchen she found herself face to face
with a little red-haired woman, with a pretty, pointed face.
"I hear, Waters--that is your name, I think--that you refused to obey
cook, and walked out of the kitchen the night you arrived."
"I said, ma'am, that I would wait till my box came up from the station, so
that I might change my dress. Mrs. Latch said my dress didn't matter, but
when one is poor and hasn't many dresses----"
"Are you short of clothes, then?"
"I have not many, ma'am, and the dress I had on the day I came----"
"Never mind about that. Tell me, are you short of clothes?--for if you are
I daresay my daughter might find you something--you are about the same
height--with a little alteration----"
"Oh, ma'am, you are too good. I shall be most grateful. But I think I
shall be able to manage till my first quarter's wages come to me."
And the scowl upon Mrs. Latch's long face did not kill the pleasure which
the little interview with that kind, sweet woman, Mrs. Barfield, had
created in her. She moved about her work, happy at heart, singing to
herself as she washed the vegetables. Even Mrs. Latch's harshness didn't
trouble her much. She felt it to be a manner under which there might be a
kind heart, and she hoped by her willingness to work to gain at least the
cook's toleration. Margaret suggested that Esther should give up her beer.
A solid pint extra a day could not fail, she said, to win the old woman's
gratitude, and perhaps induce her to teach Esther how to make pastry and
True that Margaret joined in the common laugh and jeer that the knowledge
that Esther said her prayers morning and evening inspired. She sometimes
united with Grover and Sarah in perplexing Esther with questions regarding
her previous situations, but her hostilities were, on the whole, gentle,
and Esther felt that this almost neutral position was the best that
Margaret could have adopted. She defended her without seeming to do so,
and seemed genuinely fond of her, helping her sometimes even with her
work, which Mrs. Latch made as heavy as possible. But Esther was now
determined to put up with every task they might impose upon her; she would
give them no excuse for sending her away; she would remain at Woodview
until she had learned sufficient cooking to enable her to get another
place. But Mrs. Latch had the power to thwart her in this. Before
beginning on her jellies and gravies Mrs. Latch was sure to find some
saucepans that had not been sufficiently cleaned with white sand, and, if
her search proved abortive, she would send Esther upstairs to scrub out
"I cannot think why she is so down upon me," Esther often said to
"She isn't more down upon you than she was on the others. You needn't
expect to learn any cooking from her; her plan has always been to take
care that she shall not be supplanted by any of her kitchen-maids. But I
don't see why she should be always sending you upstairs to clean out her
bedroom. If Grover wasn't so stand-offish, we might tell her about it, and
she could tell the Saint--that's what we call the missis; the Saint would
soon put a stop to all that nonsense. I will say that for the Saint, she
do like everyone to have fair play."
Mrs. Barfield, or the Saint, as she was called, belonged, like Esther, to
the sect known as the Plymouth Brethren. She was the daughter of one of
the farmers on the estate--a very old man called Elliot. He had spent his
life on his barren down farm, becoming intimate with no one, driving hard
bargains with all, especially the squire and the poor flint-pickers. He
could be seen still on the hill-sides, his long black coat buttoned
strictly about him, his soft felt hat crushed over the thin, grey face.
Pretty Fanny Elliot had won the squire's heart as he rode across the down.
Do you not see the shy figure of the Puritan maiden tripping through the
gorse, hastening the hoofs of the squire's cob? And, furnished with some
pretext of estate business, he often rode to the farm that lay under the
shaws at the end of the coombe. The squire had to promise to become one of
the Brethren and he had to promise never to bet again, before Fanny Elliot
agreed to become Mrs. Barfield. The ambitious members of the Barfield
family declared that the marriage was social ruin, but more dispassionate
critics called it a very suitable match; for it was not forgotten that
three generations ago the Barfields were livery-stable keepers; they had
risen in the late squire's time to the level of county families, and the
envious were now saying that the Barfield family was sinking back whence
He was faithful to his promises for a time. Race-horses disappeared from
the Woodview stables. It was not until after the birth of both his
children that he entered one of his hunters in the hunt steeplechase. Soon
after the racing stable was again in full swing at Woodview. Tears there
were, and some family disunion, but time extorts concessions from all of
us. Mrs. Barfield had ceased to quarrel with her husband on the subject of
his racehorses, and he in his turn did not attempt to restrict her in the
exercise of her religion. She attended prayer-meetings when her soul moved
her, and read the Scriptures when and where she pleased.
It was one of her practices to have the women-servants for half-an-hour
every Sunday afternoon in the library, and instruct them in the life of
Christ. Mrs. Barfield's goodness was even as a light upon her little oval
face--reddish hair growing thin at the parting and smoothed back above the
ears, as in an old engraving. Although nearly fifty, her figure was slight
as a young girl's. Esther was attracted by the magnetism of racial and
religious affinities; and when their eyes met at prayers there was
acknowledgment of religious kinship. A glow of happiness filled Esther's
soul, for she knew she was no longer wholly among strangers; she knew they
were united--she and her mistress--under the sweet dominion of Christ. To
look at Mrs. Barfield filled her, somehow, with recollections of her pious
childhood; she saw herself in the old shop, moving again in an atmosphere
of prayer, listening to the beautiful story, in the annunciation of which
her life had grown up. She answered her mistress's questions in sweet
light-heartedness of spirit, pleasing her with her knowledge of the Holy
Book. But in turn the servants had begun to read verses aloud from the New
Testament, and Esther saw that her secret would be torn from her. Sarah
had read a verse, and Mrs. Barfield had explained it, and now Margaret was
reading. Esther listened, thinking if she might plead illness and escape
from the room; but she could not summon sufficient presence of mind, and
while she was still agitated and debating with herself, Mrs. Barfield
called to her to continue. She hung down her head, suffocated with the
shame of the exposure, and when Mrs. Barfield told her again to continue
the reading Esther shook her head.
"Can you not read, Esther?" she heard a kind voice saying; and the sound
of this voice loosed the feelings long pent up, and the girl, giving way
utterly, burst into passionate weeping. She was alone with her suffering,
conscious of nothing else, until a kind hand led her from the room, and
this hand soothed away the bitterness of the tittering which reached her
ears as the door closed. It was hard to persuade her to speak, but even
the first words showed that there was more on the girl's heart than could
be told in a few minutes. Mrs. Barfield determined to take the matter at
once in hand; she dismissed the other servants and returned to the library
with Esther, and in that dim room of little green sofas, bookless shelves,
and bird-cages, the women--mistress and maid--sealed the bond of a
friendship which was to last for life.
Esther told her mistress everything--the work that Mrs. Latch required of
her, the persecution she received from the other servants, principally
because of her religion. In the course of the narrative allusion was made
to the race-horses, and Esther saw on Mrs. Barfield's face a look of
grief, and it was clear to what cause Mrs. Barfield attributed the
demoralisation of her household.
"I will teach you how to read, Esther. Every Sunday after our Bible
instruction you shall remain when the others have left for half-an-hour.
It is not difficult; you will soon learn."
Henceforth, every Sunday afternoon, Mrs. Barfield devoted half-an-hour to
the instruction of her kitchen-maid. These half-hours were bright spots of
happiness in the serving-girl's weeks of work--happiness that had been and
would be again. But although possessing a clear intelligence, Esther did
not make much progress, nor did her diligence seem to help her. Mrs.
Barfield was puzzled by her pupil's slowness; she ascribed it to her own
inaptitude to teach and the little time for lessons. Esther's
powerlessness to put syllables together, to grasp the meaning of words,
was very marked. Strange it was, no doubt, but all that concerned the
printed page seemed to embarrass and elude her.
Esther's position in Woodview was now assured, and her fellow-servants
recognised the fact, though they liked her none the better for it. Mrs.
Latch still did what she could to prevent her from learning her trade, but
she no longer attempted to overburden her with work. Of Mr. Leopold she
saw almost as little as she did of the people upstairs. He passed along
the passages or remained shut up in his pantry. Ginger used to go there to
smoke; and when the door stood ajar Esther saw his narrow person seated on
the edge of the table, his leg swinging. Among the pantry people Mr.
Leopold's erudition was a constant subject of admiration. His
reminiscences of the races of thirty years ago were full of interest; he
had seen the great horses whose names live in the stud-book, the horses
the Gaffer had owned, had trained, had ridden, and he was full of anecdote
concerning them and the Gaffer. Praise of his father's horsemanship always
caused a cloud to gather on Ginger's face, and when he left the pantry
Swindles chuckled. "Whenever I wants to get a rise out of Ginger I says,
'Ah, we shall never see another gentleman jock who can use the whip at a
finish like the Governor in his best days.'"
Everyone delighted in the pantry, and to make Mr. Leopold comfortable Mr.
Swindles used to bring in the wolf-skin rug that went out with the
carriage, and wrap it round Mr. Leopold's wooden armchair, and the sallow
little man would curl himself up, and, smoking his long clay, discuss the
weights of the next big handicap. If Ginger contradicted him he would go
to the press and extract from its obscurity a package of _Bell's Life_ or
a file of the _Sportsman_.
Mr. Leopold's press! For forty years no one had looked into that press.
Mr. Leopold guarded it from every gaze, but it seemed to be a much-varied
repository from which, if he chose, he could produce almost any trifle
that might be required. It seemed to combine the usefulness of a hardware
shop and a drug store.
The pantry had its etiquette and its discipline. Jockey boys were rarely
admitted, unless with the intention of securing their services for the
cleaning of boots or knives. William was very proud of his right of entry.
For that half-hour in the pantry he would willingly surrender the pleasure
of walking in the drove-way with Sarah. But when Mrs. Latch learnt that he
was there her face darkened, and the noise she then made about the range
with her saucepans was alarming. Mrs. Barfield shared her cook's horror of
the pantry, and often spoke of Mr. Leopold as "that little man." Although
outwardly the family butler, he had never ceased to be the Gaffer's
private servant; he represented the old days of bachelorhood. Mrs.
Barfield and Mrs. Latch both disliked him. Had it not been for his
influence Mrs. Barfield felt sure her husband would never have returned to
his vice. Had it not been for Mr. Leopold Mrs. Latch felt that her husband
would never have taken to betting. Legends and mystery had formed around
Mr. Leopold and his pantry, and in Esther's unsophisticated mind this
little room, with its tobacco smoke and glasses on the table, became a
symbol of all that was wicked and dangerous; and when she passed the door
she closed her ears to the loud talk and instinctively lowered her eyes.
The simplest human sentiments were abiding principles in Esther--love of
God, and love of God in the home. But above this Protestantism was human
nature; and at this time Esther was, above all else, a young girl. Her
twentieth year thrilled within her; she was no longer weary with work, and
new, rich blood filled her veins. She sang at her work, gladdened by the
sights and sounds of the yard; the young rooks cawing lustily in the
evergreens, the gardener passing to and fro with plants in his hands, the
white cats licking themselves in the sun or running to meet the young
ladies who brought them plates of milk. Then the race-horses were always
going to or coming from the downs. Sometimes they came in so covered with
white mud that part of their toilette was accomplished in the yard; and
from her kitchen window she could see the beautiful creature haltered to
the hook fixed in the high wall, and the little boy in his shirtsleeves
and hitched-up trousers, not a bit afraid, but shouting and quieting him
into submission with the stick when he kicked and bit, tickled by the
washing brush passing under the belly. Then the wrestling, sparring,
ball-playing of the lads when their work was done, the pale, pathetic
figure of the Demon watching them. He was about to start for Portslade and
back, wrapped, as he would put it, in a red-hot scorcher of an overcoat.
Esther often longed for a romp with these boys; she was now prime
favourite with them. Once they caught her in the hay yard, and fine sport
it was in the warm hay throwing each other over. Sometimes her wayward
temper would get the better of her, but her momentary rage vanished at the
sound of laughter. And after their tussling they would walk a little while
pensively, until perhaps one, with an adroit trip, would send the other
rolling over on the grass, and then, with wild cries, they would run down
the drove-way. Then there was the day when the Wool-gatherer told her he
was in love, and what fun they had had, and how well she had led him into
belief that she was jealous! She had taken a rope as if she were going to
hang herself, and having fastened it to a branch, she had knelt down as if
she were saying her prayers. The poor Wool-gatherer could stand it no
longer; he had rushed to her side, swearing that if she would promise not
to hang herself he would never look at another girl again. The other boys,
who had been crouching in the drove-way, rose up. How they did chaff the
Wool-gatherer! He had burst into tears and Esther had felt sorry for him,
and almost inclined to marry him out of pity for his forlorn condition.
Her life grew happier and happier. She forgot that Mrs. Latch would not
teach her how to make jellies, and had grown somewhat used to Sarah's
allusions to her ignorance. She was still very poor, had not sufficient
clothes, and her life was full of little troubles; but there were
compensations. It was to her that Mrs. Barfield always came when she
wanted anything in a hurry, and Miss Mary, too, seemed to prefer to apply
to Esther when she wanted milk for her cats or bran and oats for her
The Gaffer and his race-horses, the Saint and her greenhouse--so went the
stream of life at Woodview. What few visitors came were entertained by
Miss Mary in the drawing-room or on the tennis lawn. Mrs. Barfield saw no
one. She desired to remain in her old gown--an old thing that her daughter
had discarded long ago--pinned up around her, and on her head an old
bonnet with a faded poppy hanging from the crown. In such attire she
wished to be allowed to trot about to and fro from her greenhouse to her
potting-shed, watering, pruning, and syringing her plants. These plants
were dearer than all things to her except her children; she seemed,
indeed, to treat them as if they were children, and with the sun pouring
through the glass down on her back she would sit freeing them from
devouring insects all the day long. She would carry can after can of water
up the long path and never complain of fatigue. She broke into complaint
only when Miss Mary forgot to feed her pets, of which she had a great
number--rabbits, and cats, and rooks, and all the work devolved upon her.
She could not see these poor dumb creatures hungry, and would trudge to
the stables, coming back laden with trusses of hay. But it was sometimes
more than a pair of hands could do, and she would send Esther with scraps
of meat and bread and milk to the unfortunate rooks that Mary had so
unmercifully forgotten. "I'll have no more pets," she'd say, "Miss Mary
won't look after them, and all the trouble falls upon me. See these poor
cats, how they come mewing round my skirts." She loved to expatiate on her
inexhaustible affection for dumb animals, and she continued an anecdotal
discourse till, suddenly wearying of it, she would break off and speak to
Esther about Barnstaple and the Brethren.
The Saint loved to hear Esther tell of her father and the little shop in
Barnstaple, of the prayer-meetings and the simple earnestness and
narrowness of the faith of those good Brethren. Circumstances had effaced,
though they had not obliterated, the once sharply-marked confines of her
religious habits. Her religion was like a garden--a little less sedulously
tended than of yore, but no whit less fondly loved; and while listening to
Esther's story she dreamed her own early life over again, and paused,
laying down her watering-can, penetrated with the happiness of gentle
memories. So Esther's life grew and was fashioned; so amid the ceaseless
round of simple daily occupations mistress and maid learned to know and to
love one another, and became united and strengthful in the tender and
ineffable sympathies of race and religion.
The summer drowsed, baking the turf on the hills, and after every gallop
the Gaffer passed his fingers along the fine legs of the crack, in fear
and apprehension lest he should detect any swelling. William came every
day for news. He had five shillings on; he stood to win five pounds
ten--quite a little fortune--and he often stopped to ask Esther if there
was any news as he made his way to the pantry. She told him that so far as
she knew Silver Braid was all right, and continued shaking the rug.
"You'll never get the dust out of that rug," he said at last, "here, give
it to me." She hesitated, then gave it him, and he beat it against the
brick wall. "There," he said, handing it back to her, "that's how I beats
a mat; you won't find much dust in it now."
"Thank you.... Sarah went by an hour and a half ago."
"Ah, she must have gone to the Gardens. You have never been to those
gardens, have you? Dancing-hall, theatre, sorcerers--every blessed thing.
But you're that religious, I suppose you wouldn't come?"
"It is only the way you are brought up."
"Well, will you come?"
"I don't think I should like those Gardens.... But I daresay they are no
worse than any other place. I've heard so much since I was here, that
"That really what?"
"That sometimes it seems useless like to be particular."
"Of course--all rot. Well, will you come next Sunday?"
"Certainly not on Sunday."
The Gaffer had engaged him as footman: his livery would be ready by
Saturday, and he would enter service on Monday week. This reminded them
that henceforth they would see each other every day, and, speaking of the
pain it would give his mother when he came running downstairs to go out
with the carriage, he said--
"It was always her idea that I shouldn't be a servant, but I believe in
doing what you gets most coin for doing. I should like to have been a
jockey, and I could have ridden well enough--the Gaffer thought better at
one time of my riding than he did of Ginger's. But I never had any luck;
when I was about fifteen I began to grow.... If I could have remained like
Esther looked at him, wondering if he were speaking seriously, and really
wished away his splendid height and shoulders.
A few days later he tried to persuade her to take a ticket in a shilling
sweepstakes which he was getting up among the out and the indoor servants.
She pleaded poverty--her wages would not be due till the end of August.
But William offered to lend her the money, and he pressed the hat
containing the bits of paper on which were written the horses' names so
insinuatingly upon her that a sudden impulse to oblige him came over her,
and before she had time to think she had put her hand in the hat and taken
"Come, none of your betting and gambling in my kitchen," said Mrs. Latch,
turning from her work. "Why can't you leave that innocent girl alone?"
"Don't be that disagreeable, mother; it ain't betting, it's a
"It is all the same," muttered Mrs. Latch; "it always begins that way, and
it goes on from bad to worse. I never saw any good come from it, and
Heaven knows I've seen enough misfortune."
Margaret and Sarah paused, looking at her open-mouthed, a little
perplexed, holding the numbers they had drawn in both hands. Esther had
not unfolded hers. She looked at Mrs. Latch and regretted having taken the
ticket in the lottery. She feared jeers from Sarah, or from Grover, who
had just come in, for her inability to read the name of the horse she had
drawn. Seeing her dilemma, William took her paper from her.
"Silver Braid.... by Jingo! She has got the right one."
At that moment the sound of hoofs was heard in the yard, and the servants
flew to the window.
"He'll win," cried William, leaning over the women's backs, waving his
bony hand to the Demon, who rode past on Silver Braid. "The Gaffer will
bring him to the post as fit as a fiddle."
"I think he will," said Mr. Leopold. "The rain has done us a lot of good;
he was beginning to go a bit short a week ago. We shall want some more
rain. I should like to see it come down for the next week or more."
Mr. Leopold's desires looked as if they were going to be fulfilled. The
heavens seemed to have taken the fortunes of the stable in hand. Rain fell
generally in the afternoon and night, leaving the mornings fine, and
Silver Braid went the mile gaily, becoming harder and stronger. And in the
intermittent swish of showers blown up from the sea Woodview grew joyous,
and a conviction of ultimate triumph gathered and settled on every face
except Mrs. Barfield's and Mrs. Latch's. And askance they looked at the
triumphant little butler. He became more and more the topic of
conversation. He seemed to hold the thread of their destiny in his press.
Peggy was especially afraid of him.
And, continuing her confidences to the under-housemaid, the young lady
said, "I like to know things for the pleasure of talking about them, but
he for the pleasure of holding his tongue." Peggy was Miss Margaret
Barfield, a cousin, the daughter of a rich brewer. "If he brings in your
letters in the morning he hands them to you just as if he knew whom they
are from. Ugly little beast; it irritates me when he comes into the room."
"He hates women, Miss; he never lets us near his pantry, and he keeps
William there talking racing."
"Ah, William is very different. He ought never to have been a servant. His
family was once quite as good as the Barfields."
"So I have heard, Miss. But the world is that full of ups and downs you
never can tell who is who. But we all likes William and 'ates that little
man and his pantry. Mrs. Latch calls him the 'evil genius.'"
A furtive and clandestine little man, ashamed of his women-folk and
keeping them out of sight as much as possible. His wife a pale, dim woman,
tall as he was short, preserving still some of the graces of the
lady's-maid, shy either by nature or by the severe rule of her lord,
always anxious to obliterate herself against the hedges when you met her
in the lane or against the pantry door when any of the family knocked to
ask for hot water, or came with a letter for the post. By nature a
bachelor, he was instinctively ashamed of his family, and when the
weary-looking wife, the thin, shy girl, or the corpulent, stupid-faced son
were with him and he heard steps outside, he would come out like a little
wasp, and, unmistakably resenting the intrusion, would ask what was
If it were Ginger, Mr. Leopold would say, "Can I do anything for you, Mr.
"Oh, nothing, thank you; I only thought that----" and Ginger would invent
some paltry excuse and slink away to smoke elsewhere.
Every day, a little before twelve, Mr. Leopold went out for his morning
walk; every day if it were fine you would meet him at that hour in the
lane either coming from or going to Shoreham. For thirty years he had done
his little constitutional, always taking the same road, always starting
within a few minutes of twelve, always returning in time to lay the cloth
for lunch at half-past one. The hour between twelve and one he spent in
the little cottage which he rented from the squire for his wife and
children, or in the "Red Lion," where he had a glass of beer and talked
with Watkins, the bookmaker.
"There he goes, off to the 'Red Lion,'" said Mrs. Latch. "They try to get
some information out of him, but he's too sharp for them, and he knows it;
that's what he goes there for--just for the pleasure of seeing them
swallow the lies he tells them.... He has been telling them lies about the
horses for the last twenty years, and still he get them to believe what he
says. It is a cruel shame! It was the lies he told poor Jackson about Blue
Beard that made the poor man back the horse for all he was worth."
"And the horse didn't win?"
"Win! The master didn't even intend to run him, and Jackson lost all he
had, and more. He went down to the river and drowned himself. John Randal
has that man's death on his conscience. But his conscience don't trouble
him much; if it did he'd be in his grave long ago. Lies, lies, nothing but
lies! But I daresay I'm too 'ard on him; isn't lies our natural lot? What
is servants for but to lie when it is in their master's interest, and to
be a confidential servant is to be the Prince of liars!"
"Perhaps he didn't know the 'orse was scratched."
"I see you are falling in nicely with the lingo of the trade."
"Oh," replied Esther, laughing; "one never hears anything else; one picks
it up without knowing. Mr. Leopold is very rich, so they say. The boys
tell me that he won a pile over the City and Suburban, and has thousands
in the bank."
"So some says; but who knows what he has? One hears of the winnings, but
they say very little about the losings."
The boys were playing ball in the stables, but she did not feel as if she
wanted to romp with them. There was a stillness and a sweetness abroad
which penetrated and absorbed her. She moved towards the paddock gate; the
pony and the donkey came towards her, and she rubbed their muzzles in
turn. It was a pleasure to touch anything, especially anything alive. She
even noticed that the elm trees were strangely tall and still against the
calm sky, and the rich odour of some carnations which came through the
bushes from the pleasure-ground excited her; the scent of earth and leaves
tingled in her, and the cawing of the rooks coming home took her soul away
skyward in an exquisite longing; she was, at the same time, full of
romantic love for the earth, and of a desire to mix herself with the
innermost essence of things. The beauty of the evening and the sea breeze
instilled a sensation of immortal health, and she wondered if a young man
came to her as young men came to the great ladies in Sarah's books, how it
would be to talk in the dusk, seeing the bats flitting and the moon rising
through the branches.
The family was absent from Woodview, and she was free to enjoy the beauty
of every twilight and every rising moon for still another week. But she
wearied for a companion. Sarah and Grover were far too grand to walk out
with her; and Margaret had a young man who came to fetch her, and in their
room at night she related all he had said. But for Esther there was
nothing to do all the long summer evenings but to sit at the kitchen
window sewing. Her hands fell on her lap, and her heart heaved a sigh of
weariness. In all this world there was nothing for her to do but to
continue her sewing or to go for a walk on the hill. She was tired of that
weary hill! But she could not sit in the kitchen till bedtime. She might
meet the old shepherd coming home with his sheep, and she put a piece of
bread in her pocket for his dogs and strolled up the hill-side. Margaret
had gone down to the Gardens. One of these days a young man would come to
take her out. What would he be like? She laughed the thought away. She did
not think that any young man would bother much about her. Happening at
that moment to look round, she saw a man coming through the hunting gate.
His height and shoulders told her that he was William. "Trying to find
Sarah," she thought. "I must not let him think I am waiting for him." She
continued her walk, wondering if he were following, afraid to look round.
At last she fancied she could hear footsteps; her heart beat faster. He
called to her.
"I think Sarah has gone to the Gardens," she said, turning round.
"You always keep reminding me of Sarah. There's nothing between us;
anything there ever was is all off long ago.... Are you going for a walk?"
She was glad of the chance to get a mouthful of fresh air, and they went
towards the hunting gate. William held it open and she passed through.
The plantations were enclosed by a wooden fence, and beyond them the bare
downs rose hill after hill. On the left the land sloped into a shallow
valley sown with various crops; and the shaws about Elliot's farm were the
last trees. Beyond the farmhouse the downs ascended higher and higher,
treeless, irreclaimable, scooped into long patriarchal solitudes, thrown
into wild crests.
There was a smell of sheep in the air, and the flock trotted past them in
good order, followed by the shepherd, a huge hat and a crook in his hand,
and two shaggy dogs at his heels. A brace of partridges rose out of the
sainfoin, and flew down the hills; and watching their curving flight
Esther and William saw the sea under the sun-setting, and the string of
"A lovely evening, isn't it?"
Esther acquiesced; and tempted by the warmth of the grass they sat down,
and the mystery of the twilight found way into their consciousness.
"We shan't have any rain yet awhile."
"How do you know?"
"I'll tell you," William answered, eager to show his superior knowledge.
"Look due south-west, straight through that last dip in that line of
hills. Do you see anything?"
"No, I can see nothing," said Esther, after straining her eyes for a few
"I thought not.... Well, if it was going to rain you would see the Isle of
For something to say, and hoping to please, Esther asked him where the
"There, over yonder. I can't show you the start, a long way behind that
hill, Portslade way; then they come right along by that gorse and finish
up by Truly barn--you can't see Truly barn from here, that's Thunder's
barrow barn; they go quite half a mile farther."
"And does all that land belong to the Gaffer?"
"Yes, and a great deal more, too; but this down land isn't worth much--not
more than about ten shillings an acre."
"And how many acres are there?"
"Do you mean all that we can see?"
"The Gaffer's property reaches to Southwick Hill, and it goes north a long
way. I suppose you don't know that all this piece, all that lies between
us and that barn yonder, once belonged to my family."
"To your family?"
"Yes, the Latches were once big swells; in the time of my
great-grandfather the Barfields could not hold their heads as high as the
Latches. My great-grandfather had a pot of money, but it all went."
"A good bit, I've no doubt. A rare 'ard liver, cock-fighting, 'unting,
'orse-racing from one year's end to the other. Then after 'im came my
grandfather; he went to the law, and a sad mess he made of it--went
stony-broke and left my father without a sixpence; that is why mother
didn't want me to go into livery. The family 'ad been coming down for
generations, and mother thought that I was born to restore it; and so I
was, but not as she thought, by carrying parcels up and down the King's
Esther looked at William in silent admiration, and, feeling that he had
secured an appreciative listener, he continued his monologue regarding the
wealth and rank his family had formerly held, till a heavy dew forced them
to their feet. In front of them was the moon, and out of the forlorn sky
looked down the misted valleys; the crests of the hills were still touched
with light, and lights flew from coast town to coast town, weaving a
The sheep had been folded, and seeing them lying in the greyness of this
hill-side, and beyond them the massive moonlit landscape and the vague
sea, Esther suddenly became aware, as she had never done before, of the
exceeding beauty of the world. Looking up in William's face, she said--
"Oh, how beautiful!"
As they descended the drove-way their feet raised the chalk, and William
"This is bad for Silver Braid; we shall want some more rain in a day or
two.... Let's come for a walk round the farm," he said suddenly. "The farm
belongs to the Gaffer, but he's let the Lodge to a young fellow called
Johnson. He's the chap that Peggy used to go after--there was awful rows
about that, and worse when he forestalled the Gaffer about Egmont."
The conversation wandered agreeably, and they became more conscious of
each other. He told her all he knew about the chap who had jilted Miss
Mary, and the various burlesque actresses at the Shoreham Gardens who had
captivated Ginger's susceptible heart. While listening she suddenly became
aware that she had never been so happy before. Now all she had endured
seemed accidental; she felt that she had entered into the permanent; and
in the midst of vague but intense sensations William showed her the
pigeon-house with all the blue birds dozing on the tiles, a white one here
and there. They visited the workshop, the forge, and the old cottages
where the bailiff and the shepherd lived; and all this inanimate
nature--the most insignificant objects--seemed inspired, seemed like
symbols of her emotion.
They left the farm and wandered on the high road until a stile leading to
a cornfield beguiled and then delayed their steps.
The silence of the moonlight was clear and immense; and they listened to
the trilling of the nightingale in the copse hard by. First they sought to
discover the brown bird in the branches of the poor hedge, and then the
reason of the extraordinary emotion in their hearts. It seemed that all
life was beating in that moment, and they were as it were inflamed to
reach out their hands to life and to grasp it together. Even William
noticed that. And the moon shone on the mist that had gathered on the long
marsh lands of the foreshore. Beyond the trees the land wavered out into
down land, the river gleamed and intensely.
This moment was all the poetry of their lives. The striking of a match to
light his pipe, which had gone out, put the music to flight, and all along
the white road he continued his monologue, interrupted only by the
necessity of puffing at his pipe.
"Mother says that if I had twopence worth of pride in me I wouldn't have
consented to put on the livery; but what I says to mother is, 'What's the
use of having pride if you haven't money?' I tells her that I am rotten
with pride, but my pride is to make money. I can't see that the man what
is willing to remain poor all his life has any pride at all.... But, Lord!
I have argued with mother till I'm sick; she can see nothing further than
the livery; that's what women are--they are that short-sighted.... A lot
of good it would have done me to have carried parcels all my life, and
when I could do four mile an hour no more, to be turned out to die in the
ditch and be buried by the parish. 'Not good enough,' says I. 'If that's
your pride, mother, you may put it in your pipe and smoke it, and as you
'aven't got a pipe, perhaps behind the oven will do as well,'--that's what
I said to her. I saw well enough there was nothing for me but service, and
I means to stop here until I can get on three or four good things and then
retire into a nice comfortable public-house and do my own betting."
"You would give up betting then?"
"I'd give up backing 'orses, if you mean that.... What I should like would
be to get on to a dozen good things at long prices--half-a-dozen like
Silver Braid would do it. For a thousand or fifteen hundred pounds I could
have the 'Red Lion,' and just inside my own bar I could do a hundred-pound
book on all the big races."
Esther listened, hearing interminable references to jockeys, publicans,
weights, odds, and the certainty, if he had the "Red Lion," of being able
to get all Joe Walker's betting business away from him. Allusions to the
police, and the care that must be taken not to bet with anyone who had not
been properly introduced, frightened her; but her fears died in the
sensation of his arm about her waist, and the music that the striking of a
match had put to flight had begun again in the next plantation, and it
began again in their hearts. But if he were going to marry Sarah! The idea
amused him; he laughed loudly, and they walked up the avenue, his face
bent over hers.
The Barfield calculation was that they had a stone in hand. Bayleaf, Mr.
Leopold argued, would be backed to win a million of money if he were
handicapped in the race at seven stone; and Silver Braid, who had been
tried again with Bayleaf, and with the same result as before, had been let
off with only six stone.
More rain had fallen, the hay-crop had been irretrievably ruined, the
prospects of the wheat harvest were jeopardized, but what did a few
bushels of wheat matter? Another pound of muscle in those superb
hind-quarters was worth all the corn that could be grown between here and
Henfield. Let the rain come down, let every ear of wheat be destroyed, so
long as those delicate fore-legs remained sound. These were the ethics
that obtained at Woodview, and within the last few days showed signs of
adoption by the little town and not a few of the farmers, grown tired of
seeing their crops rotting on the hill-sides. The fever of the gamble was
in eruption, breaking out in unexpected places--the station-master, the
porters, the flymen, all had their bit on, and notwithstanding the
enormous favouritism of two other horses in the race--Prisoner and Stoke
Newington--Silver Braid had advanced considerably in the betting. Reports
of trials won had reached Brighton, and not more than five-and-twenty to
one could now be obtained.
The discovery that the Demon had gone up several pounds in weight had
introduced the necessary alloy into the mintage of their happiness; the
most real consternation prevailed, and the strictest investigation was
made as to when and how he had obtained the quantities of food required to
produce such a mass of adipose tissue. Then the Gaffer had the boy
upstairs and administered to him a huge dose of salts, seeing him swallow
every drop; and when the effects of the medicine had worn off he was sent
for a walk to Portslade in two large overcoats, and was accompanied by
William, whose long legs led the way so effectively. On his return a
couple of nice feather beds were ready, and Mr. Leopold and Mr. Swindles
themselves laid him between them, and when they noticed that he was
beginning to cease to perspire Mr. Leopold made him a nice cup of hot tea.
"That's the way the Gaffer used to get the flesh off in the old days when
he rode the winner at Liverpool."
"It's the Demon's own fault," said Mr. Swindles; "if he hadn't been so
greedy he wouldn't have had to sweat, and we should 'ave been spared a
deal of bother and anxiety."
"Greedy!" murmured the little boy, in whom the warm tea had induced a new
perspiration; "I haven't had what you might call a dinner for the last
three months. I think I'll chuck the whole thing."
"Not until this race is over," said Mr. Swindles. "Supposing I was to pass
the warming-pan down these 'ere sheets. What do you say, Mr. Leopold? They
are beginning to feel a bit cold."
"Cold! I 'ope you'll never go to a 'otter place. For God's sake, Mr.
Leopold, don't let him come near me with the warming-pan, or else he'll
melt the little flesh that's left off me."
"You 'ad better not make such a fuss," said Mr. Leopold; "if you don't do
what you are told, you'll have to take salts again and go for another walk
"If we don't warm up them sheets 'e'll dry up," said Mr. Swindles.
"No, I won't; I'm teeming."
"Be a good boy, and you shall have a nice cut of mutton when you get up,"
said Mr. Leopold.
"How much? Two slices?"
"Well, you see, we can't promise; it all depends on how much has come off,
and 'aving once got it hoff, we don't want to put it on again."
"I never did 'ear such rot," said Swindles. "In my time a boy's feelings
weren't considered--one did what one considered good for them."
Mr. Leopold strove to engage the Demon's attention with compliments
regarding his horsemanship in the City and Sub. while Mr. Swindles raised
"Oh, Mr. Swindles, you are burning me."
"For 'eaven's sake don't let him start out from under the bed like that!
Can't yer 'old him? Burning you! I never even touched you with it; it was
the sheet that you felt."
"Then the sheet is at 'ot as the bloody fire. Will yer leave off?"
"What! a Demon like you afraid of a little touch of 'eat; wouldn't 'ave
believed it unless I 'ad 'eard it with my own ears," said Mr. Leopold.
"Come, now, do yer want to ride the crack at Goodwood or do yer not? If
you do, remain quiet, and let us finish taking off the last couple of
"It is the last couple of pounds that takes it out of one; the first lot
comes off jest like butter," said the boy, rolling out of the way of the
pan. "I know what it will be; I shall be so weak that I shall just ride a
stinking bad race."
Mr. Leopold and Mr. Swindles exchanged glances. It was clear they thought
that there was something in the last words of the fainting Demon, and the
pan was withdrawn. But when the boy was got into the scale again it was
found that he was not yet nearly the right weight, and the Gaffer ordered
another effort to be made. The Demon pleaded that his feet were sore, but
he was sent off to Portslade in charge of the redoubtable William.
And as the last pounds came off the Demon's little carcass Mr. Leopold's
face resumed a more tranquil expression. It began to be whispered that
instead of hedging any part of his money he would stand it all out, and
one day a market gardener brought up word that he had seen Mr. Leopold
going into Brighton.
"Old Watkins isn't good enough for him, that's about it. If Silver Braid
wins, Woodview will see very little more of Mr. Leopold. He'll be for
buying one of them big houses on the sea road and keeping his own trap."
The great day was now fast approaching, and the Gaffer had promised to
drive his folk in a drag to Goodwood. No more rain was required, the
colt's legs remained sound, and three days of sunshine would make all the
difference in their sum of happiness. In the kitchen Mrs. Latch and Esther
had been busy for some time with chickens and pies and jellies, and in the
passage there were cases packed with fruit and wine. The dressmaker had
come from Worthing, and for several days the young ladies had not left
her. And one fine morning, very early--about eight o'clock--the wheelers
were backed into the drag that had come from Brighton, and the yard
resounded with the blaring of the horn. Ginger was practising under his
"You'll be late! You'll be late!"
With the exception of two young gentlemen, who had come at the invitation
of the young ladies, it was quite a family party. Miss Mary sat beside her
father on the box, and looked very charming in white and blue. Peggy's
black hair seemed blacker than ever under a white silk parasol, which she
waved negligently above her as she stood up calling and talking to
everyone until the Gaffer told her angrily to sit down, as he was going to
start. Then William and the coachman let go the leaders' heads, and
running side by side swung themselves into their seats. At the same moment
a glimpse was caught of Mr. Leopold's sallow profile amid the boxes and
the mackintoshes that filled the inside of the coach.
"Oh, William did look that handsome in those beautiful new clothes!
...Everyone said so--Sarah and Margaret and Miss Grover. I'm sorry you did
not come out to see him."
Mrs. Latch made no answer, and Esther remembered how she hated her son to
wear livery, and thought that she had perhaps made a mistake in saying
that Mrs. Latch should have come out to see him. "Perhaps this will make
her dislike me again," thought the girl. Mrs. Latch moved about rapidly,
and she opened and closed the oven; then, raising her eyes to the window
and seeing that the other women were still standing in the yard and safely
out of hearing, she said--
"Do you think that he has bet much on this race?"
"Oh, how should I know, Mrs. Latch?... But the horse is certain to win."
"Certain to win! I have heard that tale before; they are always certain to
win. So they have won you round to their way of thinking, have they?" said
Mrs. Latch, straightening her back.
"I know very well indeed that it is not right to bet; but what can I do, a
poor girl like me? If it hadn't been for William I never would have taken
a number in that sweepstakes."
"Do you like him very much, then?"
"He has been very kind to me--he was kind when--"
"Yes, I know, when I was unkind. I was unkind to you when you first came.
You don't know all. I was much troubled at that time, and somehow I did
not--. But there is no ill-feeling?... I'll make it up to you--I'll teach
you how to be a cook."
"Oh, Mrs. Latch, I am sure----"
"Never mind that. When you went out to walk with him the other night, did
he tell you that he had many bets on the race?"
"He talked about the race, like everyone else, but he did not tell me what
bets he had on."
"No, they never do do that.... But you'll not tell him that I asked you?"
"No, Mrs. Latch, I promise."
"It would do no good, he'd only be angry; it would only set him against
me. I am afraid that nothing will stop him now. Once they get a taste for
it it is like drink. I wish he was married, that might get him out of it.
Some woman who would have an influence over him, some strong-minded woman.
I thought once that you were strong-minded----"
At that moment Sarah and Grover entered the kitchen talking loudly. They
asked Mrs. Latch how soon they could have dinner--the sooner the better,
for the Saint had told them that they were free to go out for the day.
They were to try to be back before eight, that was all. Ah! the Saint was
a first-rate sort. She had said that she did not want anyone to attend on
her. She would, get herself a bit of lunch in the dining-room. Mrs. Latch
allowed Esther to hurry on the dinner, and by one o'clock they had all
finished. Sarah and Margaret were going into Brighton to do some shopping,
Grover was going to Worthing to spend the afternoon with the wife of one
of the guards of the Brighton and South Coast Railway. Mrs. Latch went
upstairs to lie down. So it grew lonelier and lonelier in the kitchen.
Esther's sewing fell out of her hands, and she wondered what she should
do. She thought that she might go down to the beach, and soon after she
put on her hat and stood thinking, remembering that she had not been by
the sea, that she had not seen the sea since she was a little girl. But
she remembered the tall ships that came into the harbour, sail falling
over sail, and the tall ships that floated out of the harbour, sail rising
over sail, catching the breeze as they went aloft--she remembered them.
A suspension bridge, ornamented with straight-tailed lions, took her over
the weedy river, and having crossed some pieces of rough grass, she
climbed the shingle bank. The heat rippled the blue air, and the sea, like
an exhausted caged beast, licked the shingle. Sea-poppies bloomed under
the wheels of a decaying bathing-machine, and Esther wondered. But the sea
here was lonely as a prison, and, seeing the treeless coast with its chain
of towns, her thoughts suddenly reverted to William. She wished he were
with her, and for pleasant contemplation she thought of that happy evening
when she saw him coming through the hunting gate, when, his arm about her,
William had explained that if the horse won she would take seven shillings
out of the sweepstakes. She knew now that William did not care about
Sarah; and that he cared for her had given a sudden and unexpected meaning
to her existence. She lay on the shingle, her day-dream becoming softer
and more delicate as it rounded into summer sleep.
And when the light awoke her she saw flights of white clouds--white up
above, rose-coloured as they approached the west; and when she turned, a
tall, melancholy woman.
"Good evening, Mrs. Randal," said Esther, glad to find someone to speak
to. "I've been asleep."
"Good evening, Miss. You're from Woodview, I think?"
"Yes, I'm the kitchen-maid. They've gone to the races; there was nothing
to do, so I came down here."
Mrs. Randal's lips moved as if she were going to say something. But she
did not speak. Soon after she rose to her feet. "I think that it must be
getting near tea-time; I must be going. You might come in and have a cup
of tea with me, if you're not in a hurry back to Woodview."
Esther was surprised at so much condescension, and in silence the two
women crossed the meadows that lay between the shingle bank and the river.
Trains were passing all the while, scattering, it seemed, in their noisy
passage over the spider-legged bridge, the news from Goodwood. The news
seemed to be borne along shore in the dust, and, as if troubled by
prescience of the news, Mrs. Randal said, as she unlocked the cottage
"It is all over now. The people in those trains know well enough which has
"Yes, I suppose they know, and somehow I feel as if I knew too. I feel as
if Silver Braid had won."
Mrs. Randal's home was gaunt as herself. Everything looked as if it had
been scraped, and the spare furniture expressed a meagre, lonely life. She
dropped a plate as she laid the table, and stood pathetically looking at
the pieces. When Esther asked for a teaspoon she gave way utterly.
"I haven't one to give you; I had forgotten that they were gone. I should
have remembered and not asked you to tea."
"It don't matter, Mrs. Randal; I can stir up my tea with anything--a
knitting-needle will do very well--"
"I should have remembered and not asked you back to tea; but I was so
miserable, and it is so lonely sitting in this house, that I could stand
it no longer.... Talking to you saved me from thinking, and I did not want
to think until this race was over. If Silver Braid is beaten we are
ruined. Indeed, I don't know what will become of us. For fifteen years I
have borne up; I have lived on little at the best of times, and very often
have gone without; but that is nothing compared to the anxiety--to see him
come in with a white face, to see him drop into a chair and hear him say,
'Beaten a head on the post,' or 'Broke down, otherwise he would have won
in a canter.' I have always tried to be a good wife and tried to console
him, and to do the best when he said, 'I have lost half a year's wages, I
don't know how we shall pull through.' I have borne with ten thousand
times more than I can tell you. The sufferings of a gambler's wife cannot
be told. Tell me, what do you think my feelings must have been when one
night I heard him calling me out of my sleep, when I heard him say, 'I
can't die, Annie, without bidding you good-bye. I can only hope that you
will be able to pull through, and I know that the Gaffer will do all he
can for you, but he has been hit awful hard too. You mustn't think too
badly of me, Annie, but I have had such a bad time that I couldn't put up
with it any longer, and I thought the best thing I could do would be to
go.' That's just how he talked--nice words to hear your husband speak in
your ear through the darkness! There was no time to send for the doctor,
so I jumped out of bed, put the kettle on, and made him drink glass after
glass of salt and water. At last he brought up the laudanum."
Esther listened to the melancholy woman, and remembered the little man
whom she saw every day so orderly, so precise, so sedate, so methodical,
so unemotional, into whose life she thought no faintest emotion had ever
entered--and this was the truth.
"So long as I only had myself to think of I didn't mind; but now there are
the children growing up. He should think of them. Heaven only knows what
will become of them... John is as kind a husband as ever was if it weren't
for that one fault; but he cannot resist having something on any more than
a drunkard can resist the bar-room."
"Winner, winner, winner of the Stewards' Cup!"
The women started to their feet. When they got into the street the boy was
far away; besides, neither had a penny to pay for the paper, and they
wandered about the town hearing and seeing nothing, so nervous were they.
At last Esther proposed to ask at the "Red Lion" who had won. Mrs. Randal