Part 2 out of 8
begged her to refrain, urging that she was unable to bear the tidings
should it be evil.
"Silver Braid," the barman answered. The girl rushed through the doors.
"It is all right, it is all right; he has won!"
Soon after the little children in the lane were calling forth "Silver
Braid won!" And overcome by the excitement Esther walked along the
sea-road to meet the drag. She walked on and on until the sound of the
horn came through the crimson evening and she saw the leaders trotting in
a cloud of dust. Ginger was driving, and he shouted to her, "He won!" The
Gaffer waved the horn and shouted, "He won!" Peggy waved her broken
parasol and shouted, "He won!" Esther looked at William. He leaned over
the back seat and shouted, "He won!" She had forgotten all about late
dinner. What would Mrs. Latch say? On such a day as this she would say
Nearly everything came down untouched. Eating and drinking had been in
progress almost all day on the course, and Esther had finished washing up
before nine, and had laid the cloth in the servants' hall for supper. But
if little was eaten upstairs, plenty was eaten downstairs; the mutton was
finished in a trice, and Mrs. Latch had to fetch from the larder what
remained of a beefsteak pudding. Even then they were not satisfied, and
fine inroads were made into a new piece of cheese. Beer, according to
orders, was served without limit, and four bottles of port were sent down
so that the health of the horse might be adequately drunk.
While assuaging their hunger the men had exchanged many allusive remarks
regarding the Demon's bad ending, how nearly he had thrown the race away;
and the meal being now over, and there being nothing to do but to sit and
talk, Mr. Leopold, encouraged by William, entered on an elaborate and
technical account of the race. The women listened, playing with a rind of
cheese, glancing at the cheese itself, wondering if they could manage
another slice, and the men sipping their port wine, puffing at their
pipes, William listening most avidly of all, enjoying each sporting term,
and ingeniously reminding Mr. Leopold of some detail whenever he seemed
disposed to shorten his narrative. The criticism of the Demon's
horsemanship took a long while, for by a variety of suggestive remarks
William led Mr. Leopold into reminiscences of the skill of certain famous
jockeys in the first half of the century. These digressions wearied Sarah
and Grover, and their thoughts wandered to the dresses that had been worn
that day, and the lady's-maid remembered she would hear all that
interested her that night in the young ladies' rooms. At last, losing all
patience, Sarah declared that she didn't care what Chifney had said when
he just managed to squeeze his horse's head in front in the last dozen
yards, she wanted to know what the Demon had done to so nearly lose the
race--had he mistaken the winning-post and pulled up? William looked at
her contemptuously, and would have answered rudely, but at that moment Mr.
Leopold began to tell the last instructions that the Gaffer had given the
Demon. The orders were that the Demon should go right up to the leaders
before they reached the half-mile, and remain there. Of course, if he
found that he was a stone or more in hand, as the Gaffer expected, he
might come away pretty well as he liked, for the greatest danger was that
the horse might get shut out or might show temper and turn it up.
"Well," said Mr. Leopold, "there were two false starts, and Silver Braid
must have galloped a couple of 'undred yards afore the Demon could stop
him. There wasn't twopence-halfpenny worth of strength in him--pulling off
those three or four pounds pretty well finished him. He'll never be able
to ride that weight again.... He said afore starting that he felt weak;
you took him along too smartly from Portslade the last time you went
"When he went by himself he'd stop playing marbles with the boys round the
"If there had been another false start I think it would have been all up
with us. The Gaffer was quite pale, and he stood there not taking his
glasses from his eyes. There were over thirty of them, so you can imagine
how hard it was to get them into line. However, at the third attempt they
were got straight and away they came, a black line stretching right across
the course. Presently the black cap and jacket came to the front, and not
very long after a murmur went round, 'Silver Braid wins.' Never saw
anything like it in all my life. He was three lengths a'ead, and the
others were pulling off. 'Damn the boy; he'll win by twenty lengths,' said
the Gaffer, without removing his glasses. But when within a few yards of
At that moment the bell rang. Mr. Leopold said, "There, they are wanting
their tea; I must go and get it."
"Drat their tea," said Margaret; "they can wait. Finish up; tell us how he
Mr. Leopold looked round, and seeing every eye fixed on him he considered
how much remained of the story, and with quickened speech continued,
"Well, approaching the stand, I noticed that Silver Braid was not going
quite so fast, and at the very instant the Demon looked over his shoulder,
and seeing he was losing ground he took up the whip. But the moment he
struck him the horse swerved right across the course, right under the
stand, running like a rat from underneath the whip. The Demon caught him
one across the nose with his left hand, but seeing what was 'appening, the
Tinman, who was on Bullfinch, sat down and began riding. I felt as if
there was a lump of ice down my back," and Mr. Leopold lowered his voice,
and his face became grave as he recalled that perilous moment. "I thought
it was all over," he said, "and the Gaffer thought the same; I never saw a
man go so deadly pale. It was all the work of a moment, but that moment
was more than a year--at least, so it seemed to me. Well, about half-way
up the rails the Tinman got level with the Demon. It was ten to one that
Silver Braid would turn it up, or that the boy wouldn't 'ave the strength
to ride out so close a finish as it was bound to be. I thought then of the
way you used to take him along from Portslade, and I'd have given
something to've put a pound or two of flesh into his thighs and arms. The
Tinman was riding splendid, getting every ounce and something more out of
Bullfinch. The Demon, too weak to do much, was sitting nearly quite still.
It looked as if it was all up with us, but somehow Silver Braid took to
galloping of his own accord, and 'aving such a mighty lot in 'and he won
on the post by a 'ead--a short 'ead.... I never felt that queer in my life
and the Gaffer was no better; but I said to him, just afore the numbers
went up, 'It is all right, sir, he's just done it,' and when the right
number went up I thought everything was on the dance, going for swim like.
By golly, it was a near thing!" At the end of a long silence Mr. Leopold
said, shaking himself out of his thoughts, "Now I must go and get their
Esther sat at the end of the table; her cheek leaned on her hand. By
turning her eyes she could see William. Sarah noticed one of these
stealthy backward glances and a look of anger crossed her face, and
calling to William she asked him when the sweepstakes money would be
divided. The question startled William from a reverie of small bets, and
he answered that there was no reason why the sweepstakes money should not
be divided at once.
"There was twelve. That's right, isn't it?--Sarah, Margaret, Esther, Miss
Grover, Mr. Leopold, myself, the four boys, and Swindles and Wall....
Well, it was agreed that seven should go to the first, three to the
second, and two to the third. No one got the third 'orse, so I suppose the
two shillings that would have gone to him 'ad better be given to the
"Given to the first! Why, that's Esther! Why should she get it?... What do
you mean? No third! Wasn't Soap-bubble third?"
"Yes, Soap-bubble was third right enough, but he wasn't in the sweep."
"And why wasn't he?"
"Because he wasn't among the eleven first favourites. We took them as they
were quoted in the betting list published in the _Sportsman_."
"How was it, then, that you put in Silver Braid?"
"Yer needn't get so angry, Sarah, no one's cheating; it is all above
board. If you don't believe us, you'd better accuse us straight out."
"What I want to know is, why Silver Braid was included?--he wasn't among
the eleven first favourites."
"Oh, don't be so stupid, Sarah; you know that we agreed to make an
exception in favour of our own 'orse--a nice sweep it would 'ave been if
we 'adn't included Silver Braid."
"And suppose," she exclaimed, tightening her brows, "that Soap-bubble had
won, what would have become of our money?"
"It would have been returned--everyone would have got his shilling back."
"And now I am to get three shillings, and that little Methodist or
Plymouth Brethren there, whatever you like to call her, is to get nine!"
said Sarah, with a light of inspiration flashing through her beer-clouded
mind. "Why should the two shillings that would have gone to Soap-bubble,
if anyone 'ad drawn 'im, go to the first 'orse rather than to the second?"
William hesitated, unable for the moment to give a good reason why the
extra two shillings should be given to Silver Braid; and Sarah, perceiving
her advantage, deliberately accused him of wishing to favour Esther.
"Don't we know that you went out to walk with her, and that you remained
out till nearly eleven at night. That's why you want all the money to go
to her. You don't take us for a lot of fools, do you? Never in any place I
ever was in before would such a thing be allowed--the footman going out
with the kitchen-maid, and one of the Dissenting lot."
"I am not going to have my religion insulted! How dare you?" And Esther
started up from her place; but William was too quick for her. He grasped
"Never mind what Sarah says."
"Never mind what I says! ...A thing like that, who never was in a
situation before; no doubt taken out of some 'ouse. Rescue work, I think
they call it----"
"She shan't insult me--no, she shan't!" said Esther, tremulous with
"A nice sort of person to insult!" said Sarah, her arms akimbo.
"Now look you here, Sarah Tucker," said Mrs. Latch, starting from her
seat, "I'm not going to see that girl aggravated, so that she may do what
she shouldn't do, and give you an opportunity of going to the missis with
tales about her. Come away, Esther, come with me. Let them go on betting
if they will; I never saw no good come of it."
"That's all very fine, mother; but it must be settled, and we have to
divide the money."
"I don't want your money," said Esther, sullenly; "I wouldn't take it."
"What blooming nonsense! You must take your money. Ah, here's Mr. Leopold!
he'll decide it."
Mr. Leopold said at once that the money that under other circumstances
would have gone to the third horse must be divided between the first and
second; but Sarah refused to accept this decision. Finally, it was
proposed that the matter should be referred to the editor of the
_Sportsman_; and as Sarah still remained deaf to argument, William offered
her choice between the _Sportsman_ and the _Sporting Life_.
"Look here," said William, getting between the women; "this evening isn't
one for fighting; we have all won our little bit, and ought to be
thankful. The only difference between you is two shillings, that were to
have gone to the third horse if anyone had drawn him. Mr. Leopold says it
ought to be divided; you, Sarah, won't accept his decision. We have
offered to write to the _Sportsman_, and Esther has offered to give up her
claim. Now, in the name of God, tell us what do you want?"
She raised some wholly irrelevant issue, and after a protracted argument
with William, largely composed of insulting remarks, she declared that she
wasn't going to take the two shillings, nor yet one of them; let them give
her the three she had won--that was all she wanted. William looked at her,
shrugged his shoulders, and, after declaring that it was his conviction
that women wasn't intended to have nothing to do with horse-racing, he
took up his pipe and tobacco-pouch.
"Good-night, ladies, I have had enough of you for to-night; I am going to
finish my smoke in the pantry. Don't scratch all your 'air out; leave
enough for me to put into a locket."
When the pantry door was shut, and the men had smoked some moments in
silence, William said--
"Do you think he has any chance of winning the Chesterfield Cup?"
"He'll win in a canter if he'll only run straight. If I was the Gaffer I
think I'd put up a bigger boy. He'll 'ave to carry a seven-pound penalty,
and Johnnie Scott could ride that weight."
The likelihood that a horse will bolt with one jockey and run straight
with another was argued passionately, and illustrated with interesting
reminiscences drawn from that remote past when Mr. Leopold was the
Gaffer's private servant--before either of them had married--when life was
composed entirely of horse-racing and prize-fighting. But cutting short
his tale of how he had met one day the Birmingham Chicken in a booth, and,
not knowing who he was, had offered to fight him, Mr. Leopold confessed he
did not know how to act--he had a bet of fifty pounds to ten shillings for
the double event; should he stand it out or lay some of it off? William
thrilled with admiration. What a 'ead, and who'd think it? that little
'ead, hardly bigger than a cocoanut! What a brain there was inside! Fifty
pounds to ten shillings; should he stand it out or hedge some of it? Who
could tell better than Mr. Leopold? It would, of course, be a pity to
break into the fifty. What did ten shillings matter? Mr. Leopold was a big
enough man to stand the racket of it even if it didn't come back. William
felt very proud of being consulted, for Mr. Leopold had never before been
known to let anyone know what he had on a race.
Next day they walked into Shoreham together. The bar of the "Red Lion" was
full of people. Above the thronging crowd the voice of the barman and the
customers were heard calling, "Two glasses of Burton, glass of bitter,
three of whiskey cold." There were railway porters, sailors, boatmen,
shop-boys, and market gardeners. They had all won something, and had come
for their winnings.
Old Watkins, an elderly man with white whiskers and a curving stomach, had
just run in to wet his whistle. He walked back to his office with Mr.
Leopold and William, a little corner shelved out of some out-houses, into
which you could walk from the street.
"Talk of favourites!" he said; "I'd sooner pay over the three first
favourites than this one--thirty, twenty to one starting price, and the
whole town onto him; it's enough to break any man.... Now, my men, what is
it?" he said, turning to the railway porters.
"Just the trifle me and my mates 'av won over that 'ere 'orse."
"What was it?"
"A shilling at five and twenty to one."
"Look it out, Joey. Is it all right?"
"Yes, sir; yes, sir," said the clerk.
And old Watkins slid his hand into his breeches pocket, and it came forth
filled with gold and silver.
"Come, come, mates, we are bound to 'ave a bet on him for the
Chesterfield--we can afford it now; what say yer, a shilling each?"
"Done for a shilling each," said the under-porter; "finest 'orse in
training.... What price, Musser Watkins?"
"Ten to one."
"Right, 'ere's my bob."
The other porters gave their shillings; Watkins slid them back into his
pocket, and called to Joey to book the bet.
"And, now, what is yours, Mr. Latch?"
William stated the various items. He had had a bet of ten shillings to one
on one race and had lost; he had had half-a-crown on another and had lost;
in a word, three-and-sixpence had to be subtracted from his winnings on
Silver Braid. These amounted to more than five pounds. William's face
flushed with pleasure, and the world seemed to be his when he slipped four
sovereigns and a handful of silver into his waistcoat pocket. Should he
put a sovereign of his winnings on Silver Braid for the Chesterfield?
Half-a-sovereign was enough! ...The danger of risking a sovereign--a whole
"Now, Mr. Latch," said old Watkins, "if you want to back anything, make up
your mind; there are a good many besides yourself who have business with
William hesitated, and then said he'd take ten half-sovereigns to one
against Silver Braid.
"Ten half-sovereigns to one?" said old Watkins.
William murmured "Yes," and Joey booked the bet.
Mr. Leopold's business demanded more consideration. The fat betting man
and the scarecrow little butler walked aside and talked, both apparently
indifferent to the impatience of a number of small customers; sometimes
Joey called in his shrill cracked voice if he might lay ten half-crowns to
one, or five shillings to one, as the case might be. Watkins would then
raise his eyes from Mr. Leopold's face and nod or shake his head, or
perhaps would sign with his fingers what odds he was prepared to lay. With
no one else would Watkins talk so lengthily, showing so much deference.
Mr. Leopold had the knack of investing all he did with an air of mystery,
and the deepest interest was evinced in this conversation. At last, as if
dismissing matters of first importance, the two men approached William,
and he heard Watkins pressing Mr. Leopold to lay off some of that fifty
"I'll take twelve to one--twenty-four pounds to two. Shall I book it?"
Mr. Leopold shook his head, and, smiling enigmatically, said he must be
getting back. William was much impressed, and congratulated himself on his
courage in taking the ten half-sovereigns to one. Mr. Leopold knew a thing
or two; he had been talking to the Gaffer that morning, and if it hadn't
been all right he would have laid off some of the money.
Next day one of the Gaffer's two-year-olds won a race, and the day after
Silver Braid won the Chesterfield Cup.
The second victory of Silver Braid nearly ruined old Watkins. He declared
that he had never been so hard hit; but as he did not ask for time and
continued to draw notes and gold and silver in handfuls from his capacious
pockets, his lamentations only served to stimulate the happiness of the
fortunate backers, and, listening to the sweet note of self ringing in
their hearts, they returned to the public-house to drink the health of the
So the flood of gold continued to roll into the little town, decrepit and
colourless by its high shingle beach and long reaches of muddy river. The
dear gold jingled merrily in the pockets, quickening the steps, lightening
the heart, curling lips with smiles, opening lips with laughter. The dear
gold came falling softly, sweetly as rain, soothing the hard lives of
working folk. Lives pressed with toil lifted up and began to dream again.
The dear gold was like an opiate; it wiped away memories of hardship and
sorrow, it showed life in a lighter and merrier guise, and the folk
laughed at their fears for the morrow and wondered how they could have
thought life so hard and relentless. The dear gold was pleasing as a bird
on the branch, as a flower on the stem; the tune it sang was sweet, the
colour it flaunted was bright.
The trade of former days had never brought the excitement and the fortune
that this horse's hoofs had done. The dust they had thrown up had fallen a
happy, golden shower upon Shoreham. In every corner and crevice of life
the glitter appeared. That fine red dress on the builder's wife, and the
feathers that the girls flaunt at their sweethearts, the loud trousers on
the young man's legs, the cigar in his mouth--all is Goodwood gold. It
glitters in that girl's ears and on this girl's finger.
It was said that the town of Shoreham had won two thousand pounds on the
race; it was said that Mr. Leopold had won two hundred; it was said that
William Latch had won fifty; it was said that Wall, the coachman, had won
five-and-twenty; it was said that the Gaffer had won forty thousand
pounds. For ten miles around nothing was talked of but the wealth of the
Barfields, and, drawn like moths to a candle, the county came to call;
even the most distant and reserved left cards, others walked up and down
the lawn with the Gaffer, listening to his slightest word. A golden
prosperity shone upon the yellow Italian house. Carriages passed under its
elm-trees at every hour and swept round the evergreen oaks. Rumour said
that large alterations were going to be made, so that larger and grander
entertainments might be given; an Italian garden was spoken of,
balustrades and terraces, stables were in course of construction, many
more race-horses were bought; they arrived daily, and the slender
creatures, their dark eyes glancing out of the sight holes in their cloth
hoods, walked up from the station followed by an admiring and commenting
crowd. Drink and expensive living, dancing and singing upstairs and
downstairs, and the jollifications culminated in a servants' ball given at
the Shoreham Gardens. All the Woodview servants, excepting Mrs. Latch,
were there; likewise all the servants from Mr. Northcote's, and those from
Sir George Preston's--two leading county families. A great number of
servants had come from West Brighton, and Lancing, and Worthing
--altogether between two and three hundred. "Evening dress is
indispensable" was printed on the cards. The butlers, footmen, cooks,
ladies' maids, housemaids, and housekeepers hoped by this notification to
keep the ball select. But the restriction seemed to condemn Esther to play
again the part of Cinderella.
A group of men turned from the circular buffet when Esther entered. Miss
Mary had given her a white muslin dress, a square-cut bodice with sleeves
reaching to the elbows, and a blue sash tied round the waist. The remarks
as she passed were, "A nice, pretty girl." William was waiting, and she
went away with him on the hop of a vigorous polka.
Many of the dancers had gone to get cool in the gardens, but a few couples
had begun to whirl, the women borne along by force, the men poising their
legs into curious geometrical positions.
Mr. Leopold was very busy dragging men away from the circular buffet--they
must dance whether they knew how or not.
"The Gaffer has told me partic'lar to see that the 'gals' all had
partners, and just look down that 'ere room; 'alf of that lot 'aven't been
on their legs yet. 'Ere's a partner for you," and the butler pulled a
young gamekeeper towards a young girl who had just arrived. She entered
slowly, her hands clasped across her bosom, her eyes fixed on the ground,
and the strangeness of the spectacle caused Mr. Leopold to pause. It was
whispered that she had never worn a low dress before, and Grover came to
the rescue of her modesty with a pocket-handkerchief.
But it had been found impossible to restrict the ball to those who
possessed or could obtain an evening suit, and plenty of check trousers
and red neckties were hopping about. Among the villagers many a touch
suggested costume. A young girl had borrowed her grandmother's wedding
dress, and a young man wore a canary-coloured waistcoat and a blue
coastguardsman's coat of old time. These touches of fancy and personal
taste divided the villagers from the household servants. The butlers
seemed on the watch for side dishes, and the valets suggested hair brushes
and hot water. Cooks trailed black silk dresses adorned with wide collars,
and fastened with gold brooches containing portraits of their late
husbands; and the fine shirt fronts set off with rich pearls, the
lavender-gloved hands, the delicate faces, expressive of ease and leisure,
made Ginger's two friends--young Mr. Preston and young Mr. Northcote
--noticeable among this menial, work-a-day crowd. Ginger loved the
upper circles, and now he romped the polka in the most approved
London fashion, his elbows advanced like a yacht's bowsprit, and, his
coat-tails flying, he dashed through a group of tradespeople who were
bobbing up and down, hardly advancing at all.
Esther was now being spoken of as the belle of the ball, she had danced
with young Mr. Preston, and seeing her sitting alone Grover called her and
asked her why she was not dancing. Esther answered sullenly that she was
"Come, the next polka, just to show there is no ill-feeling." Half a dozen
times William repeated his demand. At last she said--
"You've spoilt all my pleasure in the dancing."
"I'm sorry if I've done that, Esther. I was jealous, that's all."
"Jealous! What was you jealous for? What do it matter what people think,
so long as I know I haven't done no wrong?"
And in silence they walked into the garden. The night was warm, even
oppressive, and the moon hung like a balloon above the trees, and often
the straying revellers stopped to consider the markings now so plain upon
its disc. There were arbours, artificial ruins, darkling pathways, and the
breathless garden was noisy in the illusive light. William showed Esther
the theatre and explained its purpose. She listened, though she did not
understand, nor could she believe that she was not dreaming when they
suddenly stood on the borders of a beautiful lake full of the shadows of
tall trees, and crossed by a wooden bridge at the narrowest end.
"How still the water is; and the stars, they are lovely!"
"You should see the gardens about three o'clock on Saturday afternoons,
when the excursion comes in from Brighton."
They walked on a little further, and Esther said, "What's these places?
Ain't they dark?"
"These are arbours, where we 'as shrimps and tea. I'll take you next
Saturday, if you'll come."
A noisy band of young men, followed by three or four girls, ran across the
bridge. Suddenly they stopped to argue on which side the boat was to be
found. Some chose the left, some the right; those who went to the right
sent up a yell of triumph, and paddled into the middle of the water. They
first addressed remarks to their companions, and then they admired the
moon and stars. A song was demanded, and at the end of the second verse
William threw his arm round Esther.
"Oh, Esther, I do love you."
She looked at him, her grey eyes fixed in a long interrogation.
"I wonder if that is true. What is there to love in me?"
He squeezed her tightly, and continued his protestations. "I do, I do, I
do love you, Esther."
She did not answer, and they walked slowly on. A holly bush threw a black
shadow on the gravel path and a moment after the ornamental tin roof of
the dancing room appeared between the trees.
Even in their short absence a change had come upon the ball. About the
circular buffet numbers of men called for drink, and talked loudly of
horse-racing. Many were away at supper, and those that remained were
amusing themselves in a desultory fashion. A tall, lean woman, dressed
like Sarah in white muslin, wearing amber beads round her neck, was
dancing the lancers with the Demon, and everyone shook with laughter when
she whirled the little fellow round or took him in her arms and carried
him across. William wanted to dance, but Esther was hungry, and led him
away to an adjoining building where cold beef, chicken, and beer might be
had by the strong and adventurous. As they struggled through the crowd
Esther spied three young gentlemen at the other end of the room.
"Now tell me, if they ask me, the young gents yonder, to dance, am I to
look them straight in the face and say no?"
William considered a moment, and then he said, "I think you had better
dance with them if they asks you; if you refuse, Sarah will say it was I
who put you up to it."
"Let's have another bottle," cried Ginger. "Come, what do you say, Mr.
Mr. Thomas coughed, smiled, and said that Mr. Arthur wished to see him in
the hands of the police. However, he promised to drink his share. Two more
bottles were sent for, and, stimulated by the wine, the weights that would
probably be assigned to certain horses in the autumn handicap were
discussed. William was very proud of being admitted into such company, and
he listened, a cigar which he did not like between his teeth, and a glass
of champagne in his hand.... Suddenly the conversation was interrupted by
the cornet sounding the first phrase of a favourite waltz, and the tipsy
and the sober hastened away.
Neither Esther nor William knew how to waltz, but they tumbled round the
room, enjoying themselves immensely. In the polka and mazurka they got on
better; and there were quadrilles and lancers in which the gentlemen
joined, and all were gay and pleasant; even Sarah's usually sour face
glowed with cordiality when they joined hands and raced round the men
standing in the middle. In the chain they lost themselves as in a
labyrinth and found their partners unexpectedly. But the dance of the
evening was Sir Roger de Coverley, and Esther's usually sober little brain
evaporated in the folly of running up the room, then turning and running
backwards, getting into her place as best she could, and then starting
again. It always appeared to be her turn, and it was so sweet to see her
dear William, and such a strange excitement to run forward to meet young
Mr. Preston, to curtsey to him, and then run away; and this over and over
"There's the dawn."
Esther looked, and in the whitening doorways she saw the little jockey
staggering about helplessly drunk. The smile died out of her eyes; she
returned to her true self, to Mrs. Barfield and the Brethren. She felt
that all this dancing, drinking, and kissing in the arbours was wicked.
But Miss Mary had sent for her, and had told her that she would give her
one of her dresses, and she had not known how to refuse Miss Mary. Then,
if she had not gone, William--Sounds of loud voices were heard in the
garden, and the lean woman in the white muslin repeated some charge.
Esther ran out to see what was happening, and there she witnessed a
disgraceful scene. The lean woman in the muslin dress and the amber beads
accused young Mr. Preston of something which he denied, and she heard
William tell someone that he was mistaken, that he and his pals didn't
want no rowing at this 'ere ball, and what was more they didn't mean to
And her heart filled with love for her big William. What a fine fellow he
was! how handsome were his shoulders beside that round-shouldered little
man whom he so easily pulled aside! and having crushed out the quarrel, he
helped her on with her jacket, and, hanging on his arm, they returned home
through the little town. Margaret followed with the railway porter; Sarah
was with her faithful admirer, a man with a red beard, whom she had picked
up at the ball; Grover waddled in the rear, embarrassed with the green
silk, which she held high out of the dust of the road.
When they reached the station the sky was stained with rose, and the
barren downs--more tin-like than ever in the shadow-less light of
dawn--stretched across the sunrise from Lancing to Brighton. The little
birds sat ruffling their feathers, and, awaking to the responsibilities of
the day, flew away into the corn. The night had been close and sultry, and
even at this hour there was hardly any freshness in the air. Esther looked
at the hills, examining the landscape intently. She was thinking of the
first time she saw it. Some vague association of ideas--the likeness that
the morning landscape bore to the evening landscape, or the wish to
prolong the sweetness of these, the last moments of her happiness,
impelled her to linger and to ask William if the woods and fields were not
beautiful. The too familiar landscape awoke in William neither idea nor
sensation; Esther interested him more, and while she gazed dreamily on the
hills he admired the white curve of her neck which showed beneath the
unbuttoned jacket. She never looked prettier than she did that morning,
standing on the dusty road, her white dress crumpled, the ends of the blue
sash hanging beneath the black cloth jacket.
For days nothing was talked of but the ball--how this man had danced, the
bad taste of this woman's dress, and the possibility of a marriage. The
ball had brought amusement to all, to Esther it had brought happiness. Her
happiness was now visible in her face and audible in her voice, and
Sarah's ironical allusions to her inability to learn to read no longer
annoyed her, no longer stirred her temper--her love seemed to induce
forgiveness for all and love for everything.
In the evenings when their work was done Esther and her lover lingered
about the farm buildings, listening to the rooks, seeing the lights die in
the west; and in the summer darkness about nine she tripped by his side
when he took the letters to post. The wheat stacks were thatching, and in
the rickyard, in the carpenter's shop, and in the whist of the woods they
talked of love and marriage. They lay together in the warm valleys,
listening to the tinkling of the sheep-bell, and one evening, putting his
pipe aside, William threw his arm round her, whispering that she was his
wife. The words were delicious in her fainting ears, and her will died in
what seemed like irresistible destiny. She could not struggle with him,
though she knew that her fate depended upon her resistance, and swooning
away she awakened in pain, powerless to free herself.... Soon after
thoughts betook themselves on their painful way, and the stars were
shining when he followed her across the down, beseeching her to listen.
But she fled along the grey road and up the stairs to her room. Margaret
was in bed, and awakening a little asked her what had kept her out so
late. She did not answer... and hearing Margaret fall asleep she
remembered the supper-table. Sarah, who had come in late, had sat down by
her; William sat on the opposite side; Mrs. Latch was in her place, the
jockeys were all together; Mr. Swindles, his snuff-box on the table;
Margaret and Grover. Everyone had drunk a great deal; and Mr. Leopold had
gone to the beer cellar many times. She thought that she remembered
feeling a little dizzy when William asked her to come for a stroll up the
hill. They had passed through the hunting gate; they had wandered into the
loneliness of the hills. Over the folded sheep the rooks came home noisily
through a deepening sky. So far she remembered, and she could not remember
further; and all night lay staring into the darkness, and when Margaret
called her in the morning she was pale and deathlike.
"Whatever is the matter? You do look ill."
"I did not sleep all last night. My head aches as if it would drop off. I
don't feel as if I could go to work to-day."
"That's the worst of being a servant. Well or ill, it makes no matter."
She turned from the glass, and holding her hair in her left hand, leaned
her head so that she might pin it. "You do look bad," she remarked dryly.
Never had they been so late! Half-past seven, and the shutters still up!
So said Margaret as they hurried downstairs. But Esther thought only of
the meeting with William. She had seen him cleaning boots in the pantry as
they passed. He waited till Margaret left her, till he heard the baize
door which separated the back premises from the front of the house close,
then he ran to the kitchen, where he expected to find Esther alone. But
meeting his mother he mumbled some excuse and retreated. There were
visitors in the house, he had a good deal to do that morning, and Esther
kept close to Mrs. Latch; but at breakfast it suddenly became necessary
that she should answer him, and Sarah saw that Esther and William were no
"Well I never! Look at her! She sits there over her tea-cup as melancholy
as a prayer-meeting."
"What is it to you?" said William.
"What's it to me? I don't like an ugly face at the breakfast-table, that's
"I wouldn't be your looking-glass, then. Luckily there isn't one here."
In the midst of an angry altercation, Esther walked out of the room.
During dinner she hardly spoke at all. After dinner she went to her room,
and did not come down until she thought he had gone out with the carriage.
But she was too soon, William came running down the passage to meet her.
He laid his hand supplicatingly on her arm.
"Don't touch me!" she said, and her eyes filled with dangerous light.
"Now, Esther! ...Come, don't lay it on too thick!"
"Go away. Don't speak to me!"
"Just listen one moment, that's all."
"Go away. If you don't, I'll go straight to Mrs. Barfield."
She passed into the kitchen and shut the door in his face. He had gone a
trifle pale, and after lingering a few moments he hurried away to the
stables, and Esther saw him spring on the box.
As it was frequent with Esther not to speak to anyone with whom she had
had a dispute for a week or fifteen days, her continued sulk excited
little suspicion, and the cause of the quarrel was attributed to some
trifle. Sarah said--
"Men are such fools. He is always begging of her to forgive him. Just look
at him--he is still after her, following her into the wood-shed."
She rarely answered him a yes or no, but would push past him, and if he
forcibly barred the way she would say, "Let me go by, will you? You are
interfering with my work." And if he still insisted, she spoke of
appealing to Mrs. Barfield. And if her heart sometimes softened, and an
insidious thought whispered that it did not matter since they were going
to be married, instinct forced her to repel him; her instinct was that she
could only win his respect by refusing forgiveness for a long while. The
religion in which her soul moved and lived--the sternest
Protestantism--strengthened and enforced the original convictions and the
prejudices of her race; and the natural shame which she had first felt
almost disappeared in the violence of her virtue. She even ceased to fear
discovery. What did it matter who knew, since she knew? She opened her
heart to God. Christ looked down, but he seemed stern and unforgiving. Her
Christ was the Christ of her forefathers; and He had not forgiven, because
she could not forgive herself. Hers was the unpardonable sin, the sin
which her race had elected to fight against, and she lay down weary and
sullen at heart.
The days seemed to bring no change, and wearied by her stubbornness,
William said, "Let her sulk," and he went out with Sarah; and when Esther
saw them go down the yard her heart said, "Let him take her out, I don't
want him." For she knew it to be a trick to make her jealous, and that he
should dare such a trick angered her still further against him, and when
they met in the garden, where she had gone with some food for the cats,
and he said, "Forgive me, Esther, I only went out with Sarah because you
drove me wild," she closed her teeth and refused to answer. But he stood
in her path, determined not to leave her. "I am very fond of you, Esther,
and I will marry you as soon as I have earned enough or won enough money
to give you a comfortable 'ome."
"You are a wicked man; I will never marry you."
"I am very sorry, Esther. But I am not as bad as you think for. You let
your temper get the better of you. So soon as I have got a bit of money
"If you were a good man you would ask me to marry you now."
"I will if you like, but the truth is that I have only three pounds in the
world. I have been unlucky lately--"
"You think of nothing but that wicked betting. Come, let me pass; I'm not
going to listen to a lot of lies."
"After the Leger--"
"Let me pass. I will not speak to you."
"But look here, Esther: marriage or no marriage, we can't go on in this
way: they'll be suspecting something shortly."
"I shall leave Woodview." She had hardly spoken the words when it seemed
clear to her that she must leave, and the sooner the better. "Come, let me
pass.... If Mrs. Barfield--"
An angry look passed over William's face, and he said--
"I want to act honest with you, and you won't let me. If ever there was a
sulky pig! ...Sarah's quite right; you are just the sort that would make
hell of a man's life."
She was bound to make him respect her. She had vaguely felt from the
beginning that this was her only hope, and now the sensation developed and
defined itself into a thought and she decided that she would not yield,
but would continue to affirm her belief that he must acknowledge his sin,
and then come and ask her to marry him. Above all things, Esther desired
to see William repentant. Her natural piety, filling as it did her entire
life, unconsciously made her deem repentance an essential condition of
their happiness. How could they be happy if he were not a God-fearing man?
This question presented itself constantly, and she was suddenly convinced
that she could not marry him until he had asked forgiveness of the Lord.
Then they would be joined together, and would love each other faithfully
But in conflict with her prejudices, her natural love of the man was as
the sun shining above a fog-laden valley; rays of passion pierced her
stubborn nature, dissolving it, and unconsciously her eyes sought
William's, and unconsciously her steps strayed from the kitchen when her
ears told her he was in the passage. But when her love went out freely to
William, when she longed to throw herself in his arms, saying, "Yes, I
love you; make me your wife," she noticed, or thought she noticed, that he
avoided her eyes, and she felt that thoughts of which she knew nothing had
obtained a footing in his mind, and she was full of foreboding.
Her heart being intent on him, she was aware of much that escaped the
ordinary eye, and she was the first to notice when the drawing-room bell
rang, and Mr. Leopold rose, that William would say, "My legs are the
youngest, don't you stir."
No one else, not even Sarah, thought William intended more than to keep in
Mr. Leopold's good graces, but Esther, although unable to guess the truth,
heard the still tinkling bell ringing the knell of her hopes. She noted,
too, the time he remained upstairs, and asked herself anxiously what it
was that detained him so long. The weather had turned colder lately....
Was it a fire that was wanted? In the course of the afternoon, she heard
from Margaret that Miss Mary and Mrs. Barfield had gone to Southwick to
make a call, and she heard from one of the boys that the Gaffer and Ginger
had ridden over in the morning to Fendon Fair, and had not yet returned.
It must have been Peggy who had rung the bell. Peggy? Suddenly she
remembered something--something that had been forgotten. The first Sunday,
the first time she went to the library for family prayers, Peggy was
sitting on the little green sofa, and as Esther passed across the room to
her place she saw her cast a glance of admiration on William's tall
figure, and the memory of that glance had flamed up in her brain, and all
that night Esther saw the girl with the pale face and the coal-black hair
looking at her William.
Next day Esther waited for the bell that was to call her lover from her.
The afternoon wore slowly away, and she had begun to hope she was mistaken
when the metal tongue commenced calling. She heard the baize door close
behind him; but the bell still continued to utter little pathetic notes. A
moment after all was still in the corridor, and like one sunk to the knees
in quicksands she felt that the time had come for a decided effort. But
what could she do? She could not follow him to the drawing-room. She had
begun to notice that he seemed to avoid her, and by his conduct seemed to
wish that their quarrel might endure. But pride and temper had fallen from
her, and she lived conscious of him, noting every sign, and intensely, all
that related to him, divining all his intentions, and meeting him in the
passage when he least expected her.
"I'm always getting in your way," she said, with a low, nervous laugh.
"No harm in that; ...fellow servants; there must be give and take."
Tremblingly they looked at each other, feeling that the time had come,
that an explanation was inevitable, but at that moment the drawing-room
bell rang above their heads, and William said, "I must answer that bell."
He turned from her, and passed through the baize door before she had said
Sarah remarked that William seemed to spend a great deal of his time in
the drawing-room, and Esther started out of her moody contemplation, and,
speaking instinctively, she said, "I don't think much of ladies who go
after their servants."
Everyone looked up. Mrs. Latch laid her carving-knife on the meat and
fixed her eyes on her son.
"Lady?" said Sarah; "she's no lady! Her mother used to mop out the yard
before she was 'churched.'"
"I can tell you what," said William, "you had better mind what you are
a-saying of, for if any of your talk got wind upstairs you'd lose yer
situation, and it might be some time before yer got another!"
"Lose my situation! and a good job, too. I shall always be able to suit
mesel'; don't you fear about me. But if it comes to talking about
situations, I can tell you that you are more likely to lose yours than I
am to lose mine."
William hesitated, and while he sought a judicious reply Mrs. Latch and
Mr. Leopold, putting forth their joint authority, brought the discussion
to a close. The jockey-boys exchanged grins, Sarah sulked, Mr. Swindles
pursed up his mouth in consideration, and the elder servants felt that the
matter would not rest in the servant's hall; that evening it would be the
theme of conversation in the "Red Lion," and the next day it would be the
talk of the town.
About four o'clock Esther saw Mrs. Barfield, Miss Mary, and Peggy walk
across the yard towards the garden, and as Esther had to go soon after to
the wood-shed she saw Peggy slip out of the garden by a bottom gate and
make her way through the evergreens. Esther hastened back to the kitchen
and stood waiting for the bell to ring. She had not to wait long; the bell
tinkled, but so faintly that Esther said, "She only just touched it; it is
a signal; he was on the look-out for it; she did not want anyone else to
Esther remembered the thousands of pounds she had heard that the young
lady possessed, and the beautiful dresses she wore. There was no hope for
her. How could there be? Her poor little wages and her print dress! He
would never look at her again! But oh! how cruel and wicked it was! How
could one who had so much come to steal from one who had so little? Oh, it
was very cruel and very wicked, and no good would come of it either to her
or to him; of that she felt quite sure. God always punished the wicked.
She knew he did not love Peggy. It was sin and shame; and after his
promises--after what had happened. Never would she have believed him to be
so false. Then her thought turned to passionate hatred of the girl who had
so cruelly robbed her. He had gone through that baize door, and no doubt
he was sitting by Peggy in the new drawing-room. He had gone where she
could not follow. He had gone where the grand folk lived in idleness, in
the sinfulness of the world and the flesh, eating and gambling, thinking
of nothing else, and with servants to wait on them, obeying their orders
and saving them from every trouble. She knew that these fine folk thought
servants inferior beings. But was she not of the same flesh and blood as
they? Peggy wore a fine dress, but she was no better; take off her dress
and they were the same, woman to woman.
She pushed through the door and walked down the passage. A few steps
brought her to the foot of a polished oak staircase, lit by a large window
in coloured glass, on either side of which there were statues. The
staircase sloped slowly to an imposing landing set out with columns and
blue vases and embroidered curtains. The girl saw these things vaguely,
and she was conscious of a profusion of rugs, matting, and bright doors,
and of her inability to decide which door was the drawing-room door--the
drawing-room of which she had heard so much, and where even now, amid gold
furniture and sweet-scented air, William listened to the wicked woman who
had tempted him away from her. Suddenly William appeared, and seeing
Esther he seemed uncertain whether to draw back or come forward. Then his
face took an expression of mixed fear and anger; and coming rapidly
towards her, he said--
"What are you doing here?"... then changing his voice, "This is against
the rules of the 'ouse."
"I want to see her."
"Anything else? What do you want to say to her? I won't have it, I tell
you.... What do you mean by spying after me? That's your game, is it?"
"I want to speak to her."
With averted face the young lady fled up the oak staircase, her
handkerchief to her lips. Esther made a movement as if to follow, but
William prevented her. She turned and walked down the passage and entered
the kitchen. Her face was one white tint, her short, strong arms hung
tremblingly, and William saw that it would be better to temporise.
"Now look here, Esther," he said, "you ought to be damned thankful to me
for having prevented you from making a fool of yourself."
Esther's eyelids quivered, and then her eyes dilated.
"Now, if Miss Margaret," continued William, "had--"
"Go away! go away! I am--" At that moment the steel of a large,
sharp-pointed knife lying on the table caught her eye. She snatched it up,
and seeing blood she rushed at him.
William retreated from her, and Mrs. Latch, coming suddenly in, caught her
arm. Esther threw the knife; it struck the wall, falling with a rattle on
the meat screen. Escaping from Mrs. Latch, she rushed to secure it, but
her strength gave way, and she fell back in a dead faint.
"What have you been doing to the girl?" said Mrs. Latch.
"Nothing, mother.... We had a few words, that was all. She said I should
not go out with Sarah."
"That is not true.... I can read the lie in your face; a girl doesn't take
up a knife unless a man well-nigh drives her mad."
"That's right; always side against your son! ...If you don't believe me,
get what you can out of her yourself." And, turning on his heel, he walked
out of the house.
Mrs. Latch saw him pass down the yard towards the stables, and when Esther
opened her eyes she looked at Mrs. Latch questioningly, unable to
understand why the old woman was standing by her.
"Are you better now, dear?"
"Yes, but--but what--" Then remembrance struggled back. "Is he gone? Did I
strike him? I remember that I--"
"You did not hurt him."
"I don't want to see him again. Far better not. I was mad. I did not know
what I was doing."
"You will tell me about it another time, dear."
"Where is he? tell me that; I must know."
"Gone to the stables, I think; but you must not go after him--you'll see
"I do not want to go after him; but he isn't hurt? That's what I want to
"No, he isn't hurt.... You're getting stronger.... Lean on me. You'll
begin to feel better when you are in bed. I'll bring you up your tea."
"Yes, I shall be all right presently. But how'll you manage to get the
"Don't you worry about that; you go upstairs and lie down."
A desolate hope floated over the surface of her brain that William might
be brought back to her.
In the evening the kitchen was full of people: Margaret, Sarah, and Grover
were there, and she heard that immediately after lunch Mr. Leopold had
been sent for, and the Gaffer had instructed him to pay William a month's
wages, and see that he left the house that very instant. Sarah, Margaret,
and Grover watched Esther's face and were surprised at her indifference.
She even seemed pleased. She was pleased; nothing better could have
happened. William was now separated from her rival, and released from her
bad influence he would return to his real love. At the first sign she
would go to him, she would forgive him. But a little later, when the
dishes came down from the dining-room, it was whispered that Peggy was not
Later in the evening, when the servants were going to bed, it became known
that she had left the house, that she had taken the six o'clock to
Brighton. Esther turned from the foot of the stair with a wild look.
Margaret caught her.
"It's no use, dear; you can do nothing to-night."
"I can walk to Brighton."
"No, you can't; you don't know the way, and even if you did you don't know
where they are."
Neither Sarah nor Grover made any remark, and in silence the servants went
to their rooms. Margaret closed the door and turned to look at Esther, who
had fallen on the chair, her eyes fixed in vacancy.
"I know what it is; I was the same when Jim Story got the sack. It seems
as if one couldn't live through it, and yet one does somehow."
"I wonder if they'll marry."
"Most probable. She has a lot of money."
Two days after a cab stood in the yard in front of the kitchen window.
Peggy's luggage was being piled upon it--two large, handsome basket boxes
with the initials painted on them. Kneeling on the box-seat, the coachman
leaned over the roof making room for another--a small box covered with red
cowhide and tied with a rough rope. The little box in its poor simplicity
brought William back to Esther, whelming her for a moment in so acute a
sense of her loss that she had to leave the kitchen. She went into the
scullery, drew the door after her, sat down, and hid her face in her
apron. A stifled sob or two, and then she recovered her habitual gravity
of expression, and continued her work as if nothing had happened.
"They are just crazy about it upstairs. Ginger and the Gaffer are the
worst. They say they had better sell the place and build another house
somewhere else. None of the county people will call on them now--and just
as they were beginning to get on so well! Miss Mary, too, is terrible cut
up about it; she says it will interfere with her prospects, and that
Ginger has nothing to do now but to marry the kitchen-maid to complete the
ruin of the Barfields."
"Miss Mary is far too kind to say anything to wound another's feelings. It
is only a nasty old deceitful thing like yourself who could think of such
"Eh, you got it there, my lady," said Sarah, who had had a difference with
Grover, and was anxious to avenge it.
Grover looked at Sarah in astonishment, and her look clearly said, "Is
everyone going to side with that little kitchen-maid?"
Then, to flatter Mrs. Latch, Sarah spoke of the position the Latches had
held three generations ago; the Barfields were then nobodies; they had
nothing even now but their money, and that had come out of a livery
stable. "And it shows, too; just compare Ginger with young Preston or
young Northcote. Anyone could tell the difference."
Esther listened with an unmoved face and a heavy ache in her heart. She
had now not an enemy nor yet an opponent; the cause of rivalry and
jealousy being removed, all were sorry for her. They recognised that she
had suffered and was suffering, and seeing none but friends about her, she
was led to think how happy she might have been in this beautiful house if
it had not been for William. She loved her work, for she was working for
those she loved. She could imagine no life happier than hers might have
been. But she had sinned, and the Lord had punished her for sin, and she
must bear her punishment uncomplainingly, giving Him thanks that He had
imposed no heavier one upon her.
Such reflection was the substance of Esther's mind for three months after
William's departure; and in the afternoons, about three o'clock, when her
work paused, Esther's thoughts would congregate and settle on the great
misfortune of her life--William's desertion.
It was one afternoon at the beginning of December; Mrs. Latch had gone
upstairs to lie down. Esther had drawn her chair towards the fire. A
broken-down race-horse, his legs bandaged from his knees to his fetlocks,
had passed up the yard; he was going for walking exercise on the downs,
and when the sound of his hoofs had died away Esther was quite alone. She
sat on her wooden chair facing the wide kitchen window. She had advanced
one foot on the iron fender; her head leaned back, rested on her hand. She
did not think--her mind was lost in vague sensation of William, and it was
in this death of active memory that something awoke within her, something
that seemed to her like a flutter of wings; her heart seemed to drop from
its socket, and she nearly fainted away, but recovering herself she stood
by the kitchen table, her arms drawn back and pressed to her sides, a
death-like pallor over her face, and drops of sweat on her forehead. The
truth was borne in upon her; she realised in a moment part of the awful
drama that awaited her, and from which nothing could free her, and which
she would have to live through hour by hour. So dreadful did it seem, that
she thought her brain must give way. She would have to leave Woodview. Oh,
the shame of confession! Mrs. Barfield, who had been so good to her, and
who thought so highly of her. Her father would not have her at home; she
would be homeless in London. No hope of obtaining a situation.... they
would send her away without a character, homeless in London, and every
month her position growing more desperate....
A sickly faintness crept up through her. The flesh had come to the relief
of the spirit; and she sank upon her chair, almost unconscious, sick, it
seemed, to death, and she rose from the chair wiping her forehead slowly
with her apron.... She might be mistaken. And she hid her face in her
hands, and then, falling on her knees, her arms thrown forward upon the
table, she prayed for strength to walk without flinching under any cross
that He had thought fit to lay upon her.
There was still the hope that she might be mistaken; and this hope lasted
for one week, for two, but at the end of the third week it perished, and
she abandoned herself in prayer. She prayed for strength to endure with
courage what she now knew she must endure, and she prayed for light to
guide her in her present decision. Mrs. Barfield, however much she might
pity her, could not keep her once she knew the truth, whereas none might
know the truth if she did not tell it. She might remain at Woodview
earning another quarter's wages; the first she had spent on boots and
clothes, the second she had just been paid. If she stayed on for another
quarter she would have eight pounds, and with that money, and much less
time to keep herself, she might be able to pull through. But would she be
able to go undetected for nearly three whole months, until her next wages
came due? She must risk it.
Three months of constant fear and agonising suspense wore away, and no
one, not even Margaret, suspected Esther's condition. Encouraged by her
success, and seeing still very little sign of change in her person, and as
every penny she could earn was of vital consequence in the coming time,
Esther determined to risk another month; then she would give notice and
leave. Another month passed, and Esther was preparing for departure when a
whisper went round, and before she could take steps to leave she was told
that Mrs. Barfield wished to see her in the library. Esther turned a
little pale, and the expression of her face altered; it seemed to her
impossible to go before Mrs. Barfield and admit her shame. Margaret, who
was standing near and saw what was passing in her mind, said--
"Pull yourself together, Esther. You know the Saint--she's not a bad sort.
Like all the real good ones, she is kind enough to the faults of others."
"What's this? What's the matter with Esther?" said Mrs. Latch, who had not
yet heard of Esther's misfortune.
"I'll tell you presently, Mrs. Latch. Go, dear, get it over."
Esther hurried down the passage and passed through the baize door without
further thought. She had then but to turn to the left and a few steps
would bring her to the library door. The room was already present in her
mind. She could see it. The dim light, the little green sofa, the round
table covered with books, the piano at the back, the parrot in the corner,
and the canaries in the window. She knocked at the door. The well-known
voice said, "Come in." She turned the handle, and found herself alone with
her mistress. Mrs. Barfield laid down the book she was reading, and looked
up. She did not look as angry as Esther had imagined, but her voice was
harder than usual.
"Is this true, Esther?"
Esther hung down her head. She could not speak at first; then she said,
"I thought you were a good girl, Esther."
"So did I, ma'am."
Mrs. Barfield looked at the girl quickly, hesitated a moment, and then
"And all this time--how long is it?"
"Nearly seven months, ma'am."
"And all this time you were deceiving us."
"I was three months gone before I knew it myself, ma'am."
"Three months! Then for three months you have knelt every Sunday in prayer
in this room, for twelve Sundays you sat by me learning to read, and you
never said a word?"
A certain harshness in Mrs. Barfield's voice awakened a rebellious spirit
in Esther, and a lowering expression gathered above her eyes. She said--
"Had I told you, you would have sent me away then and there. I had only a
quarter's wages, and should have starved or gone and drowned myself."
"I'm sorry to hear you speak like that, Esther."
"It is trouble that makes me, ma'am, and I have had a great deal."
"Why did you not confide in me? I have not shown myself cruel to you, have
"No, indeed, ma'am. You are the best mistress a servant ever had, but--"
"Why, ma'am, it is this way.... I hated being deceitful--indeed I did. But
I can no longer think of myself. There is another to think for now."
There was in Mrs. Barfield's look something akin to admiration, and she
felt she had not been wholly wrong in her estimate of the girl's
character; she said, and in a different intonation--
"Perhaps you were right, Esther. I couldn't have kept you on, on account
of the bad example to the younger servants. I might have helped you with
money. But six months alone in London and in your condition! ...I am glad
you did not tell me, Esther; and as you say there is another to think of
now, I hope you will never neglect your child, if God give it to you
"I hope not, ma'am; I shall try and do my best."
"My poor girl! my poor girl! you do not know what trial is in store for
you. A girl like you, and only twenty! ...Oh, it is a shame! May God give
you courage to bear up in your adversity!"
"I know there is many a hard time before me, but I have prayed for
strength, and God will give me strength, and I must not complain. My case
is not so bad as many another. I have nearly eight pounds. I shall get on,
ma'am, that is to say if you will stand by me and not refuse me a
"Can I give you a character? You were tempted, you were led into
temptation. I ought to have watched over you better--mine is the
responsibility. Tell me, it was not your fault."
"It is always a woman's fault, ma'am. But he should not have deserted me
as he did, that's the only thing I reproach him with, the rest was my
fault--I shouldn't have touched the second glass of ale. Besides, I was in
love with him, and you know what that is. I thought no harm, and I let him
kiss me. He used to take me out for walks on the hill and round the farm.
He told me he loved me, and would make me his wife--that's how it was.
Afterwards he asked me to wait till after the Leger, and that riled me,
and I knew then how wicked I had been. I would not go out with him or
speak to him any more; and while our quarrel was going on Miss Peggy went
after him, and that's how I got left."
At the mention of Peggy's name a cloud passed over Mrs. Barfield's face.
"You have been shamefully treated, my poor child. I knew nothing of all
this. So he said he would marry you if he won his bet on the Leger? Oh,
that betting! I know that nothing else is thought of here; upstairs and
downstairs, the whole place is poisoned with it, and it is the fault of--"
Mrs. Barfield walked hurriedly across the room, but when she turned the
sight of Esther provoked her into speech. "I have seen it all my life,
nothing else, and I have seen nothing come of it but sin and sorrow; you
are not the first victim. Ah, what ruin, what misery, what death!"
Mrs. Barfield covered her face with her hands, as if to shut out the
memories that crowded upon her.
"I think, ma'am, if you will excuse my saying so, that a great deal of
harm do come from this betting on race-horses. The day when you was all
away at Goodwood when the horse won, I went down to see what the sea was
like here. I was brought up by the seaside at Barnstaple. On the beach I
met Mrs. Leopold, that is to say Mrs. Randal, John's wife; she seemed to
be in great trouble, she looked that melancholy, and for company's sake
she asked me to come home to tea with her. She was in that state of mind,
ma'am, that she forgot the teaspoons were in pawn, and when she could not
give me one she broke down completely, and told me what her troubles had
"What did she tell you, Esther?"
"I hardly remember, ma'am, but it was all the same thing--ruin if the
horse didn't win, and more betting if he did. But she said they never had
been in such a fix as the day Silver Braid won. If he had been beaten they
would have been thrown out on the street, and from what I have heard the
best half of the town too."
"So that little man has suffered. I thought he was wiser than the rest....
This house has been the ruin of the neighbourhood; we have dispensed vice
instead of righteousness." Walking towards the window, Mrs. Barfield
continued to talk to herself. "I have struggled against the evil all my
life, and without result. How much more misery shall I see come of it?"
Turning then to Esther she said, "Yes, the betting is an evil--one from
which many have suffered--but the question is now about yourself, Esther.
How much money have you?"
"I have about eight pounds, ma'am."
"And how much do you reckon will see you through it?"
"I don't know, ma'am, I have no experience. I think father will let me
stay at home if I can pay my way. I could manage easily on seven shillings
a week. When my time comes I shall go to the hospital."
While Esther spoke Mrs. Barfield calculated roughly that about ten pounds
would meet most of her wants. Her train fare, two month's board at seven
shillings a week, the room she would have to take near the hospital before
her confinement, and to which she would return with her baby--all these
would run to about four or five pounds. There would be baby's clothes to
buy.... If she gave four pounds Esther would have then twelve pounds, and
with that she would be able to manage. Mrs. Barfield went over to an
old-fashioned escritoire, and, pulling out some small drawers, took from
one some paper packages which she unfolded. "Now, my girl, look here. I'm
going to give you four pounds; then you will have twelve, and that ought
to see you through your trouble. You have been a good servant, Esther; I
like you very much, and am truly sorry to part with you. You will write
and tell me how you are getting on, and if one of these days you want a
place, and I have one to give you, I shall be glad to take you back."
Harshness deadened and hardened her feelings, yet she was easily moved by
kindness, and she longed to throw herself at her mistress's feet; but her
nature did not admit of such effusion, and she said, in her blunt English
"You are far too good, ma'am; I do not deserve such treatment--I know I
"Say no more, Esther. I hope that the Lord may give you strength to bear
your cross.... Now go and pack up your box. But, Esther, do you feel your
sin, can you truly say honestly before God that you repent?"
"Yes, ma'am, I think I can say all that."
"Then, Esther, come and kneel down and pray to God to give you strength in
the future to stand against temptation."
Mrs. Barfield took Esther's hand and they knelt down by the round table,
leaning their hands on its edge. And, in a high, clear voice, Mrs.
Barfield prayed aloud, Esther repeating the words after her--
"Dear Lord, Thou knowest all things, knowest how Thy servant has strayed
and has fallen into sin. But Thou hast said there is more joy in heaven
over one sinner that repenteth than over ninety and nine just men.
Therefore, Lord, kneeling here before Thee, we pray that this poor girl,
who repents of the evil she has done, may be strengthened in Thy mercy to
stand firm against temptation. Forgive her sin, even as Thou forgavest the
woman of Samaria. Give her strength to walk uprightly before Thee, and
give her strength to bear the pain and the suffering that lie before her."
The women rose from their knees and stood looking at each other. Esther's
eyes were full of tears. Without speaking she turned to go.
"One word more, Esther. You asked me just now for a character; I
hesitated, but it seems to me now that it would be wrong to refuse. If I
did you might never get a place, and then it would be impossible to say
what might happen. I am not certain that I am doing right, but I know what
it means to refuse to give a servant a character, and I cannot take upon
myself the responsibility."
Mrs. Barfield wrote out a character for Esther, in which she described her
as an honest, hard-working girl. She paused at the word "reliable," and
wrote instead, "I believe her to be at heart a thoroughly religious girl."
She went upstairs to pack her box, and when she came down she found all
the women in the kitchen; evidently they were waiting for her. Coming
forward, Sarah said--
"I hope we shall part friends, Esther; any quarrels we may have
had--There's no ill-feeling now, is there?"
"I bear no one any ill-feeling. We have been friends these last months;
indeed, everyone has been very kind to me." And Esther kissed Sarah on
"I'm sure we're all sorry to lose you," said Margaret, pressing forward,
"and we hope you'll write and let us know how you are getting on."
Margaret, who was a tender-hearted girl, began to cry, and, kissing
Esther, she declared that she had never got on with a girl who slept in
her room so well before. Esther shook hands with Grover, and then her eyes
met Mrs. Latch's. The old woman took her in her arms.
"It breaks my heart to think that one belonging to me should have done you
such a wrong--But if you want for anything let me know, and you shall have
it. You will want money; I have some here for you."
"Thank you, thank you, but I have all I want. Mrs. Barfield has been very
good to me."
The babbling of so many voices drew Mr. Leopold from the pantry; he came
with a glass of beer in his hand, and this suggested a toast to Sarah.
"Let's drink baby's health," she said. "Mr. Leopold won't refuse us the
The idea provoked some good-natured laughter, and Esther hid her face in
her hands and tried to get away. But Margaret would not allow her. "What
nonsense!" she said. "We don't think any the worse of you; why that's an
accident that might happen to any of us."
"I hope not," said Esther.
The jug of beer was finished; she was kissed and hugged again, some tears
were shed, and Esther walked down the yard through the stables.
The avenue was full of wind and rain; the branches creaked dolefully
overhead; the lane was drenched, and the bare fields were fringed with
white mist, and the houses seemed very desolate by the bleak sea; and the
girl's soul was desolate as the landscape. She had come to Woodview to
escape the suffering of a home which had become unendurable, and she was
going back in circumstances a hundred times worse than those in which she
had left it, and she was going back with the memory of the happiness she
had lost. All the grief and trouble that girls of her class have so
frequently to bear gathered in Esther's heart when she looked out of the
railway carriage window and saw for the last time the stiff plantations on
the downs and the angles of the Italian house between the trees. She drew
her handkerchief from her jacket, and hid her distress as well as she
could from the other occupants of the carriage.
When she arrived at Victoria it was raining. She picked up her skirt, and
as she stepped across a puddle a wild and watery wind swept up the wet
streets, catching her full in the face.
She had left her box in the cloak-room, for she did not know if her father
would have her at home. Her mother would tell her what she thought, but no
one could say for certain what he would do. If she brought the box he
might fling it after her into the street; better come without it, even if
she had to go back through the wet to fetch it. At that moment another
gust drove the rain violently over her, forcing it through her boots. The
sky was a tint of ashen grey, and all the low brick buildings were veiled
in vapour; the rough roadway was full of pools, and nothing was heard but
the melancholy bell of the tram-car. She hesitated, not wishing to spend a
penny unnecessarily, but remembering that a penny wise is often a pound
foolish she called to the driver and got in. The car passed by the little
brick street where the Saunders lived, and when Esther pushed the door
open she could see into the kitchen and overhear the voices of the
children. Mrs. Saunders was sweeping down the stairs, but at the sound of
footsteps she ceased to bang the broom, and, stooping till her head looked
over the banisters, she cried--
"Who is it?"
"What! You, Esther?"
Mrs. Saunders hastened down, and, leaning the broom against the wall, she
took her daughter in her arms and kissed her. "Well, this is nice to see
you again, after this long while. But you are looking a bit poorly,
Esther." Then her face changed expression. "What has happened? Have you
lost your situation?"
"Oh, I am that sorry, for we thought you was so 'appy there and liked your
mistress above all those you 'ad ever met with. Did you lose your temper
and answer her back? They is often trying, I know that, and your own
temper--you was never very sure of it."
"I've no fault to find with my mistress; she is the kindest in the
world--none better,--and my temper--it wasn't that, mother--"
"My own darling, tell me--"
Esther paused. The children had ceased talking in the kitchen, and the
front door was open. "Come into the parlour. We can talk quietly there....
When do you expect father home?"
"Not for the best part of a couple of hours yet."
Mrs. Saunders waited until Esther had closed the front door. Then they
went into the parlour and sat down side by side on the little horsehair
sofa placed against the wall facing the window. The anxiety in their
hearts betrayed itself on their faces.
"I had to leave, mother. I'm seven months gone."
"Oh, Esther, Esther, I cannot believe it!"
"Yes, mother, it is quite true."
Esther hurried through her story, and when her mother questioned her
regarding details she said--
"Oh, mother, what does it matter? I don't care to talk about it more than
I can help."
Tears had begun to roll down Mrs. Saunders' cheeks, and when she wiped
them away with the corner of her apron, Esther heard a sob.
"Don't cry, mother," said Esther. "I have been very wicked, I know, but
God will be good to me. I always pray to him, just as you taught me to do,
and I daresay I shall get through my trouble somehow."
"Your father will never let you stop 'ere; 'e'll say, just as afore, that
there be too many mouths to feed as it is."
"I don't want him to keep me for nothing--I know well enough if I did that
'e'd put me outside quick enough. But I can pay my way. I earned good
money while I was with the Barfields, and though she did tell me I must
go, Mrs. Barfield--the Saint they call her, and she is a saint if ever
there was one--gave me four pounds to see me, as she said, through my
trouble. I've better than eleven pound. Don't cry, mother dear; crying
won't do no good, and I want you to help me. So long as the money holds
out I can get a lodging anywhere, but I'd like to be near you; and father
might be glad to let me have the parlour and my food for ten or eleven
shillings a week--I could afford as much as that, and he never was the man
to turn good money from his door. Do yer think he will?"
"I dunno, dearie; 'tis hard to say what 'e'll do; he's a 'ard man to live
with. I've 'ad a terrible time of it lately, and them babies allus coming.
Ah, we poor women have more than our right to bear with!"
"Poor mother!" said Esther, and, taking her mother's hand in hers, she
passed her arm round her, drew her closer, and kissed her. "I know what he
was; is he any worse now?"
"Well, I think he drinks more, and is even rougher. It was only the other
day, just as I was attending to his dinner--it was a nice piece of steak,
and it looked so nice that I cut off a weany piece to taste. He sees me do
it, and he cries out, 'Now then, guts, what are you interfering with my
dinner for?' I says, 'I only cut off a tiny piece to taste.' 'Well, then,
taste that,' he says, and strikes me clean between the eyes. Ah, yes,
lucky for you to be in service; you've half forgot by now what we've to
put up with 'ere."
"You was always that soft with him, mother; he never touched me since I
dashed the hot water in his face."
"Sometimes I thinks I can bear it no longer, Esther, and long to go and
drown meself. Jenny and Julia--you remember little Julia; she 'as grown up
such a big girl, and is getting on so well--they are both at work now in
the kitchen. Johnnie gives us a deal of trouble; he cannot tell a word of
truth; father took off his strap the other day and beat him dreadful, but
it ain't no use. If it wasn't for Jenny and Julia I don't think we should
ever make both ends meet; but they works all day at the dogs, and at the
warehouse their dogs is said to be neater and more lifelike than any
other. Their poor fingers is worn away cramming the paper into the moulds;
but they never complains, no more shouldn't I if he was a bit gentler and
didn't take more than half of what he earns to the public-'ouse. I was
glad you was away, Esther, for you allus was of an 'asty temper and
couldn't 'ave borne it. I don't want to make my troubles seem worse than
they be, but sometimes I think I will break up, 'special when I get to
thinking what will become of us and all them children, money growing less
and expenses increasing. I haven't told yer, but I daresay you have
noticed that another one is coming. It is the children that breaks us poor
women down altogether. Ah, well, yours be the hardest trouble, but you
must put a brave face on it; we'll do the best we can; none of us can say
Mrs. Saunders wiped her eyes with the corner of her apron; Esther looked
at her with her usual quiet, stubborn stare, and without further words
mother and daughter went into the kitchen where the girls were at work. It
was a long, low room, with one window looking on a small back-yard, at the
back of which was the coal-hole, the dust-bin, and a small outhouse. There
was a long table and a bench ran along the wall. The fireplace was on the
left-hand side; the dresser stood against the opposite wall; and amid the
poor crockery, piled about in every available space, were the toy dogs,
some no larger than your hand, others almost as large as a small poodle.
Jenny and Julia had been working busily for some days, and were now
finishing the last few that remained of the order they had received from
the shop they worked for. Three small children sat on the floor tearing
the brown paper, which they handed as it was wanted to Jenny and Julia.
The big girls leaned over the table in front of iron moulds, filling them
with brown paper, pasting it down, tucking it in with strong and dexterous
"Why, it is Esther!" said Jenny, the elder girl. "And, lorks, ain't she
grand!--quite the lady. Why, we hardly knowed ye." And having kissed their
sister circumspectly, careful not to touch the clothes they admired with
their pasty fingers, they stood lost in contemplation, thrilled with
consciousness of the advantage of service.
Esther took Harry, a fine little boy of four, up in her arms, and asked
him if he remembered her.
"Naw, I don't think I do. Will oo put me down?"
"But you do, Lizzie?" she said, addressing a girl of seven, whose bright
red hair shone like a lamp in the gathering twilight.
"Yes, you're my big sister; you've been away this year or more in
"And you, Maggie, do you remember me too?"
Maggie at first seemed doubtful, but after a moment's reflection she
nodded her head vigorously.
"Come, Esther, see how Julia is getting on," said Mrs. Saunders; "she
makes her dogs nearly as fast as Jenny. She is still a bit careless in
drawing the paper into the moulds. Well, just as I was speaking of it:
'ere's a dog with one shoulder just 'arf the size of the other."
"Oh, mother, I'm sure nobody'd never know the difference."
"Wouldn't know the difference! Just look at the hanimal! Is it natural?
Sich carelessness I never seed."
"Esther, just look at Julia's dog," cried Jenny, "'e 'asn't got no more
than 'arf a shoulder. It's lucky mother saw it, for if the manager'd seen
it he'd have found something wrong with I don't know 'ow many more, and
docked us maybe a shilling or more on the week's work."
Julia began to cry.
"Jenny is always down on me. She is jealous just because mother said I
worked as fast as she did. If her work was overhauled--"
"There are all my dogs there on the right-hand side of the dresser--I
always 'as the right for my dogs--and if you find one there with an uneven
"Jennie is so fat that she likes everything like 'erself; that's why she
stuffs so much paper into her dogs."
It was little Ethel speaking from her corner, and her explanation of the
excellence of Jenny's dogs, given with stolid childish gravity in the
interval of tearing a large sheet of brown paper, made them laugh. But in
the midst of the laughter thought of her great trouble came upon Esther.
Mrs. Saunders noticed this, and a look of pity came into her eyes, and to
make an end of the unseemly gaiety she took Julia's dog and told her that
it must be put into the mould again. She cut the skin away, and helped to
force the stiff paper over the edge of the mould.
"Now," she said, "it is a dog; both shoulders is equal, and if it was a
real dog he could walk."
"Oh, bother!" cried Jenny, "I shan't be able to finish my last dozen this
evening. I 'ave no more buttons for the eyes, and the black pins that
Julia is a-using of for her little one won't do for this size."
"Won't they give yer any at the shop? I was counting on the money they
would bring to finish the week with."
"No, we can't get no buttons in the shop: that's 'ome work, they says; and
even if they 'ad them they wouldn't let us put them in there. That's 'ome
work they says to everything; they is a that disagreeable lot."
"But 'aven't you got sixpence, mother? and I'll run and get them."
"No, I've run short."
"But," said Esther, "I'll give you sixpence to get your buttons with."
"Yes, that's it; give us sixpence, and yer shall have it back to-morrow if
you are 'ere. How long are yer up for? If not, we'll send it."
"I'm not going back just yet."
"What, 'ave yer lost yer situation?"
"No, no," said Mrs. Saunders, "Esther ain't well--she 'as come up for 'er
'ealth; take the sixpence and run along."
"May I go too?" said Julia. "I've been at work since eight, and I've only
a few more dogs to do."
"Yes, you may go with your sister. Run along; don't bother me any more,
I've got to get your father's supper."
When Jenny and Julia had left, Esther and Mrs. Saunders could talk freely;
the other children were too young to understand.
"There is times when 'e is well enough," said Mrs. Saunders, "and others
when 'e is that awful. It is 'ard to know 'ow to get him, but 'e is to be
got if we only knew 'ow. Sometimes 'tis most surprising how easy 'e do
take things, and at others--well, as about that piece of steak that I was
a-telling you of. Should you catch him in that humour 'e's as like as not
to take ye by the shoulder and put you out; but if he be in a good humour
'e's as like as not to say, 'Well, my gal, make yerself at 'ome.'"
"He can but turn me out, I'll leave yer to speak to 'im, mother."
"I'll do my best, but I don't answer for nothing. A nice bit of supper do
make a difference in 'im, and as ill luck will 'ave it, I've nothing but a
rasher, whereas if I only 'ad a bit of steak 'e'd brighten up the moment
he clapt eyes on it and become that cheerful."
"But, mother, if you think it will make a difference I can easily slip
round to the butcher's and----"
"Yes, get half a pound, and when it's nicely cooked and inside him it'll
make all the difference. That will please him. But I don't like to see you
spending your money--money that you'll want badly."
"It can't be helped, mother. I shan't be above a minute or two away, and
I'll bring back a pint of porter with the steak."
Coming back she met Jenny and Julia, and when she told them her purchases
they remarked significantly that they were now quite sure of a pleasant
"When he's done eating 'e'll go out to smoke his pipe with some of his
chaps," said Jenny, "and we shall have the 'ouse to ourselves, and yer can
tell us all about your situation. They keeps a butler and a footman, don't
they? They must be grand folk. And what was the footman like? Was he very
handsome? I've 'eard that they all is."
"And you'll show us yer dresses, won't you?" said Julia. "How many 'ave
you got, and 'ow did yer manage to save up enough money to buy such
beauties, if they're all like that?"
"This dress was given to me by Miss Mary."
"Was it? She must be a real good 'un. I should like to go to service; I'm
tired of making dogs; we have to work that 'ard, and it nearly all goes to
the public; father drinks worse than ever."
Mrs. Saunders approved of Esther's purchase; it was a beautiful bit of
steak. The fire was raked up, and a few minutes after the meat was
roasting on the gridiron. The clock continued its coarse ticking amid the
rough plates on the dresser. Jenny and Julia hastened with their work,
pressing the paper with nervous fingers into the moulds, calling sharply
to the little group for what sized paper they required. Esther and Mrs.
Saunders waited, full of apprehension, for the sound of a heavy tread in
the passage. At last it came. Mrs. Saunders turned the meat, hoping that
its savoury odour would greet his nostrils from afar, and that he would
come to them mollified and amiable.
"Hullo, Jim; yer are 'ome a bit earlier to-day. I'm not quite ready with
"I dunno that I am. Hullo, Esther! Up for the day? Smells damned nice,
what you're cooking for me, missus. What is it?"
"Bit of steak, Jim. It seems a beautiful piece. Hope it will eat tender."
"That it will. I was afeard you would have nothing more than a rasher, and
I'm that 'ungry."
Jim Saunders was a stout, dark man about forty. He had not shaved for some
days, his face was black with beard; his moustache was cut into bristle;
around his short, bull neck he wore a ragged comforter, and his blue
jacket was shabby and dusty, and the trousers were worn at the heels. He
threw his basket into a corner, and then himself on the rough bench nailed
against the wall, and there, without speaking another word, he lay
sniffing the odour of the meat like an animal going to be fed. Suddenly a
whiff from the beer jug came into his nostrils, and reaching out his rough
hand he looked into the jug to assure himself he was not mistaken.
"What's this?" he exclaimed; "a pint of porter! Yer are doing me pretty
well this evening, I reckon. What's up?"
"Nothing, Jim; nothing, dear, but just as Esther has come up we thought
we'd try to make yer comfortable. It was Esther who fetched it; she 'as
been doing pretty well, and can afford it."
Jim looked at Esther in a sort of vague and brutal astonishment, and
feeling he must say something, and not knowing well what, he said----
"Well, 'ere's to your good health!" and he took a long pull at the jug.
"Where did you get this?"
"In Durham street, at the 'Angel.'"
"I thought as much; they don't sell stuff like this at the 'Rose and
Crown.' Well, much obliged to yer. I shall enjoy my bit of steak now; and
I see a tater in the cinders. How are you getting on, old woman--is it
nearly done? Yer know I don't like all the goodness burnt out of it."
"It isn't quite done yet, Jim; a few minutes more----"
Jim sniffed in eager anticipation, and then addressed himself to Esther.
"Well, they seem to do yer pretty well down there. My word, what a toff
yer are! Quite a lady.... There's nothing like service for a girl; I've
always said so. Eh, Jenny, wouldn't yer like to go into service, like yer
sister? Looks better, don't it, than making toy dogs at three-and-sixpence
"I should just think it was. I wish I could. As soon as Maggie can take my
place, I mean to try."
"It was the young lady of the 'ouse that gave 'er that nice dress," said
Julia. "My eye! she must have been a favourite."
At that moment Mrs. Saunders picked the steak from the gridiron, and
putting it on a nice hot plate she carried it in her apron to Jim, saying,
"Mind yer 'ands, it is burning 'ot."
Jim fed in hungry silence, the children watching, regretting that none of
them ever had suppers like that. He didn't speak until he had put away the
better part of the steak; then, after taking a long pull at the jug of
beer, he said--
"I 'aven't enjoyed a bit of food like that this many a day; I was that
beat when I came in, and it does do one good to put a piece of honest meat
into one's stomach after a 'ard day's work!"
Then, prompted by a sudden thought, he complimented Esther on her looks,
and then, with increasing interest, inquired what kind of people she was
staying with. But Esther was in no humour for conversation, and answered
his questions briefly without entering into details. Her reserve only
increased his curiosity, which fired up at the first mention of the
"I scarcely know much about them. I only used to see them passing through
the yard as they went to exercise on the downs. There was always a lot of
talk about them in the servants' hall, but I didn't notice it. They were a
great trouble to Mrs. Barfield--I told you, mother, that she was one of
ourselves, didn't I?"
A look of contempt passed over Jim's face, and he said--
"We've quite enough talk 'ere about the Brethren; give them a rest. What
about the 'orses? Did they win any races? Yer can't 'ave missed 'earing
"Yes, Silver Braid won the Stewards' Cup."
"Silver Braid was one of your horses?"
"Yes, Mr. Barfield won thousands and thousands, everyone in Shoreham won
something, and a ball for the servants was given in the Gardens."
"And you never thought of writing to me about it! I could have 'ad thirty
to one off Bill Short. One pound ten to a bob! And yer never thought it
worth while to send me the tip. I'm blowed! Girls aren't worth a damn....
Thirty to one off Bill Short--he'd have laid it. I remember seeing the
price quoted in all the papers. Thirty to one taken and hoffered. If you
had told me all yer knowed I might 'ave gone 'alf a quid--fifteen pun to
'alf a quid! as much as I'd earn in three months slaving eight and ten
hours a day, paint-pot on 'and about them blooming engines. Well, there's
no use crying over what's done--sich a chance won't come again, but
something else may. What are they going to do with the 'orse this
autumn--did yer 'ear that?"
"I think I 'eard that he was entered for the Cambridgeshire, but if I
remember rightly, Mr. Leopold--that's the butler, not his real name, but
what we call him--"
"Ah, yes; I know; after the Baron. Now what do 'e say? I reckon 'e knows.
I should like to 'ave 'alf-an-hour's talk with your Mr. Leopold. What do
'e say? For what 'e says, unless I'm pretty well mistaken, is worth
listening to. A man wouldn't be a-wasting 'is time in listening to 'im.
What do 'e say?"
"Mr. Leopold never says much. He's the only one the Gaffer ever confides
in. 'Tis said they are as thick as thieves, so they say. Mr. Leopold was
his confidential servant when the Gaffer--that's the squire--was a
Jim chuckled. "Yes, I think I know what kind of man your Mr. Leopold is
like. But what did 'e say about the Cambridgeshire?"
"He only laughed a little once, and said he didn't think the 'orse would
do much good in the autumn races--no, not races, that isn't the word."
"Yes, that's it. But there's no relying on what Mr. Leopold says--he never
says what he really means. But I 'eard William, that's the footman--"
"What are you stopping for? What did yer 'ear 'im say?"
"That he intends to have something on next spring."
"Did he say any race? Did he say the City and Sub.?"
"Yes, that was the race he mentioned."
"I thought that would be about the length and the breadth of it," Jim
said, as he took up his knife and fork. There was only a small portion of
the beef-steak left, and this he ate gluttonously, and, finishing the last
remaining beer, he leaned back in the happiness of repletion. He crammed
tobacco into a dirty clay, with a dirtier finger-nail, and said--
"I'd be uncommon glad to 'ear how he is getting on. When are you going
back? Up for the day only?"
Esther did not answer, and Jim looked inquiringly as he reached across the
table for the matches. The decisive moment had arrived, and Mrs. Saunders
"Esther ain't a-going back; leastways--"
"Not going back! You don't mean that she ain't contented in her
situation--that she 'as--"
"Esther ain't going back no more," Mrs. Saunders answered, incautiously.
"Look ee 'ere, Jim--"
"Out with it, old woman--no 'umbug! What is it all about? Ain't going back
to 'er sitooation, and where she 'as been treated like that--just look at
the duds she 'as got on."
The evening was darkening rapidly, and the firelight flickered over the
back of the toy dogs piled up on the dresser. Jim had lit his pipe, and
the acrid and warm odour of quickly-burning tobacco overpowered the smell
of grease and the burnt skin of the baked potato, a fragment of which
remained on the plate; only the sickly flavour of drying paste was
distinguishable in the reek of the short black clay which the man held
firmly between his teeth. Esther sat by the fire, her hands crossed over
her knees, no signs of emotion on her sullen, plump face. Mrs. Saunders
stood on the other side of Esther, between her and the younger children,
now quarrelling among themselves, and her face was full of fear as she
watched her husband anxiously.
"Now, then, old woman, blurt it out!" he said. "What is it? Can it be the
girl 'as lost her sitooation--got the sack? Yes, I see that's about the
cut of it. Her beastly temper! So they couldn't put up with it in the
country any more than I could mesel'. Well, it's 'er own look-out! If she
can afford to chuck up a place like that, so much the better for 'er.
Pity, though; she might 'ave put me up to many a good thing."
"It ain't that, Jim. The girl is in trouble."
"Wot do yer say? Esther in trouble? Well, that's the best bit I've heard
this long while. I always told ye that the religious ones were just the
same as the others--a bit more hypocritical, that's all. So she that
wouldn't 'ave nothing to do with such as was Mrs. Dunbar 'as got 'erself
into trouble! Well I never! But 'tis just what I always suspected. The
goody-goody sort are the worst. So she 'as got 'erself into trouble! Well,
she'll 'ave to get 'erself out of it."
"Now, Jim, dear, yer mustn't be 'ard on 'er; she could tell a very
different story if she wished it, but yer know what she is. There she sits
like a block of marble, and won't as much as say a word in 'er own
"But I don't want 'er to speak. I don't care, it's nothing to me; I only
"Jim, dear, it is something to all of us. What we thought was that you
might let her stop 'ere till her time was come to go to the 'orspital."
"Ah, that's it, is it? That was the meaning of the 'alf-pound of steak and
the pint of porter, was it. I thought there was something hup. So she
wants to stop 'ere, do she? As if there wasn't enough already! Well, I be
blowed if she do! A nice thing, too; a girl can't go away to service
without coming back to her respectable 'ome in trouble--in trouble, she
calls it. Now, I won't 'ave it; there's enough 'ere as it is, and another
coming, worse luck. We wants no bastards 'ere.... And a nice example, too,
for the other children! No, I won't 'ave it!"
Jenny and Julia looked curiously at Esther, who sat quite still, her face
showing no sign of emotion. Mrs. Saunders turned towards her, a pitying
look on her face, saying clearly, "You see, my poor girl, how matters
stand; I can do nothing."
The girl, although she did not raise her eyes, understood what was passing
in her mother's mind, for there was a grave deliberativeness in the manner
in which she rose from the chair.
But just as the daughter had guessed what was passing in the mother's
mind, so did the mother guess what was passing in the daughter's. Mrs.
Saunders threw herself before Esther, saying, "Oh, no, Esther, wait a
moment; 'e won't be 'ard on 'ee." Then turning to her husband, "Yer don't
understand, Jim. It is only for a little time."
"No, I tell yer. No, I won't 'ave it! There be too many 'ere as it is."
"Only a little while, Jim."
"No. And those who ain't wanted 'ad better go at once--that's my advice to
them. The place is as full of us that we can 'ardly turn round as it is.
No, I won't 'ear of it!"
"But, Jim, Esther is quite willing to pay her way; she's saved a good
little sum of money, and could afford to pay us ten shillings a week for
board and the parlour."
A perplexed look came on Jim's face.
"Why didn't yer tell me that afore? Of course I don't wish to be 'ard on
the girl, as yer 'ave just heard me say. Ten shillings a week for her
board and the parlour--that seems fair enough; and if it's any convenience
to 'er to remain, I'm sure we'll be glad to 'ave 'er. I'll say right glad,
too. We was always good friends, Esther, wasn't we, though ye wasn't one
of my own?" So saying, Jim held out his hand.
Esther tried to pass by her mother. "I don't want to stop where I'm not
wanted; I wants no one's charity. Let me go, mother."
"No, no, Esther. 'Aven't yer 'eard what 'e says? Ye are my child if you
ain't 'is, and it would break my 'eart, that it would, to see you go away
among strangers. Yer place is among yer own people, who'll look after
"Now, then, Esther, why should there be ill feeling. I didn't mean any
'arm. There's a lot of us 'ere, and I've to think of the interests of my
own. But for all that I should be main sorry to see yer take yer money
among strangers, where you wouldn't get no value for it. You'd better
stop. I'm sorry for what I said. Ain't that enough for yer?"
"Jim, Jim, dear, don't say no more; leave 'er to me. Esther, for my sake
stop with us. You are in trouble, and it is right for you to stop with me.
Jim 'as said no more than the truth. With all the best will in the world
we couldn't afford to keep yer for nothing, but since yer can pay yer way,
it is yer duty to stop. Think, Esther, dear, think. Go and shake 'ands
with 'im, and I'll go and make yer up a bed on the sofa."
"There's no bloody need for 'er to shake my 'and if she don't like," Jim
replied, and he pulled doggedly at his pipe.
Esther tried, but her fierce and heavy temper held her back. She couldn't
go to her father for reconciliation, and the matter might have ended quite
differently, but suddenly, without another word, Jim put on his hat and
went out to join "his chaps" who were waiting for him about the
public-house, close to the cab-rank in the Vauxhall Bridge Road. The door
was hardly closed behind him when the young children laughed and ran about
joyously, and Jenny and Julia went over to Esther and begged her to stop.
"Of course she'll stop," said Mrs. Saunders. "And now, Esther, come along
and help me to make you up a bed in the parlour."