Part 5 out of 8
confess the truth; I know it, but I want to hear it from you. Now, out
with it, or I'll strangle you.' I gave him a squeeze just to show him that
I meant it. He turned up his eyes, and my wife cried, 'Murder!' I threw
him back from me and got between her and the door, locked it, and put the
key in my pocket. 'Now,' I said, 'I'll drag the truth out of you both.' He
did look white, he shrivelled up by the chimney-piece, and she--well, she
looked as if she could have killed me, only there was nothing to kill me
with. I saw her look at the fire-irons. Then, in her nasty sarcastic way,
she said, 'There's no reason, Percy, why he shouldn't know. Yes,' she
said, 'he is my lover; you can get your divorce when you like.'
"I was a bit taken aback; my idea was to squeeze it all out of the fellow
and shame him before her. But she spoilt my little game there, and I could
see by her eyes that she knew that she had. 'Now, Percy,' she said, 'we'd
better go.' That put my blood up. I said, 'Go you shall, but not till I
give you leave,' and without another word I took him by the collar and led
him to the door; he came like a lamb, and I sent him off with as fine a
kick as he ever got in his life. He went rolling down, and didn't stop
till he got to the bottom. You should have seen her look at me; there was
murder in her eyes. If she could she'd have killed me, but she couldn't
and calmed down a bit. 'Let me go; what do you want me for? You can get a
divorce.... I'll pay the costs.'
"'I don't think I'd gratify you so much. So you'd like to marry him, would
you, my beauty?'
"'He's a gentleman, and I've had enough of you; if you want money you
shall have it.'
"I laughed at her, and so it went on for an hour or more. Then she
suddenly calmed down. I knew something was up, only I didn't know what. I
don't know if I told you we was in lodgings--the usual sort, drawing-room
with folding doors, the bedroom at the back. She went into the bedroom,
and I followed, just to make sure she couldn't get out that way. There was
a chest of drawers before the door; I thought she couldn't move it, and
went back into the sitting-room. But somehow she managed to move it
without my hearing her, and before I could stop her she was down the
stairs like lightning. I went after her, but she had too long a start of
me, and the last I heard was the street door go bang."
The conversation paused. William took the stalk he was chewing from his
teeth, and threw it aside. Esther had picked one, and with it she beat
impatiently among the grass.
"But what has all this to do with me?" she said. "If this is all you have
brought me out to listen to----"
"That's a nice way to round on me. Wasn't it you what asked me to tell you
"So you've deserted two women instead of one, that's about the long and
short of it."
"Well, if that's what you think I'd better be off," said William, and he
rose to his feet and stood looking at her. She sat quite still, not daring
to raise her eyes; her heart was throbbing violently. Would he go away and
never come back? Should she answer him indifferently or say nothing? She
chose the latter course. Perhaps it was the wrong one, for her dogged
silence irritated him, and he sat down and begged of her to forgive him.
He would wait for her. Then her heart ceased throbbing, and a cold
numbness came over her hands.
"My wife thought that I had no money, and could do what she liked with me.
But I had been backing winners all the season, and had a couple of
thousand in the bank. I put aside a thousand for working expenses, for I
intended to give up backing horses and go in for bookmaking instead. I
have been at it ever since. A few ups and downs, but I can't complain. I
am worth to-day close on three thousand pounds."
At the mention of so much money Esther raised her eyes. She looked at
William steadfastly. Her object was to rid herself of him, so that she
might marry another man; but at that moment a sensation of the love she
had once felt for him sprang upon her suddenly.
"I must be getting back, my mistress will be waiting for me."
"You needn't be in that hurry. It is quite early. Besides, we haven't
settled nothing yet."
"You've been telling me about your wife. I don't see much what it's got to
do with me."
"I thought you was interested... that you wanted to see that I wasn't as
much to blame as you thought."
"I must be getting back," she said; "anything else you have to say to me
you can tell me on the way home."
"Well, it all amounts to this, Esther; if I get a divorce we might come
together again. What do you think?"
"I think you'd much better make it up with her. I daresay she's very sorry
for what she's done."
"That's all rot, Esther. She ain't sorry, and wouldn't live with me no
more than I with her. We could not get on; what's the use? You'd better
let bygones be bygones. You know what I mean--marry me."
"I don't think I could do that."
"You like some other chap. You like some chap, and don't want me
interfering in your life. That's why you wants me to go back and live with
my wife. You don't think of what I've gone through with her already."
"You've not been through half of what I have. I'll be bound that you never
wanted a dinner. I have."
"Esther, think of the child."
"You're a nice one to tell me to think of the child, I who worked and
slaved for him all these years."
"Then I'm to take no for an answer?"
"I don't want to have nothing to do with you."
"And you won't let me see the child?"
A moment later Esther answered, "You can see the child, if you like."
"Where is he?"
"You can come with me to see him next Sunday, if you like. Now let me go
"What time shall I come for you?"
"About three--a little after."
William was waiting for her in the area; and while pinning on her hat she
thought of what she should say, and how she should act. Should she tell
him that she wanted to marry Fred? Then the long black pin that was to
hold her hat to her hair went through the straw with a little sharp sound,
and she decided that when the time came she would know what to say.
As he stepped aside to let her go up the area steps, she noticed how
beautifully dressed he was. He wore a pair of grey trousers, and in his
spick and span morning coat there was a bunch of carnations.
They walked some half-dozen yards up the street in silence.
"But why do you want to see the boy? You never thought of him all these
"I'll tell you, Esther.... But it is nice to be walking out with you
again. If you'd only let bygones be bygones we might settle down together
yet. What do you think?"
She did not answer, and he continued, "It do seem strange to be walking
out with you again, meeting you after all these years, and I'm never in
your neighbourhood. I just happened to have a bit of business with a
friend who lives your way, and was coming along from his 'ouse, turning
over in my mind what he had told me about Rising Sun for the Stewards'
Cup, when I saw you coming along with the jug in your 'and. I said,
'That's the prettiest girl I've seen this many a day; that's the sort of
girl I'd like to see behind the bar of the "King's Head."' You always
keeps your figure--you know you ain't a bit changed; and when I caught
sight of those white teeth I said, 'Lor', why, it's Esther.'"
"I thought it was about the child you was going to speak to me."
"So I am, but you came first in my estimation. The moment I looked into
your eyes I felt it had been a mistake all along, and that you was the
only one I had cared about."
"Then all about wanting to see the child was a pack of lies?"
"No, they weren't lies. I wanted both mother and child--if I could get
'em, ye know. I'm telling you the unvarnished truth, Esther. I thought of
the child as a way of getting you back; but little by little I began to
take an interest in him, to wonder what he was like, and with thoughts of
the boy came different thoughts of you, Esther, who is the mother of my
boy. Then I wanted you both back; and I've thought of nothing else ever
At that moment they reached the Metropolitan Railway, and William pressed
forward to get the tickets. A subterraneous rumbling was heard, and they
ran down the steps as fast as they could, and seeing them so near the
ticket-collector held the door open for them, and just as the train was
moving from the platform William pushed Esther into a second-class
"We're in the wrong class," she cried.
"No, we ain't; get in, get in," he shouted. And with the guard crying to
him to desist, he hopped in after her, saying, "You very nearly made me
miss the train. What 'ud you've done if the train had taken you away and
left me behind?"
The remark was not altogether a happy one.
"Then you travel second-class?" Esther said.
"Yes, I always travel second-class now; Peggy never would, but second
seems to me quite good enough. I don't care about third, unless one is
with a lot of pals, and can keep the carriage to ourselves. That's the way
we manage it when we go down to Newmarket or Doncaster."
They were alone in the compartment. William leaned forward and took her
"Try to forgive me, Esther."
She drew her hand away; he got up, and sat down beside her, and put his
arm around her waist.
"No, no. I'll have none of that. All that sort of thing is over between
He looked at her inquisitively, not knowing how to act.
"I know you've had a hard time, Esther. Tell me about it. What did you do
when you left Woodview?" He unfortunately added, "Did you ever meet any
one since that you cared for?"
The question irritated her, and she said, "It don't matter to you who I
met or what I went through."
The conversation paused. William spoke about the Barfields, and Esther
could not but listen to the tale of what had happened at Woodview during
the last eight years.
Woodview had been all her unhappiness and all her misfortune. She had gone
there when the sap of life was flowing fastest in her, and Woodview had
become the most precise and distinct vision she had gathered from life.
She remembered that wholesome and ample country house, with its park and
its down lands, and the valley farm, sheltered by the long lines of elms.
She remembered the race-horses, their slight forms showing under the grey
clothing, the round black eyes looking out through the eyelet holes in the
hanging hoods, the odd little boys astride--a string of six or seven
passing always before the kitchen windows, going through the paddock gate
under the bunched evergreens. She remembered the rejoicings when the horse
won at Goodwood, and the ball at the Shoreham Gardens. Woodview had meant
too much in her life to be forgotten; its hillside and its people were
drawn out in sharp outline on her mind. Something in William's voice
recalled her from her reverie, and she heard him say--
"The poor Gaffer, 'e never got over it; it regular broke 'im up. I forgot
to tell you, it was Ginger who was riding. It appears that he did all he
knew; he lost start, he tried to get shut in, but it warn't no go, luck
was against them; the 'orse was full of running, and, of course, he
couldn't sit down and saw his blooming 'ead off, right in th' middle of
the course, with Sir Thomas's (that's the 'andicapper) field-glasses on
him. He'd have been warned off the blooming 'eath, and he couldn't afford
that, even to save his own father. The 'orse won in a canter: they clapped
eight stun on him for the Cambridgeshire. It broke the Gaffer's 'eart. He
had to sell off his 'orses, and he died soon after the sale. He died of
consumption. It generally takes them off earlier; but they say it is in
the family. Miss May----"
"Oh, tell me about her," said Esther, who had been thinking all the while
of Mrs. Barfield and of Miss Mary. "Tell me, there's nothing the matter
with Miss Mary?"
"Yes, there is: she can't live no more in England; she has to go to
winter, I think it is, in Algeria."
At that moment the train screeched along the rails, and vibrating under
the force of the brakes, it passed out of the tunnel into Blackfriars.
"We shall just be able to catch the ten minutes past four to Peckham," she
said, and they ran up the high steps. William strode along so fast that
Esther was obliged to cry out, "There's no use, William; train or no
train, I can't walk at that rate."
There was just time for them to get their tickets at Ludgate Hill. They
were in a carriage by themselves, and he proposed to draw up the windows
so that they might be able to talk more easily. He was interested in the
ill-luck that had attended certain horses, and Esther wanted to hear about
"You seem to be very fond of her; what did she do for you?"
"Everything--that was after you went away. She was kind."
"I'm glad to hear that," said William.
"So they spends the summer at Woodview and goes to foreign parts for the
"Yes, that's it. Most of the estate was sold; but Mrs. Barfield, the
Saint--you remember we used to call her the Saint--well, she has her
fortune, about five hundred a year, and they just manage to live there in
a sort of hole-and-corner sort of way. They can't afford to keep a trap,
and towards the end of October they go off and don't return till the
beginning of May. Woodview ain't what it was. You remember the stables
they were putting up when Silver Braid won the two cups? Well, they are
just as when you last saw them--rafters and walls."
"Racing don't seem to bring no luck to any one. It ain't my affair, but if
I was you I'd give it up and get to some honest work."
"Racing has been a good friend to me. I don't know where I should be
without it to-day."
"So all the servants have left Woodview? I wonder what has become of
"You remember my mother, the cook? She died a couple of years ago."
"Mrs. Latch! Oh, I'm so sorry."
"She was an old woman. You remember John Randal, the butler? He's in a
situation in Cumberland Place, near the Marble Arch. He sometimes comes
round and has a glass in the 'King's Head.' Sarah Tucker--she's in a
situation somewhere in town. I don't know what has become of Margaret
"I met her one day in the Strand. I'd had nothing to eat all day. I was
almost fainting, and she took me into a public-house and gave me a
The train began to slacken speed, and William said, "This is Peckham."
They handed up their tickets, and passed into the air of an irregular
little street--low disjointed shops and houses, where the tramcars tinkled
through a slacker tide of humanity than the Londoners were accustomed to.
"This way," said Esther. "This is the way to the Rye."
"Then Jackie lives at the Rye?"
"Not far from the Rye. Do you know East Dulwich?"
"No, I never was here before."
"Mrs. Lewis (that's the woman who looks after him) lives at East Dulwich,
but it ain't very far. I always gets out here. I suppose you don't mind a
quarter of an hour's walk."
"Not when I'm with you," William replied gallantly, and he followed her
through the passers-by.
The Rye opened up like a large park, beginning in the town and wending far
away into a country prospect. At the Peckham end there were a dozen
handsome trees, and under them a piece of artificial water where boys were
sailing toy boats, and a poodle was swimming. Two old ladies in black came
out of a garden full of hollyhocks; they walked towards a seat and sat
down in the autumn landscape. And as William and Esther pursued their way
the Rye seemed to grow longer and longer. It opened up into a vast expanse
full of the last days of cricket; it was charming with slender trees and a
Japanese pavilion quaintly placed on a little mound. An upland background
in gradations, interspaced with villas, terraces, and gardens, and steep
hillside, showing fields and hayricks, brought the Rye to a picturesque
and abrupt end.
"But it ain't nearly so big as Chester race-course. A regular cockpit of a
place is the Chester course; and not every horse can get round it."
Turning to the right and leaving the Rye behind them, they ascended a
long, monotonous, and very ugly road composed of artificial little houses,
each set in a portion of very metallic garden. These continued all the way
to the top of a long hill, straggling into a piece of waste ground where
there were some trees and a few rough cottages. A little boy came running
towards them, stumbling over the cinder heaps and the tin canisters with
which the place was strewn, and William felt that that child was his.
"That child will break 'is blooming little neck if 'e don't take care," he
She hated him to see the child, and to assert her complete ownership she
clasped Jackie to her bosom without a word of explanation, and she
questioned the child on matters about which William knew nothing.
William stood looking tenderly on his son, waiting for Esther to introduce
them. Mother and child were both so glad in each other that they forgot
the fine gentleman standing by. Suddenly the boy looked towards his
father, and she repented a little of her cruelty.
"Jackie," she said, "do you know who this gentleman is who has come to see
"No, I don't."
She did not care that Jackie should love his father, and yet she could not
help feeling sorry for William.
"I'm your father," said William.
"No, you ain't. I ain't got no father."
"How do you know, Jackie?"
"Father died before I was born; mother told me."
"But mother may be mistaken."
"If my father hadn't died before I was born he'd 've been to see us before
this. Come, mother, come to tea. Mrs. Lewis 'as got hot cakes, and they'll
be burnt if we stand talking."
"Yes, dear, but what the gentleman says is quite true; he is your father."
Jackie made no answer, and Esther said, "I told you your father was dead,
but I was mistaken."
"Won't you come and walk with me?" said William.
"No, thank you; I like to walk with mother."
"He's always like that with strangers," said Esther; "it is shyness; but
he'll come and talk to you presently, if you leave him alone."
Each cottage had a rough piece of garden, the yellow crowns of sunflowers
showed over the broken palings, and Mrs. Lewis's large face came into the
windowpane. A moment later she was at the front door welcoming her
visitors. The affection of her welcome was checked when she saw that
William was with Esther, and she drew aside respectfully to let this fine
gentleman pass. When they were in the kitchen Esther said----
"This is Jackie's father."
"What, never! I thought--but I'm sure we're very glad to see you." Then
noticing the fine gold chain that hung across his waistcoat, the cut of
his clothes, and the air of money which his whole bearing seemed to
represent, she became a little obsequious in her welcome.
"I'm sure, sir, we're very glad to see you. Won't you sit down?" and
dusting a chair with her apron, she handed it to him. Then turning to
Esther, she said--
"Sit yourself down, dear; tea'll be ready in a moment." She was one of
those women who, although their apron-strings are a good yard in length,
preserve a strange agility of movement and a pleasant vivacity of speech.
"I 'ope, sir, we've brought 'im up to your satisfaction; we've done the
best we could. He's a dear boy. There's been a bit of jealousy between us
on his account, but for all that we 'aven't spoilt him. I don't want to
praise him, but he's as well behaved a boy as I knows of. Maybe a bit
wilful, but there ain't much fault to find with him, and I ought to know,
for it is I that 'ad the bringing up of him since he was a baby of two
months old. Jackie, dear, why don't you go to your father?"
He stood by his mother's chair, twisting his slight legs in a manner that
was peculiar to him. His dark hair fell in thick, heavy locks over his
small face, and from under the shadow of his locks his great luminous eyes
glanced furtively at his father. Mrs. Lewis told him to take his finger
out of his mouth, and thus encouraged he went towards William, still
twisting his legs and looking curiously dejected. He did not speak for
some time, but he allowed William to put his arm round him and draw him
against his knees. Then fixing his eyes on the toes of his shoes he said
somewhat abruptly, but confidentially--
"Are you really my father? No humbug, you know," he added, raising his
eyes, and for a moment looking William searchingly in the face.
"I'm not humbugging, Jack. I'm your father right enough. Don't you like
me? But I think you said you didn't want to have a father?"
Jackie did not answer this question. After a moment's reflection, he said,
"If you be father, why didn't you come to see us before?"
William glanced at Esther, who, in her turn, glanced at Mrs. Lewis.
"I'm afraid that's rather a long story, Jackie. I was away in foreign
Jackie looked as if he would like to hear about "foreign parts," and
William awaited the question that seemed to tremble on the child's lips.
But, instead, he turned suddenly to Mrs. Lewis and said--
"The cakes aren't burnt, are they? I ran as fast as I could the moment I
saw them coming."
The childish abruptness of the transition made them laugh, and an
unpleasant moment passed away. Mrs. Lewis took the plate of cakes from the
fender and poured out their tea. The door and window were open, and the
dying light lent a tenderness to the tea table, to the quiet solicitude of
the mother watching her son, knowing him in all his intimate habits; to
the eager curiosity of the father on the other side, leaning forward
delighted at every look and word, thinking it all astonishing, wonderful.
Jackie sat between the women. He seemed to understand that his chance of
eating as many tea-cakes as he pleased had come, and he ate with his eyes
fixed on the plate, considering which piece he would have when he had
finished the piece he had in his hand. Little was said--a few remarks
about the fine weather, and offers to put out another cup of tea. By their
silence Mrs. Lewis began to understand that they had differences to
settle, and that she had better leave them. She took her shawl from the
peg, and pleaded that she had an appointment with a neighbour. But she
wouldn't be more than half-an-hour; would they look after the house till
her return? And William watched her, thinking of what he would say when
she was out of hearing. "That boy of ours is a dear little fellow; you've
been a good mother, I can see that. If I had only known."
"There's no use talking no more about it; what's done is done."
The cottage door was open, and in the still evening they could see their
child swinging on the gate. The moment was tremulous with responsibility,
and yet the words as they fell from their lips seemed accidental.
At last he said--
"Esther, I can get a divorce."
"You'd much better go back to your wife. Once married, always married,
that's my way of thinking."
"I'm sorry to hear you say it, Esther. Do you think a man should stop with
his wife who's been treated as I have been?"
Esther avoided a direct reply. Why should he care about the child? He had
never done anything for him. William said that if he had known there was a
child he would have left his wife long ago. He believed that he loved the
child just as much as she did, and didn't believe in marriage without
"That would have been very wrong."
"We ain't getting no for'arder by discussing them things," he said,
interrupting her. "We can't say good-bye after this evening and never see
one another again."
"Why not? I'm nothing to you now; you've got a wife of your own; you've no
claim upon me; you can go your way and I can keep to mine."
"There's that child. I must do something for him."
"Well, you can do something for him without ruining me."
"Ruining you, Esther?"
"Yes, ruining me. I ain't going to lose my character by keeping company
with a married man. You've done me harm enough already, and should be
ashamed to think of doing me any more. You can pay for the boy's schooling
if you like, you can pay for his keep too, but you mustn't think that in
doing so you'll get hold of me again."
"Do you mean it, Esther?"
"Followers ain't allowed where I am. You're a married man. I won't have
"But when I get my divorce?"
"When you get your divorce! I don't know how it'll be then. But here's
Mrs. Lewis; she's a-scolding of Jackie for swinging on that 'ere gate.
Naughty boy; he's been told twenty times not to swing on the gate."
Esther complained that they had stayed too long, that he had made her
late, and treated his questions about Jackie with indifference. He might
write if he had anything important to say, but she could not keep company
with a married man. William seemed very downcast. Esther, too, was
unhappy, and she did not know why. She had succeeded as well as she had
expected, but success had not brought that sense of satisfaction which she
had expected it would. Her idea had been to keep William out of the way
and hurry on her marriage with Fred. But this marriage, once so ardently
desired, no longer gave her any pleasure. She had told Fred about the
child. He had forgiven her. But now she remembered that men were very
forgiving before marriage, but how did she know that he would not reproach
her with her fault the first time they came to disagree about anything?
Ah, it was all misfortune. She had no luck. She didn't want to marry
That visit to Dulwich had thoroughly upset her. She ought to have kept out
of William's way--that man seemed to have a power over her, and she hated
him for it. What did he want to see the child for? The child was nothing
to him. She had been a fool; now he'd be after the child; and through this
fever of trouble there raged an acute desire to know what Jackie thought
of his father, what Mrs. Lewis thought of William.
And the desire to know what was happening became intolerable. She went to
her mistress to ask for leave to go out. Very little of her agitation
betrayed itself in her demeanour, but Miss Rice's sharp eyes had guessed
that her servant's life was at a crisis. She laid her book on her knee,
asked a few kind, discreet questions, and after dinner Esther hurried
towards the Underground.
The door of the cottage was open, and as she crossed the little garden she
heard Mrs. Lewis say--
"Now you must be a good boy, and not go out in the garden and spoil your
new clothes." And when Esther entered Mrs. Lewis was giving the finishing
touches to the necktie which she had just tied. "Now you'll go and sit on
that chair, like a good boy, and wait there till your father comes."
"Oh, here's mummie," cried the boy, and he darted out of Mrs. Lewis's
hand. "Look at my new clothes, mummie; look at them!" And Esther saw her
boy dressed in a suit of velveteen knickerbockers with brass buttons, and
a sky-blue necktie.
"His father--I mean Mr. Latch--came here on Thursday morning, and took him
"Took me up to London----"
"And brought him back in those clothes."
"We went to such a big shop in Oxford Street for them, and they took down
many suits before they could get one to fit. Father is that difficult to
please, and I thought we should go away without any clothes, and I
couldn't walk about London with father in these old things. Aren't they
shabby?" he added, kicking them contemptuously. It was a little grey suit
that Esther had made for him with her own hands.
"Father had me measured for another suit, but it won't be ready for a few
days. Father took me to the Zoological Gardens, and we saw the lions and
tigers, and there are such a lot of monkeys. There is one----But what
makes you look so cross, mummie dear? Don't you ever go out with father in
London? London is such a beautiful place. And then we walked through the
park and saw a lot of boys sailing boats. Father asked me if I had a boat.
I said you couldn't afford to buy me toys. He said that was hard lines on
me, and on the way back to the station we stopped at a toy-shop and he
bought me a boat. May I show you my boat?"
Jackie was too much occupied with thoughts of his boat to notice the gloom
that was gathering on his mother's face; Mrs. Lewis wished to call upon
him to desist, but before she could make up her mind what to do, he had
brought the toy from the table and was forcing it into his mother's hands.
"This is a cutter-rigged boat, because it has three sails and only one
mast. Father told me it was. He'll be here in half-an-hour; we're going to
sail the boat in the pond on the Rye, and if it gets across all right
he'll take me to the park where there's a big piece of water, twice, three
times as big as the water on the Rye. Do you think, mummie, that I shall
ever be able to get my boat across such a piece of water as the--I've
forgotten the name. What do they call it, mummie?"
"Oh, I don't know; don't bother me with your boat."
"Oh, mummie, what have I done that you won't look at my boat? Aren't you
coming with father to the Rye to see me sail it?"
"I don't want to go with you. You want me no more. I can't afford to give
you boats.... Come, don't plague me any more with your toy," she said,
pushing it away, and then in a moment of convulsive passion she threw the
boat across the room. It struck the opposite wall, its mast was broken,
and the sails and cords made a tangled little heap. Jackie ran to his toy,
he picked it up, and his face showed his grief. "I shan't be able to sail
my boat now; it won't sail, its mast and the sails is broke. Mummie, what
did you break my boat for?" and the child burst into tears. At that moment
"What is the child crying for?" he asked, stopping abruptly on the
threshold. There was a slight tone of authority in his voice which angered
Esther still more.
"What is it to you what he is crying for?" she said, turning quickly
round. "What has the child got to do with you that you should come down
ordering people about for? A nice sort of mean trick, and one that is just
like you. You beg and pray of me to let you see the child, and when I do
you come down here on the sly, and with the present of a suit of clothes
and a toy boat you try to win his love away from his mother."
"Esther, Esther, I never thought of getting his love from you. I meant no
harm. Mrs. Lewis said that he was looking a trifle moped; we thought that
a change would do him good, and so----"
"Ah! it was Mrs. Lewis that asked you to take him up to London. It is a
strange thing what a little money will do. Ever since you set foot in this
cottage she has been curtseying to you, handing you chairs. I didn't much
like it, but I didn't think that she would round on me in this way." Then
turning suddenly on her old friend, she said, "Who told you to let him
have the child?... Is it he or I who pays you for his keep? Answer me
that. How much did he give you--a new dress?"
"Oh, Esther, I am surprised at you: I didn't think it would come to
accusing me of being bribed, and after all these years." Mrs. Lewis put
her apron to her eyes, and Jackie stole over to his father.
"It wasn't I who smashed the boat, it was mummie; she's in a passion. I
don't know why she smashed it. I didn't do nothing."
William took the child on his knee.
"She didn't mean to smash it. There's a good boy, don't cry no more."
Jackie looked at his father. "Will you buy me another? The shops aren't
open to-day." Then getting off his father's knee he picked up the toy, and
coming back he said, "Could we mend the boat somehow? Do you think we
"Jackie, dear, go away; leave your father alone. Go into the next room,"
said Mrs. Lewis.
"No, he can stop here; let him be," said Esther. "I want to have no more
to say to him, he can look to his father for the future." Esther turned on
her heel and walked straight for the door. But dropping his boat with a
cry, the little fellow ran after her and clung to her skirt despairingly.
"No, mummie dear, you mustn't go; never mind the boat; I love you better
than the boat--I'll do without a boat."
"Esther, Esther, this is all nonsense. Just listen."
"No, I won't listen to you. But you shall listen to me. When I brought you
here last week you asked me in the train what I had been doing all these
years. I didn't answer you, but I will now. I've been in the workhouse."
"In the workhouse!"
"Yes, do that surprise you?"
Then jerking out her words, throwing them at him as if they were
half-bricks, she told him the story of the last eight years--Queen
Charlotte's hospital, Mrs. Rivers, Mrs. Spires, the night on the
Embankment, and the workhouse.
"And when I came out of the workhouse I travelled London in search of
sixteen pounds a year wages, which was the least I could do with, and when
I didn't find them I sat here and ate dry bread. She'll tell you--she saw
it all. I haven't said nothing about the shame and sneers I had to put up
with--you would understand nothing about that,--and there was more than
one situation I was thrown out of when they found I had a child. For they
didn't like loose women in their houses; I had them very words said about
me. And while I was going through all that you was living in riches with a
lady in foreign parts; and now when she could put up with you no longer,
and you're kicked out, you come to me and ask for your share of the child.
Share of the child! What share is yours, I'd like to know?"
"In your mean, underhand way you come here on the sly to see if you can't
steal the love of the child from me."
She could speak no more; her strength was giving way before the tumult of
her passion, and the silence that had come suddenly into the room was more
terrible than her violent words. William stood quaking, horrified, wishing
the earth would swallow him; Mrs. Lewis watched Esther's pale face,
fearing that she would faint; Jackie, his grey eyes open round, held his
broken boat still in his hand. The sense of the scene had hardly caught on
his childish brain; he was very frightened; his tears and sobs were a
welcome intervention. Mrs. Lewis took him in her arms and tried to soothe
him. William tried to speak; his lips moved, but no words came.
Mrs. Lewis whispered, "You'll get no good out of her now, her temper's up;
you'd better go. She don't know what she's a-saying of."
"If one of us has to go," said William, taking the hint, "there can't be
much doubt which of us." He stood at the door holding his hat, just as if
he were going to put it on. Esther stood with her back turned to him. At
last he said--
"Good-bye, Jackie. I suppose you don't want to see me again?"
For reply Jackie threw his boat away and clung to Mrs. Lewis for
protection. William's face showed that he was pained by Jackie's refusal.
"Try to get your mother to forgive me; but you are right to love her best.
She's been a good mother to you." He put on his hat and went without
another word. No one spoke, and every moment the silence grew more
paralysing. Jackie examined his broken boat for a moment, and then he put
it away, as if it had ceased to have any interest for him. There was no
chance of going to the Rye that day; he might as well take off his velvet
suit; besides, his mother liked him better in his old clothes. When he
returned his mother was sorry for having broken his boat, and appreciated
the cruelty. "You shall have another boat, my darling," she said, leaning
across the table and looking at him affectionately; "and quite as good as
the one I broke."
"Will you, mummie? One with three sails, cutter-rigged, like that?"
"Yes, dear, you shall have a boat with three sails."
"When will you buy me the boat, mummie--to-morrow?"
"As soon as I can, Jackie."
This promise appeared to satisfy him. Suddenly he looked--
"Is father coming back no more?"
"Do you want him back?"
Jackie hesitated; his mother pressed him for an answer.
"Not if you don't, mummie."
"But if he was to give you another boat, one with four sails?"
"They don't have four sails, not them with one mast."
"If he was to give you a boat with two masts, would you take it?"
"I should try not to, I should try ever so hard."
There were tears in Jackie's voice, and then, as if doubtful of his power
to resist temptation, he buried his face in his mother's bosom and sobbed
"You shall have another boat, my darling."
"I don't want no boat at all! I love you better than a boat, mummie,
indeed I do."
"And what about those clothes? You'd sooner stop with me and wear those
shabby clothes than go to him and wear a pretty velvet suit?"
"You can send back the velvet suit."
"Can I? My darling, mummie will give you another velvet suit," and she
embraced the child with all her strength, and covered him with kisses.
"But why can't I wear that velvet suit, and why can't father come back?
Why don't you like father? You shouldn't be cross with father because he
gave me the boat. He didn't mean no harm."
"I think you like your father. You like him better than me."
"Not better than you, mummie."
"You wouldn't like to have any other father except your own real father?"
"How could I have a father that wasn't my own real father?"
Esther did not press the point, and soon after Jackie began to talk about
the possibility of mending his boat; and feeling that something
irrevocable had happened, Esther put on her hat and jacket, and Mrs. Lewis
and Jackie accompanied her to the station. The women kissed each other on
the platform and were reconciled, but there was a vague sensation of
sadness in the leave-taking which they did not understand. And Esther sat
alone in a third-class carriage absorbed in consideration of the problem
of her life. The life she had dreamed would never be hers--somehow she
seemed to know that she would never be Fred's wife. Everything seemed to
point to the inevitableness of this end.
She had determined to see William no more, but he wrote asking how she
would like him to contribute towards the maintenance of the child, and
this could not be settled without personal interviews. Miss Rice and Mrs.
Lewis seemed to take it for granted that she would marry William when he
obtained his divorce. He was applying himself to the solution of this
difficulty, and professed himself to be perfectly satisfied with the
course that events were taking. And whenever she saw Jackie he inquired
after his father; he hoped, too, that she had forgiven poor father, who
had never meant no harm at all. Day by day she saw more clearly that her
instinct was right in warning her not to let the child see William, that
she had done wrong in allowing her feelings to be overruled by Miss Rice,
who had, of course, advised her for the best. But it was clear to her now
that Jackie never would take kindly to Fred as a stepfather; that he would
never forgive her if she divided him from his real father by marrying
another man. He would grow to dislike his stepfather more and more; and
when he grew older he would keep away from the house on account of the
presence of his stepfather; it would end by his going to live with him. He
would be led into a life of betting and drinking; she would lose her child
if she married Fred.
It was one evening as she was putting things away in the kitchen before
going up to bed that she heard some one rap at the window. Could this be
Fred? Her heart was beating; she must let him in. The area was in
darkness; she could see no one.
"Who is there?" she cried.
"It's only me. I had to see you to-night on----"
She drew an easier breath, and asked him to come in.
William had expected a rougher reception. The tone in which Esther invited
him in was almost genial, and there was no need of so many excuses; but he
had come prepared with excuses, and a few ran off his tongue before he was
"Well," said Esther, "it is rather late. I was just going up to bed; but
you can tell me what you've come about, if it won't take long."
"It won't take long.... I've seen my solicitor this afternoon, and he says
that I shall find it very difficult to get a divorce."
"So you can't get your divorce?"
"Are you glad?"
"I don't know."
"What do you mean? You must be either glad or sorry."
"I said what I mean. I am not given to telling lies." Esther set the large
tin candlestick, on which a wick was spluttering, on the kitchen table,
and William looked at her inquiringly. She was always a bit of a mystery
to him. And then he told her, speaking very quickly, how he had neglected
to secure proofs of his wife's infidelity at the time; and as she had
lived a circumspect although a guilty life ever since, the solicitor
thought that it would be difficult to establish a case against her.
"Perhaps she never was guilty," said Esther, unable to resist the
temptation to irritate.
"Not guilty! what do you mean? Haven't I told you how I found them the day
I came up from Ascot?... And didn't she own up to it? What more proof do
"Anyway, it appears you haven't enough; what are you going to do? Wait
until you catch her out?"
"There is nothing else to do, unless----" William paused, and his eyes
wandered from Esther's.
"Well, you see my solicitors have been in communication with her
solicitors, and her solicitors say that if it were the other way round,
that if I gave her reason to go against me for a divorce, she would be
glad of the chance. That's all they said at first, but since then I've
seen my wife, and she says that if I'll give her cause to get a divorce
she'll not only go for it, but will pay all the legal expenses; it won't
cost us a penny. What do you think Esther?"
"I don't know that I understand. You don't mean----"
"You see, Esther, that to get a divorce--there's no one who can hear us,
"No, there's no one in the 'ouse except me and the missus, and she's in
the study reading. Go on."
"It seems that one of the parties must go and live with another party
before either can get a divorce. Do you understand?"
"You don't mean that you want me to go and live with you, and perhaps get
left a second time?"
"That's all rot, Esther, and you knows it."
"If that's all you've got to say to me you'd better take your hook."
"Do you see, there's the child to consider? And you know well enough,
Esther, that you've nothing to fear; you knows as well as can be that I
mean to run straight this time. So I did before. But let bygones be
bygones, and I know you'd like the child to have a father; so if only for
"For his sake! I like that; as if I hadn't done enough for him. Haven't I
worked and slaved myself to death and gone about in rags? That's what that
child has cost me. Tell me what he's cost you. Not a penny piece--a toy
boat and a suit of velveteen knickerbockers,--and yet you come telling
me--I'd like to know what's expected of me. Is a woman never to think of
herself? Do I count for nothing? For the child's sake, indeed! Now, if it
was anyone else but you. Just tell me where do I come in? That's what I
want to know. I've played the game long enough. Where do I come in? That's
what I want to know."
"There's no use flying in a passion, Esther. I know you've had a hard
time. I know it was all very unlucky from the very first. But there's no
use saying that you might get left a second time, for you know well enough
that that ain't true. Say you won't do it; you're a free woman, you can
act as you please. It would be unjust to ask you to give up anything more
for the child; I agree with you in all that. But don't fly in a rage with
me because I came to tell you there was no other way out of the
"You can go and live with another woman, and get a divorce that way."
"Yes, I can do that; but I first thought I'd speak to you on the subject.
For if I did go and live with another woman I couldn't very well desert
her after getting a divorce."
"You deserted me."
"Why go back on that old story?"
"It ain't an old story, it's the story of my life, and I haven't come to
the end of it yet."
"But you'll have got to the end of it if you'll do what I say."
A moment later Esther said--
"I don't know what you want to get a divorce for at all. I daresay your
wife would take you back if you were to ask her."
"She's no children, and never will have none, and marriage is a poor
look-out without children--all the worry and anxiety for nothing. What do
we marry for but children? There's no other happiness. I've tried
"But I haven't."
"I know all that. I know you've had a damned hard time, Esther. I've had a
good week at Doncaster, and have enough money to buy my partner out; we
shall 'ave the 'ouse to ourselves, and, working together, I don't think
we'll 'ave much difficulty in building it up into a very nice property,
all of which will in time go to the boy. I'm doing pretty well, I told
you, in the betting line, but if you like I'll give it up. I'll never lay
or take the odds again. I can't say more, Esther, can I? Come, say yes,"
he said, reaching his arm towards her.
"Don't touch me," she said surlily, and drew back a step with air of
resolution that made him doubt if he would be able to persuade her.
"Now, Esther----" William did not finish. It seemed useless to argue with
her, and he looked at the great red ash of the tallow candle.
"You are the mother of my boy, so it is different; but to advise me to go
and live with another woman! I shouldn't have thought it of a religious
girl like you."
"Religion! There's very little time for religion in the places I've had to
work in." Then, thinking of Fred, she added that she had returned to
Christ, and hoped He would forgive her. William encouraged her to speak of
herself, remarking that, chapel or no chapel, she seemed just as severe
and particular as ever. "If you won't, I can only say I am sorry; but that
shan't prevent me from paying you as much a week as you think necessary
for Jack's keep and his schooling. I don't want the boy to cost you
anything. I'd like to do a great deal more for the boy, but I can't do
more unless you make him my child."
"And I can only do that by going away to live with you?" The words brought
an instinctive look of desire into her eyes.
"In six months we shall be man and wife.... Say yes."
"I can't... I can't, don't ask me."
"You're afraid to trust me, is that it?"
Esther did not answer.
"I can make that all right: I'll settle L500 on you and the child."
She looked up; the same look was in her eyes, only modified, softened by
some feeling of tenderness which had come into her heart.
He put his arm round her; she was leaning against the table; he was
sitting on the edge.
"You know that I mean to act rightly by you."
"Yes, I think you do."
"Then say yes."
"I can't--it is too late."
"There's another chap?"
"I thought as much. Do you care for him?"
She did not answer.
He drew her closer to him; she did not resist; he could see that she was
weeping. He kissed her on her neck first, and then on her face; and he
continued to ask her if she loved the other chap. At last she signified
that she did not.
"Then say yes." She murmured that she could not. "You can, you can, you
can." He kissed her, all the while reiterating, "You can, you can, you
can," until it became a sort of parrot cry. Several minutes elapsed, and
the candle began to splutter in its socket. She said--
"Let me go; let me light the gas."
As she sought for the matches she caught sight of the clock.
"I did not know it was so late."
"Say yes before I go."
And it was impossible to extort a promise from her. "I'm too tired," she
said, "let me go."
He took her in his arms and kissed her, and said, "My own little wife."
As he went up the area steps she remembered that he had used the same
words before. She tried to think of Fred, but William's great square
shoulders had come between her and this meagre little man. She sighed, and
felt once again that her will was overborne by a force which she could not
control or understand.
She went round the house bolting and locking the doors, seeing that
everything was made fast for the night. At the foot of the stairs painful
thoughts came upon her, and she drew her hand across her eyes; for she was
whelmed with a sense of sorrow, of purely mental misery, which she could
not understand, and which she had not strength to grapple with. She was,
however, conscious of the fact that life was proving too strong for her,
that she could make nothing of it, and she thought that she did not care
much what happened. She had fought with adverse fate, and had conquered in
a way; she had won countless victories over herself, and now found herself
without the necessary strength for the last battle; she had not even
strength for blame, and merely wondered why she had let William kiss her.
She remembered how she had hated him, and now she hated him no longer. She
ought not to have spoken to him; above all, she ought not to have taken
him to see the child. But how could she help it?
She slept on the same landing as Miss Rice, and was moved by a sudden
impulse to go in and tell her the story of her trouble. But what good? No
one could help her. She liked Fred; they seemed to suit each other, and
she could have made him a good wife if she had not met William. She
thought of the cottage at Mortlake, and their lives in it; and she sought
to stimulate her liking for him with thoughts of the meeting-house; she
thought even of the simple black dress she would wear, and that life
seemed so natural to her that she did not understand why she hesitated....
If she were to marry William she would go to the "King's Head."
She would stand behind the bar; she would serve the customers. She had
never seen much life, and felt somehow that she would like to see a little
life; there would not be much life in the cottage at Mortlake; nothing but
the prayer-meeting. She stopped thinking, surprised at her thoughts. She
had never thought like that before; it seemed as if some other woman whom
she hardly knew was thinking for her. She seemed like one standing at
cross-roads, unable to decide which road she would take. If she took the
road leading to the cottage and the prayer-meeting her life would
henceforth be secure. She could see her life from end to end, even to the
time when Fred would come and sit by her, and hold her hand as she had
seen his father and mother sitting side by side. If she took the road to
the public-house and the race-course she did not know what might not
happen. But William had promised to settle L500 on her and Jackie. Her
life would be secure either way.
She must marry Fred; she had promised to marry him; she wished to be a
good woman; he would give her the life she was most fitted for, the life
she had always desired; the life of her father and mother, the life of her
childhood. She would marry Fred, only--something at that moment seemed to
take her by the throat. William had come between her and that life. If she
had not met him at Woodview long ago; if she had not met him in the
Pembroke Road that night she went to fetch the beer for her mistress's
dinner, how different everything would have been! ...If she had met him
only a few months later, when she was Fred's wife!
Wishing she might go to sleep, and awake the wife of one or the other, she
fell asleep to dream of a husband possessed of the qualities of both, and
a life that was neither all chapel nor all public-house. But soon the one
became two, and Esther awoke in terror, believing she had married them
If Fred had said, "Come away with me," Esther would have obeyed the
elemental romanticism which is so fixed a principle in woman's nature. But
when she called at the shop he only spoke of his holiday, of the long
walks he had taken, and the religious and political meetings he had
attended. Esther listened vaguely; and there was in her mind unconscious
regret that he was not a little different. Little irrelevant thoughts came
upon her. She would like him better if he wore coloured neckties and a
short jacket; she wished half of him away--his dowdiness, his
sandy-coloured hair, the vague eyes, the black neckties, the long loose
frock-coat. But his voice was keen and ringing, and when listening her
heart always went out to him, and she felt that she might fearlessly
entrust her life to him. But he did not seem wholly to understand her, and
day by day, against her will, the thought gripped her more and more
closely that she could not separate Jackie from his father. She would have
to tell Fred the whole truth, and he would not understand it; that she
knew. But it would have to be done, and she sent round to say she'd like
to see him when he left business. Would he step round about eight o'clock?
The clock had hardly struck eight when she heard a tap at the window. She
opened the door and he came in, surprised by the silence with which she
"I hope nothing has happened. Is anything the matter?"
"Yes, a great deal's the matter. I'm afraid we shall never be married,
Fred, that's what's the matter."
"How's that, Esther? What can prevent us getting married?" She did not
answer, and then he said, "You've not ceased to care for me?"
"No, that's not it."
"Jackie's father has come back?"
"You've hit it, that's what happened."
"I'm sorry that man has come across you again. I thought you told me he
was married. But, Esther, don't keep me in suspense; what has he done?"
"Sit down; don't stand staring at me in that way, and I'll tell you the
Then in a strained voice, in which there was genuine suffering, Esther
told her story, laying special stress on the fact that she had done her
best to prevent him from seeing the child.
"I don't see how you could have forbidden him access to the child."
He often used words that Esther did not understand, but guessing his
meaning, she answered--
"That's just what the missus said; she argued me into taking him to see
the child. I knew once he'd seen Jackie there'd be no getting rid of him.
I shall never get rid of him again."
"He has no claim upon you. It is just like him, low blackguard fellow that
he is, to come after you, persecuting you. But don't you fear; you leave
him to me. I'll find a way of stopping his little game."
Esther looked at his frail figure.
"You can do nothing; no one can do nothing," she said, and the tears
trembled in her handsome eyes. "He wants me to go away and live with him,
so that his wife may be able to divorce him."
"Wants you to go away and live with him! But surely, Esther, you do
"Yes, he wants me to go and live with him, so that his wife can get a
divorce," Esther answered, for the suspense irritated her; "and how can I
refuse to go with him?"
"Esther, are you serious? You cannot... You told me that you did not love
him, and after all----" He waited for Esther to speak.
"Yes," she said very quickly, "there is no way out of it that I can see."
"Esther, that man has tempted you, and you have not prayed."
She did not answer.
"I don't want to hear more of this," he said, catching up his hat. "I
shouldn't have believed it if I had not heard it from your lips; no, not
if the whole world had told me. You are in love with this man, though you
may not know it, and you've invented this story as a pretext to throw me
over. Good-bye, Esther."
"Fred, dear, listen, hear me out. You'll not go away in that hasty way.
You're the only friend I have. Let me explain."
"Explain! how can such things be explained?"
"That's what I thought until all this happened to me. I have suffered
dreadful in the last few days. I've wept bitter tears, and I thought of
all you said about the 'ome you was going to give me." Her sincerity was
unmistakable, and Fred doubted her no longer. "I'm very fond of you, Fred,
and if things had been different I think I might have made you a good
wife. But it wasn't to be."
"Esther, I don't understand. You need never see this man again if you
don't wish it."
"Nay, nay, things ain't so easily changed as all that. He's the father of
my child, he's got money, and he'll leave his money to his child if he's
made Jackie's father in the eyes of the law."
"That can be done without your going to live with him."
"Not as he wants. I know what he wants; he wants a 'ome, and he won't be
put off with less."
"How men can be so wicked as----"
"No, you do him wrong. He ain't no more wicked than another; he's just one
of the ordinary sort--not much better or worse. If he'd been a real bad
lot it would have been better for us, for then he'd never have come
between us. You're beginning to understand, Fred, ain't you? If I don't go
with him my boy'll lose everything. He wants a 'ome--a real 'ome with
children, and if he can't get me he'll go after another woman."
"And are you jealous?"
"No, Fred. But think if we was to marry. As like as not I should have
children, and they'd be more in your sight than my boy."
"Esther, I promise that----"
"Just so, Fred; even if you loved him like your own, you can't make sure
that he'd love you."
"Jackie and I----"
"Ah, yes; he'd have liked you well enough if he'd never seen his father.
But he's that keen on his father, and it would be worse later on. He'd
never be contented in our 'ome. He'd be always after him, and then I
should never see him, and he would be led away into betting and drink."
"If his father is that sort of man, the best chance for Jackie would be to
keep him out of his way. If he gets divorced and marries another woman he
will forget all about Jackie."
"Yes, that might be," said Esther, and Fred pursued his advantage. But,
interrupting him, Esther said--
"Anyway, Jackie would lose all his father's money; the public-house
"So you're going to live in a public-house, Esther?"
"A woman must be with her husband."
"But he's not your husband; he's another woman's husband."
"He's to marry me when he gets his divorce."
"He may desert you and leave you with another child."
"You can't say nothing I ain't thought of already. I must put up with the
risk. I suppose it is a part of the punishment for the first sin. We can't
do wrong without being punished--at least women can't. But I thought I'd
been punished enough."
"The second sin is worse than the first. A married man, Esther--you who I
thought so religious."
"Ah, religion is easy enough at times, but there is other times when it
don't seem to fit in with one's duty. I may be wrong, but it seems natural
like--he's the father of my child."
"I'm afraid your mind is made up, Esther. Think twice before it's too
"Fred, I can't help myself--can't you see that? Don't make it harder for
me by talking like that."
"When are you going to him?"
"To-night; he's waiting for me."
"Then good-bye, Esther, good--"
"But you'll come and see us."
"I hope you'll be happy, Esther, but I don't think we shall see much more
of each other. You know that I do not frequent public-houses."
"Yes, I know; but you might come and see me in the morning when we're
doing no business."
Fred smiled sadly.
"Then you won't come?" she said.
They shook hands, and he went out hurriedly. She dashed a tear from her
eyes, and went upstairs to her mistress, who had rung for her.
Miss Rice was in her easy-chair, reading. A long, slanting ray entered the
room; the bead curtain glittered, and so peaceful was the impression that
Esther could not but perceive the contrast between her own troublous life
and the contented privacy of this slender little spinster's.
"Well, miss," she said, "it's all over. I've told him."
"Have you, Esther?" said Miss Rice. Her white, delicate hands fell over
the closed volume. She wore two little colourless rings and a ruby ring
which caught the light.
"Yes, miss, I've told him all. He seemed a good deal cut up. I couldn't
help crying myself, for I could have made him a good wife--I'm sure I
could; but it wasn't to be."
"You've told him you were going off to live with William?"
"Yes, miss; there's nothing like telling the whole truth while you're
about it. I told him I was going off to-night."
"He's a very religious young man?"
"Yes, miss; he spoke to me about religion, but I told him I didn't want
Jackie to be a fatherless boy, and to lose any money he might have a right
to. It don't look right to go and live with a married man; but you knows,
miss, how I'm situated, and you knows that I'm only doing it because it
seems for the best."
"What did he say to that?"
"Nothing much, miss, except that I might get left a second time--and, he
wasn't slow to add, with another child."
"Have you thought of that danger, Esther?"
"Yes, miss, I've thought of everything; but thinking don't change nothing.
Things remain just the same, and you've to chance it in the end--leastways
a woman has. Not on the likes of you, miss, but the likes of us."
"Yes," said Miss Rice reflectively, "it is always the woman who is
sacrificed." And her thought went back for a moment to the novel she was
writing. It seemed to her pale and conventional compared with this rough
page torn out of life. She wondered if she could treat the subject. She
passed in review the names of some writers who could do justice to it, and
then her eyes went from her bookcase to Esther.
"So you're going to live in a public-house, Esther? You're going to-night?
I've paid you everything I owe you?"
"Yes, miss, you have; you've been very kind to me, indeed you have,
miss--I shall never forget you, miss. I've been very happy in your
service, and should like nothing better than to remain on with you."
"All I can say, Esther, is that you have been a very good servant, and I'm
very sorry to part with you. And I hope you'll remember if things do not
turn out as well as you expect them to, that I shall always be glad to do
anything in my power to help you. You'll always find a friend in me. When
are you going?"
"As soon as my box is packed, miss, and I shall have about finished by the
time the new servant comes in. She's expected at nine; there she is,
miss--that's the area bell. Good-bye, miss."
Miss Rice involuntarily held out her hand. Esther took it, and thus
encouraged she said--
"There never was anyone that clear-headed and warm-hearted as yerself,
miss. I may have a lot of trouble, miss.... If I wasn't yer servant I'd
like to kiss you."
Miss Rice did not answer, and before she was aware, Esther had taken her
in her arms and kissed her. "You're not angry with me, miss; I couldn't
"No, Esther, I'm not angry."
"I must go now and let her in."
Miss Rice walked towards her writing-table, and a sense of the solitude of
her life coming upon her suddenly caused her to burst into tears. It was
one of those moments of effusion which take women unawares. But her new
servant was coming upstairs and she had to dry her eyes.
Soon after she heard the cabman's feet on the staircase as he went up for
Esther's box. They brought it down together, and Miss Rice heard her beg
of him to be careful of the paint. The girl had been a good and faithful
servant to her; she was sorry to lose her. And Esther was equally sorry
that anyone but herself should have the looking after of that dear, kind
soul. But what could she do? She was going to be married. She did not
doubt that William was going to marry her; and the cab had hardly entered
the Brompton Road when her thoughts were fully centred in the life that
awaited her. This sudden change of feeling surprised her, and she excused
herself with the recollection that she had striven hard for Fred, but as
she had failed to get him, it was only right that she should think of her
husband. Then quite involuntarily the thought sprang upon her that he was
a fine fellow, and she remembered the line of his stalwart figure as he
walked down the street. There would be a parlour behind the bar, in which
she would sit. She would be mistress of the house. There would be a
servant, a potboy, and perhaps a barmaid.
The cab swerved round the Circus, and she wondered if she were capable of
conducting a business like the "King's Head."
It was the end of a fine September evening, and the black, crooked
perspectives of Soho seemed as if they were roofed with gold. A slight
mist was rising, and at the end of every street the figures appeared and
disappeared mysteriously in blue shadow. She had never been in this part
of London before; the adventure stimulated her imagination, and she
wondered where she was going and which of the many public-houses was hers.
But the cabman jingled past every one. It seemed as if he were never going
to pull up. At last he stopped at the corner of Dean Street and Old
Compton Street, nearly opposite a cab rank. The cabmen were inside, having
a glass; the usual vagrant was outside, looking after the horses. He
offered to take down Esther's box, and when she asked him if he had seen
Mr. Latch he took her round to the private bar. The door was pushed open,
and Esther saw William leaning over the counter wrapped in conversation
with a small, thin man. They were both smoking, their glasses were filled,
and the sporting paper was spread out before them.
"Oh, so here you are at last," said William, coming towards her. "I
expected you an hour ago."
"The new servant was late, and I couldn't leave before she came."
"Never mind; glad you've come."
Esther felt that the little man was staring hard at her. He was John
Randal, or Mr. Leopold, as they used to call him at Barfield.
Mr. Leopold shook hands with Esther, and he muttered a "Glad to see you
again," But it was the welcome of a man who regards a woman's presence as
an intrusion, and Esther understood the quiet contempt with which he
looked at William. "Can't keep away from them," his face said for one
brief moment. William asked Esther what she'd take to drink, and Mr.
Leopold looked at his watch and said he must be getting home.
"Try to come round to-morrow night if you've an hour to spare."
"Then you don't think you'll go to Newmarket?"
"No, I don't think I shall do much in the betting way this year. But come
round to-morrow night if you can; you'll find me here. I must be here
to-morrow night," he said, turning to Esther; "I'll tell you presently."
Then the men had a few more words, and William bade John good-night.
Coming back to Esther, he said--
"What do you think of the place? Cosy, ain't it?" But before she had time
to reply he said, "You've brought me good luck. I won two 'undred and
fifty pounds to-day, and the money will come in very 'andy, for Jim
Stevens, that's my partner, has agreed to take half the money on account
and a bill of sale for the rest. There he is; I'll introduce you to him.
Jim, come this way, will you?"
"In a moment, when I've finished drawing this 'ere glass of beer,"
answered a thick-set, short-limbed man. He was in his shirt-sleeves, and
he crossed the bar wiping the beer from his hands.
"Let me introduce you to a very particular friend of mine, Jim, Miss
"Very 'appy, I'm sure, to make your acquaintance," said Jim, and he
extended his fat hand across the counter. "You and my partner are, I 'ear,
going to take this 'ere 'ouse off my hands. Well, you ought to make a good
thing of it. There's always room for a 'ouse that supplies good liquor.
What can I hoffer you, madam? Some of our whisky has been fourteen years
in bottle; or, being a lady, perhaps you'd like to try some of our best
Esther declined, but William said they could not leave without drinking
the health of the house.
"Irish or Scotch, ma'am? Mr. Latch drinks Scotch."
Seeing that she could not avoid taking something, Esther decided that she
would try the unsweetened. The glasses were clinked across the counter,
and William whispered, "This isn't what we sell to the public; this is our
own special tipple. You didn't notice, perhaps, but he took the bottle
from the third row on the left."
At that moment Esther's cabman came in and wanted to know if he was to
have the box taken down. William said it had better remain where it was.
"I don't think I told you I'm not living here; my partner has the upper
part of the house, but he says he'll be ready to turn out at the end of
the week. I'm living in lodgings near Shaftesbury Avenue, so we'd better
keep the cab on."
Esther looked disappointed, but said nothing. William said he'd stand the
cabby a drink, and, winking at Esther, he whispered, "Third row on the
The "King's Head" was an humble place in the old-fashioned style. The
house must have been built two hundred years, and the bar seemed as if it
had been dug out of the house. The floor was some inches lower than the
street, and the ceiling was hardly more than a couple of feet above the
head of a tall man. Nor was it divided by numerous varnished partitions,
according to the latest fashion. There were but three. The private
entrance was in Dean Street, where a few swells came over from the theatre
and called for brandies-and-sodas. There was a little mahogany what-not on
the counter, and Esther served her customers between the little shelves.
The public entrance and the jug and bottle entrance were in a side street.
There was no parlour for special customers at the back, and the public bar
was inconveniently crowded by a dozen people. The "King's Head" was not an
up-to-date public-house. It had, however, one thing in its favour--it was
a free house, and William said they had only to go on supplying good
stuff, and trade would be sure to come back to them. For their former
partner had done them much harm by systematic adulteration, and a little
way down the street a new establishment, with painted tiles and brass
lamps, had been opened, and was attracting all the custom of the
neighbourhood. She was more anxious than William to know what loss the
books showed; she was jealous of the profits of his turf account, and when
he laughed at her she said, "But you're never here in the daytime, you do
not have these empty bars staring you in the face morning and afternoon."
And then she would tell him: a dozen pots of beer about dinner-time, a few
glasses of bitter--there had been a rehearsal over the way--and that was
The bars were empty, and the public-house dozed through the heavy heat of
a summer afternoon. Esther sat behind the bar sewing, waiting for Jackie
to come home from school. William was away at Newmarket. The clock struck
five and Jackie peeped through the doors, dived under the counter, and ran
into his mother's arms.
"Well, did you get full marks to-day?"
"Yes, mummie, I got full marks."
"That's a good boy--and you want your tea?"
"Yes, mummie; I'm that hungry I could hardly walk home."
"Hardly walk home! What, as bad as that?"
"Yes, mummie. There's a new shop open in Oxford Street. The window is all
full of boats. Do you think that if all the favourites were to be beaten
for a month, father would buy me one?"
"I thought you was so hungry you couldn't walk home, dear?"
"Well, mummie, so I was, but----"
Esther laughed. "Well, come this way and have your tea." She went into the
parlour and rang the bell.
"Mummie, may I have buttered toast?"
"Yes, dear, you may."
"And may I go downstairs and help Jane to make it?"
"Yes, you can do that too; it will save her the trouble of coming up. Let
me take off your coat--give me your hat; now run along, and help Jane to
make the toast."
Esther opened a glass door, curtained with red silk; it led from the bar
to the parlour, a tiny room, hardly larger than the private bar, holding
with difficulty a small round table, three chairs, an arm-chair, a
cupboard. In the morning a dusty window let in a melancholy twilight, but
early in the afternoon it became necessary to light the gas. Esther took a
cloth from the cupboard, and laid the table for Jackie's tea. He came up
the kitchen stairs telling Jane how many marbles he had won, and at that
moment voices were heard in the bar.
It was William, tall and gaunt, buttoned up in a grey frock-coat, a pair
of field glasses slung over his shoulders. He was with his clerk, Ted
Blamy, a feeble, wizen little man, dressed in a shabby tweed suit, covered
with white dust.
"Put that bag down, Teddy, and come and have a drink."
Esther saw at once that things had not gone well with him.
"Have the favourites been winning?"
"Yes, every bloody one. Five first favourites straight off the reel, three
yesterday, and two second favourites the day before. By God, no man can
stand up against it. Come, what'll you have to drink, Teddy?"
"A little whisky, please, guv'nor."
The men had their drink. Then William told Teddy to take his bag upstairs,
and he followed Esther into the parlour. She could see that he had been
losing heavily, but she refrained from asking questions.
"Now, Jackie, you keep your father company; tell him how you got on at
school. I'm going downstairs to look after his dinner."
"Don't you mind about my dinner, Esther, don't you trouble; I was thinking
of dining at a restaurant. I'll be back at nine."
"Then I'll see nothing of you. We've hardly spoken to one another this
week; all the day you're away racing, and in the evening you're talking to
your friends over the bar. We never have a moment alone."
"Yes, Esther, I know; but the truth is, I'm a bit down in the mouth. I've
had a very bad week. The favourites has been winning, and I overlaid my
book against Wheatear; I'd heard that she was as safe as 'ouses. I'll meet
some pals down at the 'Cri'; it will cheer me up."
Seeing how disappointed she was, he hesitated, and asked what there was
for dinner. "A sole and a nice piece of steak; I'm sure you'll like it.
I've a lot to talk to you about. Do stop, Bill, to please me." She was
very winning in her quiet, grave way, so he took her in his arms, kissed
her, and said he would stop, that no one could cook a sole as she could,
that it gave him an appetite to think of it.
"And may I stop with father while you are cooking his dinner?" said
"Yes, you can do that; but you must go to bed when I bring it upstairs. I
want to talk with father then."
Jackie seemed quite satisfied with this arrangement, but when Esther came
upstairs with the sole, and was about to hand him over to Jane, he begged
lustily to be allowed to remain until father had finished his fish. "It
won't matter to you," he said; "you've to go downstairs to fry the steak."
But when she came up with the steak he was unwilling as ever to leave. She
said he must go to bed, and he knew from her tone that argument was
useless. As a last consolation, she promised him that she would come
upstairs and kiss him before he went to sleep.
"You will come, won't you, mummie? I shan't go to sleep till you do."
Esther and William both laughed, and Esther was pleased, for she was still
a little jealous of his love for his father.
"Come along," Jackie cried to Jane, and he ran upstairs, chattering to her
about the toys he had seen in Oxford Street. Charles was lighting the gas,
and Esther had to go into the bar to serve some customers. When she
returned, William was smoking his pipe. Her dinner had had its effect, he
had forgotten his losses, and was willing to tell her the news. He had a
bit of news for her. He had seen Ginger; Ginger had come up as cordial as
you like, and had asked him what price he was laying.
"Did he bet with you?"
"Yes, I laid him ten pounds to five."
Once more William began to lament his luck. "You'll have better luck
to-morrow," she said. "The favourites can't go on winning. Tell me about
"There isn't much to tell. We'd a little chat. He knew all about the
little arrangement, the five hundred, you know, and laughed heartily.
Peggy's married. I've forgotten the chap's name."
"The one that you kicked downstairs?"
"No, not him; I can't think of it. No matter, Ginger remembered you; he
wished us luck, took the address, and said he'd come in to-night to see
you if he possibly could. I don't think he's been doing too well lately,
if he had he'd been more stand-offish. I saw Jimmy White--you remember
Jim, the little fellow we used to call the Demon, 'e that won the
Stewards' Cup on Silver Braid?... Didn't you and 'e 'ave a tussle together
at the end of dinner--the first day you come down from town?"
"The second day it was."
"You're right, it was the second day. The first day I met you in the
avenue I was leaning over the railings having a smoke, and you come along
with a heavy bundle and asked me the way. I wasn't in service at that
time. Good Lord, how time does slip by! It seems like yesterday.... And
after all those years to meet you as you was going to the public for a jug
of beer, and 'ere we are man and wife sitting side by side in our own
Esther had been in the "King's Head" now nearly a year. The first Mrs.
Latch had got her divorce without much difficulty; and Esther had begun to
realise that she had got a good husband long before they slipped round to
the nearest registry office and came back man and wife.
Charles opened the door. "Mr. Randal is in the bar, sir, and would like to
have a word with you."
"All right," said William. "Tell him I'm coming into the bar presently."
Charles withdrew. "I'm afraid," said William, lowering his voice, "that
the old chap is in a bad way. He's been out of a place a long while, and
will find it 'ard to get back again. Once yer begin to age a bit, they
won't look at you. We're both well out of business."
Mr. Randal sat in his favourite corner by the wall, smoking his clay. He
wore a large frock-coat, vague in shape, pathetically respectable. The
round hat was greasy round the edges, brown and dusty on top. The shirt
was clean but unstarched, and the thin throat was tied with an old black
silk cravat. He looked himself, the old servant out of situation--the old
servant who would never be in situation again.
"Been 'aving an 'ell of a time at Newmarket," said William; "favourites
romping in one after the other."
"I saw that the favourites had been winning. But I know of something, a
rank outsider, for the Leger. I got the letter this morning. I thought I'd
come round and tell yer."
"Much obliged, old mate, but it don't do for me to listen to such tales;
we bookmakers must pay no attention to information, no matter how correct
it may be.... Much obliged all the same. What are you drinking?"
"I've not finished my glass yet." He tossed off the last mouthful.
"The same?" said William.
"Yes, thank you."
William drew two glasses of porter. "Here's luck." The men nodded, drank,
and then William turned to speak to a group at the other end of the bar.
"One moment," John said, touching William on the shoulder. "It is the best
tip I ever had in my life. I 'aven't forgotten what I owe you, and if this
comes off I'll be able to pay you all back. Lay the odds, twenty
sovereigns to one against--" Old John looked round to see that no one was
within ear-shot, then he leant forward and whispered the horse's name in
William's ear. William laughed. "If you're so sure about it as all that,"
he said, "I'd sooner lend you the quid to back the horse elsewhere."
"Will you lend me a quid?"
"Lend you a quid and five first favourites romping in one after
another!--you must take me for Baron Rothschild. You think because I've a
public-house I'm coining money; well, I ain't. It's cruel the business we
do here. You wouldn't believe it, and you know that better liquor can't be
got in the neighbourhood." Old John listened with the indifference of a
man whose life is absorbed in one passion and who can interest himself
with nothing else. Esther asked him after Mrs. Randal and his children,
but conversation on the subject was always disagreeable to him, and he
passed it over with few words. As soon as Esther moved away he leant
forward and whispered, "Lay me twelve pounds to ten shillings. I'll be
sure to pay you; there's a new restaurant going to open in Oxford Street
and I'm going to apply for the place of headwaiter."
"Yes, but will you get it?" William answered brutally. He did not mean to
be unkind, but his nature was as hard and as plain as a kitchen-table. The
chin dropped into the unstarched collar and the old-fashioned necktie, and
old John continued smoking unnoticed by any one. Esther looked at him. She
saw he was down on his luck, and she remembered the tall, melancholy,
pale-faced woman whom she had met weeping by the sea-shore the day that
Silver Braid had won the cup. She wondered what had happened to her, in
what corner did she live, and where was the son that John Randal had not
allowed to enter the Barfield establishment as page-boy, thinking he would
be able to make something better of him than a servant.
The regular customers had begun to come in. Esther greeted them with nods
and smiles of recognition. She drew the beer two glasses at once in her
hand, and picked up little zinc measures, two and four of whisky, and
filled them from a small tap. She usually knew the taste of her customers.
When she made a mistake she muttered "stupid," and Mr. Ketley was much
amused at her forgetting that he always drank out of the bottle; he was
one of the few who came to the "King's Head" who could afford sixpenny
whisky. "I ought to have known by this time," she said. "Well, mistakes
will occur in the best regulated families," the little butterman replied.
He was meagre and meek, with a sallow complexion and blond beard. His pale
eyes were anxious, and his thin, bony hands restless. His general manner
was oppressed, and he frequently raised his hat to wipe his forehead,
which was high and bald. At his elbow stood Journeyman, Ketley's very
opposite. A tall, harsh, angular man, long features, a dingy complexion,
and the air of a dismissed soldier. He held a glass of whisky-and-water in
a hairy hand, and bit at the corner of a brown moustache. He wore a
threadbare black frock-coat, and carried a newspaper under his arm. Ketley
and Journeyman held widely different views regarding the best means of
backing horses. Ketley was preoccupied with dreams and omens; Journeyman,
a clerk in the parish registry office, studied public form; he was guided
by it in all his speculations, and paid little heed to the various rumours
always afloat regarding private trials. Public form he admitted did not
always come out right, but if a man had a headpiece and could remember all
the running, public form was good enough to follow. Racing with Journeyman
was a question of calculation, and great therefore was his contempt for
the weak and smiling Ketley, whom he went for on all occasions. But Ketley
was pluckier than his appearance indicated, and the duels between the two
were a constant source of amusement in the bar of the "King's Head."
"Well, Herbert, the omen wasn't altogether up to the mark this time," said
Journeyman, with a malicious twinkle in his small brown eyes.
"No, it was one of them unfortunate accidents."
"One of them unfortunate accidents," repeated Journeyman, derisively;
"what's accidents to do with them that 'as to do with the reading of
omens? I thought they rose above such trifles as weights, distances, bad
riding.... A stone or two should make no difference if the omen is right."
Ketley was no way put out by the slight titter that Journeyman's retort
had produced in the group about the bar. He drank his whisky-and-water
deliberately, like one, to use a racing expression, who had been over the
"I've 'eard that argument. I know all about it, but it don't alter me. Too
many strange things occur for me to think that everything can be
calculated with a bit of lead-pencil in a greasy pocket-book."
"What has the grease of my pocket-book to do with it?" replied Journeyman,
looking round. The company smiled and nodded. "You says that signs and
omens is above any calculation of weights. Never mind the pocket-book,
greasy or not greasy; you says that these omens is more to be depended on
than the best stable information."
"I thought that you placed no reliance on stable information, and that you
was guided by the weights that you calculated in that 'ere pocket-book."
"What's my pocket-book to do with it? You want to see my pocket-book;
well, here it is, and I'll bet two glasses of beer that it ain't greasier
than any other pocket-book in this bar."
"I don't see meself what pocket-books, greasy or not greasy, has to do
with it," said William. "Walter put a fair question to Herbert. The omen
didn't come out right, and Walter wanted to know why it didn't come out
"That was it," said Journeyman.
All eyes were now fixed on Ketley. "You want to know why the omen wasn't
right? I'll tell you--because it was no omen at all, that's why. The omens
always comes right; it is we who aren't always in the particular state of
mind that allows us to read the omens right." Journeyman shrugged his
shoulders contemptuously. Ketley looked at him with the same expression of
placid amusement. "You'd like me to explain; well, I will. The omen is
always right, but we aren't always in the state of mind for the reading of
the omen. You think that ridiculous, Walter; but why should omens differ
from other things? Some days we can get through our accounts in 'alf the
time we can at other times, the mind being clearer. I asks all present if
that is not so."
Ketley had got hold of his audience, and Journeyman's remark about closing
time only provoked a momentary titter. Ketley looked long and steadily at
Journeyman and then said, "Perhaps closing time won't do no more for your
calculation of weights than for my omens.... I know them jokes, we've
'eard them afore; but I'm not making jokes; I'm talking serious." The
company nodded approval. "I was saying there was times when the mind is
fresh like the morning. That's the time for them what 'as got the gift of
reading the omens. It is a sudden light that comes into the mind, and it
points straight like a ray of sunlight, if there be nothing to stop it....
Now do you understand?" No one had understood, but all felt that they were
on the point of understanding. "The whole thing is in there being nothing
to interrupt the light."
"But you says yourself that yer can't always read them," said Journeyman;
"an accident will send you off on the wrong tack, so it all comes to the
same thing, omens or no omens."
"A man will trip over a piece of wire laid across the street, but that
don't prove he can't walk, do it, Walter?"
Walter was unable to say that it did not, and so Ketley scored another
point over his opponent. "I made a mistake, I know I did, and if it will
help you to understand I'll tell you how it was made. Three weeks ago I
was in this 'ere bar 'aving what I usually takes. It was a bit early; none
of you fellows had come in. I don't think it was much after eight. The
governor was away in the north racin'--hadn't been 'ome for three or four
days; the missus was beginning to look a bit lonely." Ketley smiled and
glanced at Esther, who had told Charles to serve some customers, and was
listening as intently as the rest. "I'd 'ad a nice bit of supper, and was
just feeling that fresh and clear 'eaded as I was explaining to you just
now is required for the reading, thinking of nothing in perticler, when
suddenly the light came. I remembered a conversation I 'ad with a chap
about American corn. He wouldn't 'ear of the Government taxing corn to
'elp the British farmer. Well, that conversation came back to me as clear
as if the dawn had begun to break. I could positively see the bloody corn;
I could pretty well 'ave counted it. I felt there was an omen about
somewhere, and all of a tremble I took up the paper; it was lying on the
bar just where your hand is, Walter. But at that moment, just as I was
about to cast my eye down the list of 'orses, a cab comes down the street
as 'ard as it could tear. There was but two or three of us in the bar, and
we rushed out--the shafts was broke, 'orse galloping and kicking, and the
cabby 'olding on as 'ard as he could. But it was no good, it was bound to
go, and over it went against the kerb. The cabby, poor chap, was pretty
well shook to pieces; his leg was broke, and we'd to 'elp to take him to
the hosspital. Now I asks if it was no more than might be expected that I
should have gone wrong about the omen. Next day, as luck would have it, I
rolled up 'alf a pound of butter in a piece of paper on which 'Cross
Roads' was written."
"But if there had been no accident and you 'ad looked down the list of
'orses, 'ow do yer know that yer would 'ave spotted the winner?"
"What, not Wheatear, and with all that American corn in my 'ead? Is it
likely I'd've missed it?"
No one answered, and Ketley drank his whisky in the midst of a most
thoughtful silence. At last one of the group said, and he seemed to
express the general mind of the company--
"I don't know if omens be worth a-following of, but I'm blowed if 'orses
be worth backing if the omens is again them."
His neighbour answered, "And they do come wonderful true occasional. They
'as 'appened to me, and I daresay to all 'ere present." The company
nodded. "You've noticed how them that knows nothing at all about
'orses--the less they knows the better their luck--will look down the lot
and spot the winner from pure fancy--the name that catches their eyes as
"There's something in it," said a corpulent butcher with huge, pursy,
prominent eyes and a portentous stomach. "I always held with going to
church, and I hold still more with going to church since I backed Vanity
for the Chester Cup. I was a-falling asleep over the sermon, when suddenly
I wakes up hearing, 'Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity.'"
Several similar stories were told, and then various systems for backing
horses were discussed. "You don't believe that no 'orses is pulled?" said
Mr. Stack, the porter at Sutherland Mansions, Oxford Street, a large,
bluff man, wearing a dark blue square-cut frock coat with brass buttons. A
curious-looking man, with red-stained skin, dark beady eyes, a scanty
growth of beard, and a loud, assuming voice. "You don't believe that no
'orses is pulled?" he reiterated.
"I didn't say that no 'orse was never pulled," said Journeyman. He stood
with his back leaning against the partition, his long legs stretched out.
"If one was really in the know, then I don't say nothing about it; but who
of us is ever really in the know?"
"I'm not so sure about that," said Mr. Stack. "There's a young man in my
mansions that 'as a servant; this servant's cousin, a girl in the country,
keeps company with one of the lads in the White House stable. If that
ain't good enough, I don't know what is; good enough for my half-crown and
another pint of beer too, Mrs. Latch, as you'll be that kind."
Esther drew the beer, and Old John, who had said nothing till now,
suddenly joined in the conversation. He too had heard of something; he
didn't know if it was the same as Stack had heard of; he didn't expect it
was. It couldn't very well be, 'cause no one knew of this particular
horse, not a soul!--not 'alf-a-dozen people in the world. No, he would
tell no one until his money and the stable money was all right. And he
didn't care for no half-crowns or dollars this time, if he couldn't get a
sovereign or two on the horse he'd let it alone. This time he'd be a man
or a mouse. Every one was listening intently, but old John suddenly
assumed an air of mystery and refused to say another word. The
conversation worked back whither it had started, and again the best method
of backing horses was passionately discussed. Interrupting someone whose
theories seemed intolerably ludicrous, Journeyman said--
"Let's 'ear what's the governor's opinion; he ought to know what kind of
backer gets the most out of him."
Journeyman's proposal to submit the question to the governor met with very
general approval. Even the vagrant who had taken his tankard of porter to
the bench where he could drink and eat what fragments of food he had
collected, came forward, interested to know what kind of backer got most
out of the bookmaker.
"Well," said William, "I haven't been making a book as long as some of
them, but since you ask me what I think I tell you straight. I don't care
a damn whether they backs according to their judgment, or their dreams, or
their fancy. The cove that follows favourites, or the cove that backs a
jockey's mount, the cove that makes an occasional bet when he hears of a
good thing, the cove that bets regular, 'cording to a system--the cove,
yer know, what doubles every time--or the cove that bets as the mood takes
him--them and all the other coves, too numerous to be mentioned, I'm glad
to do business with. I cries out to one as 'eartily as to another: 'The
old firm, the old firm, don't forget the old firm.... What can I do for
you to-day, sir?' There's but one sort of cove I can't abide."
"And he is--" said Journeyman.
"He is Mr. George Buff."
"Who's he? who's he?" asked several; and the vagrant caused some amusement
by the question, "Do 'e bet on the course?"
"Yes, he do," said William, "an' nowhere else. He's at every meeting as
reg'lar as if he was a bookie himself. I 'ates to see his face.... I'd be