Part 6 out of 8
a rich man if I'd all the money that man 'as 'ad out of me in the last
"What should you say was his system?" asked Mr. Stack.
"I don't know no more than yerselves."
This admission seemed a little chilling; for everyone had thought himself
many steps nearer El Dorado.
"But did you ever notice," said Mr. Ketley, "that there was certain days
on which he bet?"
"No, I never noticed that."
"Are they outsiders that he backs?" asked Stack.
"No, only favourites. But what I can't make out is that there are times
when he won't touch them; and when he don't, nine times out of ten they're
"Are the 'orses he backs what you'd call well in?" said Journeyman.
"Then it must be on information from the stable authorities?" said Stack.
"I dun know," said William; "have it that way if you like, but I'm glad
there ain't many about like him. I wish he'd take his custom elsewhere. He
gives me the solid hump, he do."
"What sort of man should you say he was? 'as he been a servant, should you
say?" asked old John.
"I can't tell you what he is. Always new suit of clothes and a hie-glass.
Whenever I see that 'ere hie-glass and that brown beard my heart goes down
in my boots. When he don't bet he takes no notice, walks past with a vague
look on his face, as if he didn't see the people, and he don't care that
for the 'orses. Knowing he don't mean no business, I cries to him, 'The
best price, Mr. Buff; two to one on the field, ten to one bar two or
three.' He just catches his hie-glass tighter in eye and looks at me,
smiles, shakes his head, and goes on. He is a warm 'un; he is just about
as 'ot as they make 'em."
"What I can't make out," said Journeyman, "is why he bets on the course.
You say he don't know nothing about horses. Why don't he remain at 'ome
and save the exes?"
"I've thought of all that," said William, "and can't make no more out of
it than you can yerselves. All we know is that, divided up between five or
six of us, Buff costs not far short of six 'undred a year."
At that moment a small blond man came into the bar. Esther knew him at
once. It was Ginger. He had hardly changed at all--a little sallower, a
little dryer, a trifle less like a gentleman.
"Won't you step round, sir, to the private bar?" said William. "You'll be
"Hardly worth while. I was at the theatre, and I thought I'd come in and
have a look round.... I see that you haven't forgotten the old horses," he
said, catching sight of the prints of Silver Braid and Summer's Dean which
William had hung on the wall. "That was a great day, wasn't it? Fifty to
one chance, started at thirty; and you remember the Gaffer tried him to
win with twenty pound more than he had to carry.... Hullo, John! very glad
to see you again; growing strong and well, I hope?"
The old servant looked so shabby that Esther was not surprised that Ginger
did not shake hands with him. She wondered if he would remember her, and
as the thought passed through her mind he extended his hand across the
"I 'ope I may have the honour of drinking a glass of wine with you, sir,"
said William. Ginger raised no objection, and William told Esther to go
down-stairs and fetch up a bottle of champagne.
Ketley, Journeyman, Stack, and the others listened eagerly. To meet the
celebrated gentleman-rider was a great event in their lives. But the
conversation was confined to the Barfield horses; it was carried on by the
merest allusion, and Journeyman wearied of it. He said he must be getting
home; the others nodded, finished their glasses, and bade William
good-night as they left. A couple of flower-girls with loose hair, shawls,
and trays of flowers, suggestive of streetfaring, came in and ordered four
ale. They spoke to the vagrant, who collected his match-boxes in
preparation for a last search for charity. William cut the wires of the
champagne, and at that moment Charles, who had gone through with the
ladder to turn out the street lamp, returned with a light overcoat on his
arm which he said a cove outside wanted to sell him for two-and-six.
"Do you know him?" said William.
"Yes, I knowed him. I had to put him out the other night--Bill Evans, the
cove that wears the blue Melton."
The swing doors were opened, and a man between thirty and forty came in.
He was about the medium height; a dark olive skin, black curly hair,
picturesque and disreputable, like a bird of prey in his blue Melton
jacket and billycock hat.
"You'd better 'ave the coat," he said; "you won't better it;" and coming
into the bar he planked down a penny as if it were a sovereign. "Glass of
porter; nice warm weather, good for the 'arvest. Just come up from the
country--a bit dusty, ain't I?"
"Ain't you the chap," said William, "what laid Mr. Ketley six 'alf-crowns
to one against Cross Roads?"
Charles nodded, and William continued--
"I like your cheek coming into my bar."
"No harm done, gov'nor; no one was about; wouldn't 'ave done it if they
"That'll do," said William. "... No, he don't want the coat. We likes to
know where our things comes from."
Bill Evans finished his glass. "Good-night, guv'nor; no ill-feeling."
The flower-girls laughed; one offered him a flower. "Take it for love,"
she said. He was kind enough to do so, and the three went out together.
"I don't like the looks of that chap," said William, and he let go the
champagne cork. "Yer health, sir." They raised their glasses, and the
conversation turned on next week's racing.
"I dun know about next week's events," said old John, "but I've heard of
something for the Leger--an outsider will win."
"Have you backed it?"
"I would if I had the money, but things have been going very unlucky with
me lately. But I'd advise you, sir, to have a trifle on. It's the best tip
I 'ave had in my life."
"Really!" said Ginger, beginning to feel interested, "so I will, and so
shall you. I'm damned if you shan't have your bit on. Come, what is it?
William will lay the odds. What is it?"
"Briar Rose, the White House stable, sir."
"Why, I thought that--"
"No such thing, sir; Briar Rose's the one."
Ginger took up the paper. "Twenty-five to one Briar Rose taken."
"You see, sir, it was taken."
"Will you lay the price, William--twenty-five half-sovereigns to one?"
"Yes, I'll lay it."
Ginger took a half-sovereign from his pocket and handed it to the
"I never take money over this bar. You're good for a thin 'un, sir,"
William said, with a smile, as he handed back the money.
"But I don't know when I shall see you again," said Ginger. "It will be
very inconvenient. There's no one in the bar."
"None but the match-seller and them two flower-girls. I suppose they don't
Happiness flickered up through the old greyness of the face. Henceforth
something to live for. Each morning bringing news of the horse, and the
hours of the afternoon passing pleasantly, full of thoughts of the evening
paper and the gossip of the bar. A bet on a race brings hope into lives
which otherwise would be hopeless.
Never had a Derby excited greater interest. Four hot favourites, between
which the public seemed unable to choose. Two to one taken and offered
against Fly-leaf, winner of the Two Thousand; four to one taken and
offered against Signet-ring, who, half-trained, had run Fly-leaf to a
head. Four to one against Necklace, the winner of the Middle Park Plate
and the One Thousand. Seven to one against Dewberry, the brilliant winner
of the Newmarket stakes. The chances of these horses were argued every
night at the "King's Head." Ketley's wife used to wear a string of yellow
beads when she was a girl, but she wasn't certain what had become of them.
Ketley did not wear a signet-ring, and had never known anyone who did.
Dewberries grew on the river banks, but they were not ripe yet. Fly-leaf,
he could not make much of that--not being much of a reader. So what with
one thing and another Ketley didn't believe much in this 'ere Derby.
Journeyman caustically remarked that, omens or no omens, one horse was
bound to win. Why didn't Herbert look for an omen among the outsiders? Old
John's experiences led him to think that the race lay between Fly-leaf and
Signet-ring. He had a great faith in blood, and Signet-ring came of a more
staying stock than did Fly-leaf. "When they begin to climb out of the dip
Fly-leaf will have had about enough of it." Stack nodded approval. He had
five bob on Dewberry. He didn't know much about his staying powers, but
all the stable is on him; "and when I know the stable-money is right I
says, 'That's good enough for me!'"
Ginger, who came in occasionally, was very sweet on Necklace, whom he
declared to be the finest mare of the century. He was listened to with
awed attention, and there was a death-like silence in the bar when he
described how she had won the One Thousand. He wouldn't have ridden her
quite that way himself; but then what was a steeplechase rider's opinion
worth regarding a flat race? The company demurred, and old John alluded to
Ginger's magnificent riding when he won the Liverpool on Foxcover,
steadying the horse about sixty yards from home, and bringing him up with
a rush in the last dozen strides, nailing Jim Sutton, who had persevered
all the way, on the very post by a head. Bill Evans, who happened to look
in that evening, said that he would not be surprised to see all the four
favourites bowled out by an outsider. He had heard something that was good
enough for him. He didn't suppose the guv'nor would take him on the nod,
but he had a nice watch which ought to be good for three ten.
"Turn it up, old mate," said William.
"All right, guv'nor, I never presses my goods on them that don't want 'em.
If there's any other gentleman who would like to look at this 'ere
timepiece, or a pair of sleeve links, they're in for fifteen shillings.
Here's the ticket. I'm a bit short of money, and have a fancy for a
certain outsider. I'd like to have my bit on, and I'll dispose of the
ticket for--what do you say to a thin 'un, Mr. Ketley?"
"Did you 'ear me speak just now?" William answered angrily, "or shall I
have to get over the counter?"
"I suppose, Mrs. Latch, you have seen a great deal of racing?" said
"No, sir. I've heard a great deal about racing, but I never saw a race
"How's that, shouldn't you care?"
"You see, my husband has his betting to attend to, and there's the house
to look after."
"I never thought of it before," said William. "You've never seen a race
run, no more you haven't. Would you care to come and see the Derby run
next week, Esther?"
"I think I should."
At that moment the policeman stopped and looked in. All eyes went up to
the clock, and Esther said, "We shall lose our licence if----"
"If we don't get out," said Ginger.
"The law is the law, sir, for rich and poor alike; should be sorry to
hurry you, sir, but in these days very little will lose a man his house.
Now, Herbert, finish your drink. No, Walter, can't serve any more liquor
to-night.... Charles, close the private bar, let no one else in.... Now,
Old John lit his pipe and led the way. William held the door for them. A
few minutes after the house was closed.
A locking of drawers, fastening of doors, putting away glasses, making
things generally tidy, an hour's work before bed-time, and then they
lighted their candle in the little parlour and went upstairs.
William flung off his coat. "I'm dead beat," he said, "and all this to
lose----" He didn't finish the sentence. Esther said--
"You've a heavy book on the Derby. Perhaps an outsider'll win."
"I 'ope so.... But if you'd care to see the race, I think it can be
managed. I shall be busy, but Journeyman or Ketley will look after you."
"I don't know that I should care to walk about all day with Journeyman,
nor Ketley neither."
They were both tired, and with an occasional remark they undressed and got
into bed. Esther laid her head on the pillow and closed her eyes....
"I wonder if there's any one going who you'd care for?"
"I don't care a bit about it, Bill." The conversation paused. At the end
of a long silence William said--
"It do seem strange that you who has been mixed up in it so much should
never have seen a race." Esther didn't answer. She was falling asleep, and
William's voice was beginning to sound vague in her ears. Suddenly she
felt him give her a great shove. "Wake up, old girl, I've got it. Why not
ask your old pal, Sarah Tucker, to go with us? I heard John say she's out
of situation. It'll be a nice treat for her."
"Ah.... I should like to see Sarah again."
"You're half asleep."
"No, I'm not; you said we might ask Sarah to come to the Derby with us."
William regretted that he had not a nice trap to drive them down. To hire
one would run into a deal of money, and he was afraid it might make him
late on the course. Besides, the road wasn't what it used to be; every one
goes by train now. They dropped off to sleep talking of how they should
get Sarah's address.
Three or four days passed, and one morning William jumped out of bed and
"I think it will be a fine day, Esther." He took out his best suit of
clothes, and selected a handsome silk scarf for the occasion. Esther was a
heavy sleeper, and she lay close to the wall, curled up. Taking no notice
of her, William went on dressing; then he said--
"Now then, Esther, get up. Teddy will be here presently to pack up my
"Is it time to get up?"
"Yes, I should think it was. For God's sake, get up."
She had a new dress for the Derby. It had been bought in Tottenham Court
Road, and had only come home last night. A real summer dress! A lilac
pattern on a white ground, the sleeves and throat and the white hat
tastefully trimmed with lilac and white lace; a nice sunshade to match. At
that moment a knock came at the door.
"All right, Teddy, wait a moment, my wife's not dressed yet. Do make
Esther stepped into the skirt so as not to ruffle her hair, and she was
buttoning the bodice when little Mr. Blamy entered.
"Sorry to disturb you, ma'am, but there isn't no time to lose if the
governor don't want to lose his place on the 'ill."
"Now then, Teddy, make haste, get the toggery out; don't stand there
The little man spread the Gladstone bag upon the floor and took a suit of
checks from the chest of drawers, each square of black and white nearly as
large as a sixpence.
"You'll wear the green tie, sir?" William nodded. The green tie was a yard
of flowing sea-green silk. "I've got you a bunch of yellow flowers, sir;
will you wear them now, or shall I put them in the bag?"
William glanced at the bouquet. "They look a bit loud," he said; "I'll
wait till we get on the course; put them in the bag."
The card to be worn in the white hat--"William Latch, London," in gold
letters on a green ground--was laid on top. The boots with soles three
inches high went into the box on which William stood while he halloaed his
prices to the crowd. Then there were the two poles which supported a strip
of white linen, on which was written in gold letters, "William Latch, 'The
King's Head,' London. Fair prices, prompt payment."
It was a grey day, with shafts of sunlight coming through, and as the cab
passed over Waterloo Bridge, London, various embankments and St. Paul's on
one side, wharves and warehouses on the other, appeared in grey curves and
straight silhouettes. The pavements were lined with young men--here and
there a girl's dress was a spot of colour in the grey morning. At the
station they met Journeyman and old John, but Sarah was nowhere to be
found. William said--
"We shall be late; we shall have to go without her."
Esther's face clouded. "We can't go without her; don't be so impatient."
At that moment a white muslin was seen in the distance, and Esther said,
"I think that that's Sarah."
"You can chatter in the train--you'll have a whole hour to talk about each
other's dress; get in, get in," and William pressed them into a
third-class carriage. They had not seen each other for so long a while,
and there was so much to say that they did not know where to begin. Sarah
was the first to speak.
"I was kind of you to think of me. So you've married, and to him after
all!" she added, lowering her voice.
Esther laughed. "It do seem strange, don't it?"
"You'll tell me all about it," she said. "I wonder we didn't run across
one another before."
They rolled out of the grey station into the light, and the plate-glass
drew the rays together till they burnt the face and hands. They sped
alongside of the upper windows nearly on a level with the red and yellow
chimney-pots; they passed open spaces filled with cranes, old iron, and
stacks of railway sleepers, pictorial advertisements, sky signs, great
gasometers rising round and black in their iron cages over-topping or
nearly the slender spires. A train steamed along a hundred-arched viaduct;
and along a black embankment the other trains rushed by in a whirl of
wheels, bringing thousands of clerks up from the suburbs to their city
The excursion jogged on, stopping for long intervals before strips of
sordid garden where shirts and pink petticoats were blowing. Little
streets ascended the hillsides; no more trams, 'buses, too, had
disappeared, and afoot the folk hurried along the lonely pavements of
their suburbs. At Clapham Junction betting men had crowded the platform;
they all wore grey overcoats with race-glasses slung over their shoulders.
And the train still rolled through the brick wilderness which old John
said was all country forty years ago.
The men puffed at their pipes, and old John's anecdotes about the days
when he and the Gaffer, in company with all the great racing men of the
day, used to drive down by road, were listened to with admiration. Esther
had finished telling the circumstances in which she had met Margaret; and
Sarah questioned her about William and how her marriage had come about.
The train had stopped outside of a little station, and the blue sky, with
its light wispy clouds, became a topic of conversation. Old John did not
like the look of those clouds, and the women glanced at the waterproofs
which they carried on their arms.
They passed bits of common with cows and a stray horse, also a little
rural cemetery; but London suddenly began again parish after parish, the
same blue roofs, the same tenement houses. The train had passed the first
cedar and the first tennis lawn. And knowing it to be a Derby excursion
the players paused in their play and looked up. Again the line was
blocked; the train stopped again and again. But it had left London behind,
and the last stoppage was in front of a beautiful June landscape. A thick
meadow with a square weather-beaten church showing between the spreading
trees; miles of green corn, with birds flying in the bright air, and lazy
clouds going out, making way for the endless blue of a long summer's day.
It had been arranged that William should don his betting toggery at the
"Spread Eagle Inn." It stood at the cross-roads, only a little way from
the station--a square house with a pillared porch. Even at this early hour
the London pilgrimage was filing by. Horses were drinking in the trough;
their drivers were drinking in the bar; girls in light dresses shared
glasses of beer with young men. But the greater number of vehicles passed
without stopping, anxious to get on the course. They went round the turn
in long procession, a policeman on a strong horse occupied the middle of
the road. The waggonettes and coaches had red-coated guards, and the air
was rent with the tooting of the long brass horns. Every kind of dingy
trap went by, sometimes drawn by two, sometimes by only one horse--shays
half a century old jingled along; there were even donkey-carts. Esther and
Sarah were astonished at the number of costers, but old John told them
that that was nothing to what it was fifty years ago. The year that
Andover won the block began seven or eight miles from Epsom. They were
often half-an-hour without moving. Such chaffing and laughing, the coster
cracked his joke with the duke, but all that was done away with now.
"Gracious!" said Esther, when William appeared in his betting toggery. "I
shouldn't have known you."
He did seem very wonderful in his checks, green necktie, yellow flowers,
and white hat with its gold inscription, "Mr. William Latch, London."
"It's all right," he said; "you never saw me before in these togs--fine,
ain't they? But we're very late. Mr. North has offered to run me up to the
course, but he's only two places. Teddy and me must be getting along--but
you needn't hurry. The races won't begin for hours yet. It's only about a
mile--a nice walk. These gentlemen will look after you. You know where to
find me," he said, turning to John and Walter. "You'll look after my wife
and Miss Tucker, won't you?" and forthwith he and Teddy jumped into a
waggonette and drove away.
"Well, that's what I calls cheek," said Sarah. "Going off by himself in a
waggonette and leaving us to foot it."
"He must look after his place on the 'ill or else he'll do no betting,"
said Journeyman. "We've plenty of time; racing don't begin till after
Recollections of what the road had once been had loosened John's tongue,
and he continued his reminiscences of the great days when Sir Thomas
Hayward had laid fifteen thousand to ten thousand three times over against
the favourite. The third bet had been laid at this very spot, but the Duke
would not accept the third bet, saying that the horse was then being
backed on the course at evens. So Sir Thomas had only lost thirty thousand
pounds on the race. Journeyman was deeply interested in the anecdote; but
Sarah looked at the old man with a look that said, "Well, if I'm to pass
the day with you two I never want to go to the Derby again.... Come on in
front," she whispered to Esther, "and let them talk about their racing by
themselves." The way led through a field ablaze with buttercups; it passed
by a fish-pond into which three drunkards were gazing. "Do you hear what
they're saying about the fish?" said Sarah.
"Don't pay no attention to them," said Esther. "If you knew as much about
drunkards as I do, you'd want no telling to give them a wide berth....
Isn't the country lovely? Isn't the air soft and warm?"
"Oh, I don't want no more country. I'm that glad to get back to town. I
wouldn't take another situation out of London if I was offered twenty a
"But look," said Esther, "at the trees. I've hardly been in the country
since I left Woodview, unless you call Dulwich the country--that's where
Jackie was at nurse."
The Cockney pilgrimage passed into a pleasant lane overhung with chestnut
and laburnum trees. The spring had been late, and the white blossoms stood
up like candles--the yellow dropped like tassels, and the streaming
sunlight filled the leaves with tints of pale gold, and their light
shadows patterned the red earth of the pathway. But very soon this
pleasant pathway debouched on a thirsting roadway where tired horses
harnessed to heavy vehicles toiled up a long hill leading to the Downs.
The trees intercepted the view, and the blown dust whitened the foliage
and the wayside grass, now in possession of hawker and vagrant. The crowd
made way for the traps; and the young men in blue and grey trousers, and
their girls in white dresses, turned and watched the four horses bringing
along the tall drag crowned with London fashion. There the unwieldly
omnibus and the brake filled with fat girls in pink dresses and yellow
hats, and there the spring cart drawn up under a hedge. The cottage gates
were crowded with folk come to see London going to the Derby. Outhouses
had been converted into refreshment bars, and from these came a smell of
beer and oranges; further on there was a lamentable harmonium--a blind man
singing hymns to its accompaniment, and a one-legged man holding his hat
for alms; and not far away there stood an earnest-eyed woman offering
tracts, warning folk of their danger, beseeching them to retrace their
At last the trees ceased and they found themselves on the hilltop in a
glare of sunlight, on a space of worn ground where donkeys were tethered.
"Is this the Derby?" said Sarah.
"I hope you're not disappointed?"
"No, dear; but where's all the people--the drags, the carriages?"
"We'll see them presently," said old John, and he volunteered some
explanations. The white building was the Grand Stand. The winning-post was
a little further this way.
"Where do they start?" said Sarah.
"Over yonder, where you see that clump. They run through the furze right
up to Tattenham Corner."
A vast crowd swarmed over the opposite hill, and beyond the crowd the
women saw a piece of open downland dotted with bushes, and rising in
gentle incline to a belt of trees which closed the horizon. "Where them
trees are, that's _Tattenham Corner_." The words seemed to fill old John
with enthusiasm, and he described how the horses came round this side of
the trees. "They comes right down that 'ere 'ill--there's the dip--and
they finishes opposite to where we is standing. Yonder, by Barnard's
"What, all among the people?" said Sarah.
"The police will get the people right back up the hill."
"That's where we shall find William," said Esther.
"I'm getting a bit peckish; ain't you, dear? He's got the
luncheon-basket.... but, lor', what a lot of people! Look at that."
What had attracted Sarah's attention was a boy walking through the crowd
on a pair of stilts fully eight feet high. He uttered short warning cries
from time to time, held out his wide trousers and caught pennies in his
conical cap. Drags and carriages continued to arrive. The sweating horses
were unyoked, and grooms and helpers rolled the vehicles into position
along the rails. Lackeys drew forth cases of wine and provisions, and the
flutter of table-cloths had begun to attract vagrants, itinerant
musicians, fortune-tellers, begging children. All these plied their trades
round the fashion of grey frock-coats and silk sun-shades. Along the rails
rough fellows lay asleep; the place looked like a vast dormitory; they lay
with their hats over their faces, clay pipes sticking from under the
brims, their brown-red hands upon the grey grass.
Suddenly old John pleaded an appointment; he was to meet a friend who
would give him the very latest news respecting a certain horse; and
Esther, Sarah, and Journeyman wandered along the course in search of
William. Along the rails strangely-dressed men stood on stools, satchels
and race-glasses slung over their shoulders, great bouquets in their
button-holes. Each stood between two poles on which was stretched a piece
of white-coloured linen, on which was inscribed their name in large gold
letters. Sarah read some of these names out: "Jack Hooper, Marylebone. All
bets paid." "Tom Wood's famous boxing rooms, Epsom." "James Webster,
Commission Agent, London." And these betting men bawled the prices from
the top of their high stools and shook their satchels, which were filled
with money, to attract custom. "What can I do for you to-day, sir?" they
shouted when they caught the eye of any respectably-dressed man. "On the
Der-by, on the Der-by, I'll bet the Der-by.... To win or a place, to win
or a place, to win or a place--seven to one bar two or three, seven to one
bar two or three.... the old firm, the old firm,"--like so many
challenging cocks, each trying to outshrill the other.
Under the hill-side in a quiet hollow had been pitched a large and
commodious tent. Journeyman mentioned that it was the West London
Gospel-tent. He thought the parson would have it pretty well all to
himself, and they stopped before a van filled with barrels of Watford
ales. A barrel had been taken from the van and placed on a small table;
glasses of beer were being served to a thirsty crowd; and all around were
little canvas shelters, whence men shouted, "'Commodation, 'commodation."
The sun had risen high, and what clouds remained floated away like
filaments of white cotton. The Grand Stand, dotted like a ceiling with
flies, stood out distinct and harsh upon a burning plain of blue. The
light beat fiercely upon the booths, the carriages, the vehicles, the
"rings," the various stands. The country around was lost in the haze and
dazzle of the sunlight; but a square mile of downland fluttered with flags
and canvas, and the great mob swelled, and smoked, and drank, shied sticks
at Aunt Sally, and rode wooden horses. And through this crush of
perspiring, shrieking humanity Journeyman, Esther, and Sarah sought vainly
for William. The form of the ground was lost in the multitude and they
could only tell by the strain in their limbs whether they were walking up
or down hill. Sarah declared herself to be done up, and it was with
difficulty that she was persuaded to persevere a little longer. At last
Journeyman caught sight of the bookmaker's square shoulders.
"Well, so here you are. What can I do for you, ladies? Ten to one bar
three or four. Will that suit you?"
"The luncheon-basket will suit us a deal better," said Sarah.
At that moment a chap came up jingling two half-crowns in his hand. "What
price the favourite?" "Two to one," cried William. The two half-crowns
were dropped into the satchel, and, thus encouraged, William called out
louder than ever, "The old firm, the old firm; don't forget the old firm."
There was a smile on his lips while he halloaed--a cheery, good-natured
smile, which made him popular and brought him many a customer.
"On the Der-by, on the Der-by, on the Der-by!" All kinds and conditions of
men came to make bets with him; custom was brisk; he could not join the
women, who were busy with the lunch-basket, but he and Teddy would be
thankful for the biggest drink they could get them. "Ginger beer with a
drop of whiskey in it, that's about it, Teddy?"
"Yes, guv'nor, that'll do for me.... We're getting pretty full on
Dewberry; might come down a point, I think."
"All right, Teddy.... And if you'd cut us a couple each of strong
sandwiches--you can manage a couple, Teddy?"
"I think I can, guv'nor."
There was a nice piece of beef in the basket, and Esther cut several large
sandwiches, buttering the bread thickly and adding plenty of mustard. When
she brought them over William bent down and whispered--
"My own duck of a wife, there's no one like her."
Esther blushed and laughed with pleasure, and every trace of the
resentment for the suffering he had occasioned her dropped out of her
heart. For the first time he was really her husband; for the first time
she felt that sense of unity in life which is marriage, and knew
henceforth he was the one thing that she had to live for.
After luncheon Journeyman, who was making no way with Sarah, took his
leave, pleading that he had some friends to meet in Barnard's Ring. They
were glad to be rid of him. Sarah had many a tale to tell; and while
listening to the matrimonial engagements that had been broken off, Esther
shifted her parasol from time to time to watch her tall, gaunt husband. He
shouted the odds, willing to bet against every horse, distributed tickets
to the various folk that crowded round him, each with his preference, his
prejudice, his belief in omens, in tips, or in the talent and luck of a
favourite jockey. Sarah continued her cursive chatter regarding the places
she had served in. She felt inclined for a snooze, but was afraid it would
not look well. While hesitating she ceased speaking, and both women fell
asleep under the shade of their parasols. It was the shallow, glassy sleep
of the open air, through which they divined easily the great blur that was
They could hear William's voice, and they heard a bell ring and shouts of
"Here they come!" Then a lull came, and their perceptions grew a little
denser, and when they awoke the sky was the same burning blue, and the
multitude moved to and fro like puppets.
Sarah was in no better temper after than before her sleep. "It's all very
well for you," she said. "You have your husband to look after.... I'll
never come to the Derby again without a young man... I'm tired of sitting
here, the grass is roasting. Come for a walk."
They were two nice-looking English women of the lower classes, prettily
dressed in light gowns with cheap sunshades in their cotton-gloved hands.
Sarah looked at every young man with regretful eyes. In such moods
acquaintanceships are made; and she did not allow Esther to shake off Bill
Evans, who, just as if he had never been turned out of the bar of the
"King's Head," came up with his familiar, "Good morning, ma'am--lovely
weather for the races." Sarah's sidelong glances at the blue Melton jacket
and the billycock hat defined her feelings with sufficient explicitness,
and it was not probable that any warning would have been heeded. Soon they
were engaged in animated conversation, and Esther was left to follow them
if she liked.
She walked by Sarah's side, quite ignored, until she was accosted by Fred
Parsons. They were passing by the mission tent, and Fred was calling upon
the folk to leave the ways of Satan for those of Christ. Bill Evans was
about to answer some brutal insult; but seeing that "the Christian" knew
Esther he checked himself in time. Esther stopped to speak to Fred, and
Bill seized the opportunity to slip away with Sarah.
"I didn't expect to meet you here, Esther."
"I'm here with my husband. He said a little pleasure----"
"This is not innocent pleasure, Esther; this is drunkenness and
debauchery. I hope you'll never come again, unless you come with us," he
said, pointing to some girls dressed as bookmakers, with Salvation and
Perdition written on the satchels hung round their shoulders. They sought
to persuade the passers-by to come into the tent. "We shall be very glad
to see you," they said, and they distributed mock racing cards on which
was inscribed news regarding certain imaginary racing. "The Paradise
Plate, for all comers," "The Salvation Stakes, an Eternity of Happiness
Fred repeated his request. "I hope the next time you come here it will be
with us; you'll strive to collect some of Christ's lost sheep."
"And my husband making a book yonder?"
An awkward silence intervened, and then he said--
"Won't you come in; service is going on?"
Esther followed him. In the tent there were some benches, and on a
platform a grey-bearded man with an anxious face spoke of sinners and
redemption. Suddenly a harmonium began to play a hymn, and, standing side
by side, Esther and Fred sang together. Prayer was so inherent in her that
she felt no sense of incongruity, and had she been questioned she would
have answered that it did not matter where we are, or what we are doing,
we can always have God in our hearts.
Fred followed her out.
"You have not forgotten your religion, I hope?"
"No, I never could forget that."
"Then why do I find you in such company? You don't come here like us to
"I haven't forgotten God, but I must do my duty to my husband. It would be
like setting myself up against my husband's business, and you don't think
I ought to do that? A wife that brings discord into the family is not a
good wife, so I've often heard."
"You always thought more of your husband than of Christ, Esther."
"Each one must follow Christ as best he can! It would be wrong of me to
set myself against my husband."
"So he married you?" Fred answered bitterly.
"Yes. You thought he'd desert me a second time; but he's been the best of
"I place little reliance on those who are not with Christ. His love for
you is not of the Spirit. Let us not speak of him. I loved you very
deeply, Esther. I would have brought you to Christ.... But perhaps you'll
come to see us sometimes."
"I do not forget Christ. He's always with me, and I believe you did care
for me. I was sorry to break it off, you know I was. It was not my fault."
"Esther, it was I who loved you."
"You mustn't talk like that. I'm a married woman."
"I mean no harm, Esther. I was only thinking of the past."
"You must forget all that... Good-bye; I'm glad to have seen you, and that
we said a prayer together."
Fred didn't answer, and Esther moved away, wondering where she should find
The crowd shouted. She looked where the others looked, but saw only the
burning blue with the white stand marked upon it. It was crowded like the
deck of a sinking vessel, and Esther wondered at the excitement, the cause
of which was hidden from her. She wandered to the edge of the crowd until
she came to a chalk road where horses and mules were tethered. A little
higher up she entered the crowd again, and came suddenly upon a switchback
railway. Full of laughing and screaming girls, it bumped over a middle
hill, and then rose slowly till it reached the last summit. It was shot
back again into the midst of its fictitious perils, and this mock voyaging
was accomplished to the sound of music from a puppet orchestra. Bells and
drums, a fife and a triangle, cymbals clashed mechanically, and a little
soldier beat the time. Further on, under a striped awning, were the wooden
horses. They were arranged so well that they rocked to and fro, imitating
as nearly as possible the action of real horses. Esther watched the
riders. A blue skirt looked like a riding habit, and a girl in salmon pink
leaned back in her saddle just as if she had been taught how to ride. A
girl in a grey jacket encouraged a girl in white who rode a grey horse.
But before Esther could make out for certain that the man in the blue
Melton jacket was Bill Evans he had passed out of sight, and she had to
wait until his horse came round the second time. At that moment she caught
sight of the red poppies in Sarah's hat.
The horses began to slacken speed. They went slower and slower, then
stopped altogether. The riders began to dismount and Esther pressed
through the bystanders, fearing she would not be able to overtake her
"Oh, here you are," said Sarah. "I thought I never should find you again.
How hot it is!"
"Were you on in that ride? Let's have another, all three of us. These
Round and round they went, their steeds bobbing nobly up and down to the
sound of fifes, drums and cymbals. They passed the winning-post many
times; they had to pass it five times, and the horse that stopped nearest
it won the prize. A long-drawn-out murmur, continuous as the sea, swelled
up from the course--a murmur which at last passed into words: "Here they
come; blue wins, the favourite's beat." Esther paid little attention to
these cries; she did not understand them; they reached her indistinctly
and soon died away, absorbed in the strident music that accompanied the
circling horses. These had now begun to slacken speed.... They went slower
and slower. Sarah and Bill, who rode side by side, seemed like winning,
but at the last moment they glided by the winning-post. Esther's steed
stopped in time, and she was told to choose a china mug from a great heap.
"You've all the luck to-day," said Bill. "Hayfield, who was backed all the
winter, broke down a month ago.... 2 to 1 against Fly-leaf, 4 to 1 against
Signet-ring, 4 to 1 against Dewberry, 10 to 1 against Vanguard, the winner
at 50 to 1 offered. Your husband must have won a little fortune. Never was
there such a day for the bookies."
Esther said she was very glad, and was undecided which mug she should
choose. At last she saw one on which "Jack" was written in gold letters.
They then visited the peep-shows, and especially liked St. James's Park
with the Horse Guards out on parade; the Spanish bull-fight did not stir
them, and Sarah couldn't find a single young man to her taste in the House
of Commons. Among the performing birds they liked best a canary that
climbed a ladder. Bill was attracted by the American strength-testers, and
he gave an exhibition of his muscle, to Sarah's very great admiration.
They all had some shies at cocoa-nuts, and passed by J. Bilton's great
bowling saloon without visiting it. Once more the air was rent with the
cries of "Here they come! Here they come!" Even the 'commodation men left
their canvas shelters and pressed forward inquiring which had won. A
moment after a score of pigeons floated and flew through the blue air and
then departed in different directions, some making straight for London,
others for the blue mysterious evening that had risen about the Downs--the
sun-baked Downs strewn with waste paper and covered by tipsy men and
women, a screaming and disordered animality.
"Well, so you've come back at last," said William. "The favourite was
beaten. I suppose you know that a rank outsider won. But what about this
"Met these 'ere ladies on the 'ill an' been showing them over the course.
No offence, I hope, guv'nor?"
William did not answer, and Bill took leave of Sarah in a manner that told
Esther that they had arranged to meet again.
"Where did you pick up that bloke?"
"He came up and spoke to us, and Esther stopped to speak to the parson."
"To the parson. What do you mean?"
The circumstance was explained, and William asked them what they thought
of the racing.
"We didn't see no racing," said Sarah; "we was on the 'ill on the wooden
'orses. Esther's 'orse won. She got a mug; show the mug, Esther."
"So you saw no Derby after all?" said William.
"Saw no racin'!" said his neighbour; "ain't she won the cup?"
The joke was lost on the women, who only perceived that they were being
"Come up here, Esther," said William; "stand on my box. The 'orses are
just going up the course for the preliminary canter. And you, Sarah, take
Teddy's place. Teddy, get down, and let the lady up."
"Yes, guv'nor. Come up 'ere, ma'am."
"And is those the 'orses?" said Sarah. "They do seem small."
The ringmen roared. "Not up to those on the 'ill, ma'am," said one. "Not
such beautiful goers," said another.
There were two or three false starts, and then, looking through a
multitude of hats, Esther saw five or six thin greyhound-looking horses.
They passed like shadows, flitted by; and she was sorry for the poor
chestnut that trotted in among the crowd.
This was the last race. Once more the favourite had been beaten; there
were no bets to pay, and the bookmakers began to prepare for departure. It
was the poor little clerks who were charged with the luggage. Teddy did
not seem as if he would ever reach the top of the hill. With Esther and
Sarah on either arm, William struggled with the crowd. It was hard to get
through the block of carriages. Everywhere horses waited with their
harness on, and Sarah was afraid of being bitten or kicked. A young
aristocrat cursed them from the box-seat, and the groom blew a blast as
the drag rolled away. It was like the instinct of departure which takes a
vast herd at a certain moment. The great landscape, half country, half
suburb, glinted beneath the rays of a setting sun; and through the white
dust, and the drought of the warm roads, the brakes and carriages and
every crazy vehicle rolled towards London; orange-sellers, tract-sellers,
thieves, vagrants, gipsies, made for their various quarters--roadside
inns, outhouses, hayricks, hedges, or the railway station. Down the long
hill the vast crowd made its way, humble pedestrians and carriage folk,
all together, as far as the cross-roads. At the "Spread Eagle" there would
be stoppage for a parting drink, there the bookmakers would change their
clothes, and there division would happen in the crowd--half for the
railway station, half for the London road. It was there that the
traditional sports of the road began. A drag, with a band of exquisites
armed with pea-shooters, peppering on costers who were getting angry, and
threatening to drive over the leaders. A brake with two poles erected, and
hanging on a string quite a line of miniature chamber-pots. A horse, with
his fore-legs clothed in a pair of lady's drawers. Naturally unconscious
of the garment, the horse stepped along so absurdly that Esther and Sarah
thought they'd choke with laughter.
At the station William halloaed to old John, whom he caught sight of on
the platform. He had backed the winner--forty to one about Sultan. It was
Ketley who had persuaded him to risk half a sovereign on the horse. Ketley
was at the Derby; he had met him on the course, and Ketley had told him a
wonderful story about a packet of Turkish Delight. The omen had come right
this time, and Journeyman took a back seat.
"Say what you like," said William, "it is damned strange; and if anyone
did find the way of reading them omens there would be an end of us
bookmakers." He was only half in earnest, but he regretted he had not met
Ketley. If he had only had a fiver on the horse--200 to 5!
They met Ketley at Waterloo, and every one wanted to hear from his own
lips the story of the packet of Turkish Delight. So William proposed they
should all come up to the "King's Head" for a drink. The omnibus took them
as far as Piccadilly Circus; and there the weight of his satchel tempted
William to invite them to dinner, regardless of expense.
"Which is the best dinner here?" he asked the commissionaire.
"The East Room is reckoned the best, sir."
The fashion of the shaded candles and the little tables, and the beauty of
an open evening bodice and the black and white elegance of the young men
at dinner, took the servants by surprise, and made them feel that they
were out of place in such surroundings. Old John looked like picking up a
napkin and asking at the nearest table if anything was wanted. Ketley
proposed the grill room, but William, who had had a glass more than was
good for him, declared that he didn't care a damn--that he could buy up
the whole blooming show. The head-waiter suggested a private room; it was
abruptly declined, and William took up the menu. "Bisque Soup, what's
that? You ought to know, John." John shook his head. "Ris de veau! That
reminds me of when----" William stopped and looked round to see if his
former wife was in the room. Finally, the head-waiter was cautioned to
send them up the best dinner in the place. Allusion was made to the dust
and heat. Journeyman suggested a sluice, and they inquired their way to
the lavatories. Esther and Sarah were away longer than the men, and stood
dismayed at the top of the room till William called for them. The other
guests seemed a little terrified, and the head-waiter, to reassure them,
mentioned that it was Derby Day.
William had ordered champagne, but it had not proved to any one's taste
except, perhaps, to Sarah, whom it rendered unduly hilarious; nor did the
delicate food afford much satisfaction; the servants played with it, and
left it on their plates; and it was not until William ordered up the
saddle of mutton and carved it himself that the dinner began to take hold
of the company. Esther and Sarah enjoyed the ices, and the men stuck to
the cheese, a fine Stilton, which was much appreciated. Coffee no one
cared for, and the little glasses of brandy only served to augment the
general tipsiness. William hiccupped out an order for a bottle of Jamieson
eight-year-old; but pipes were not allowed, and cigars were voted tedious,
so they adjourned to the bar, where they were free to get as drunk as they
pleased. William said, "Now let's 'ear the blo----the bloody omen that put
ye on to Sultan--that blood--packet of Turkish Delight."
"Most extra--most extraordinary thing I ever heard in my life, so yer
'ere?" said Ketley, staring at William and trying to see him distinctly.
William nodded. "How was it? We want to 'ear all about it. Do hold yer
tongue, Sarah. I beg pardon, Ketley is go--going to tell us about the
bloody omen. Thought you'd like to he--ar, old girl."
Allusion was made to a little girl coming home from school, and a piece of
paper on the pavement. But Ketley could not concentrate his thoughts on
the main lines of the story, and it was lost in various dissertations. But
the company was none the less pleased with it, and willingly declared that
bookmaking was only a game for mugs. Get on a winner at forty to one, and
you could make as much in one bet as a poor devil of a bookie could in six
months, fagging from race-course to race-course. They drank, argued, and
quarrelled, until Esther noticed that Sarah was looking very pale. Old
John was quite helpless; Journeyman, who seemed to know what he was doing,
very kindly promised to look after him.
Ketley assured the commissionaire that he was not drunk; and when they got
outside Sarah felt obliged to step aside; she came back, saying that she
felt a little better.
They stood on the pavement's edge, a little puzzled by the brilliancy of
the moonlight. And the three men who followed out of the bar-room were
agreed regarding the worthlessness of life. One said, "I don't think much
of it; all I live for is beer and women." The phrase caught on William's
ear, and he said, "Quite right, old mate," and he held out his hand to
Bill Evans. "Beer and women, it always comes round to that in the end, but
we mustn't let them hear us say it." The men shook hands, and Bill
promised to see Sarah safely home. Esther tried to interpose, but William
could not be made to understand, and Sarah and Bill drove away together in
a hansom. Sarah dozed off immediately on his shoulder, and it was
difficult to awaken her when the cab stopped before a house whose
respectability took Bill by surprise.
Things went well enough as long as her savings lasted. When her money was
gone Bill returned to the race-course in the hope of doing a bit of
welshing. Soon after he was "wanted" by the police; they escaped to
Belgium, and it devolved on Sarah to support him. The hue and cry over,
they came back to London.
She had been sitting up for him; he had come home exasperated and
disappointed. A row soon began; and she thought that he would strike her.
But he refrained, for fear, perhaps, of the other lodgers. He took her
instead by the arm, dragged her down the broken staircase, and pushed her
into the court. She heard the retreating footsteps, and saw a cat slink
through a grating, and she wished that she too could escape from the light
into the dark.
A few belated women still lingered in the Strand, and the city stood up
like a prison, hard and stark in the cold, penetrating light of morning.
She sat upon a pillar's base, her eyes turned towards the cabmen's
shelter. The horses munched in their nose-bags, and the pigeons came down
from their roosts. She was dressed in an old black dress, her hands lay
upon her knees, and the pose expressed so perfectly the despair and
wretchedness in her soul that a young man in evening clothes, who had
looked sharply at her as he passed, turned and came back to her, and he
asked her if he could assist her. She answered, "Thank you, sir." He
slipped a shilling into her hand. She was too broken-hearted to look up in
his face, and he walked away wondering what was her story. The disordered
red hair, the thin, freckled face, were expressive, and so too was the
movement of her body when she got up and walked, not knowing and not
caring where she was going. There was sensation of the river in her
thoughts; the river drew her, and she indistinctly remembered that she
would find relief there if she chose to accept that relief. The water was
blue beneath the sunrise, and it seemed to offer to end her life's
trouble. She could not go on living. She could not bear with her life any
longer, and yet she knew that she would not drown herself that morning.
There was not enough will in her to drown herself. She was merely half
dead with grief. He had turned her out, he had said that he never wanted
to see her again, but that was because he had been unlucky. She ought to
have gone to bed and not waited up for him; he didn't know what he was
doing; so long as he didn't care for another woman there was hope that he
might come back to her. The spare trees rustled their leaves in the bright
dawn air, and she sat down on a bench and watched the lamps going out, and
the river changing from blue to brown. Hours passed, and the same thoughts
came and went, until with sheer weariness of thinking she fell asleep.
She was awakened by the policeman, and she once more continued her walk.
The omnibuses had begun; women were coming from market with baskets on
their arms; and she wondered if their lovers and husbands were unfaithful
to them, if they would be received with blows or knocks when they
returned. Her slightest mistakes had often, it seemed, merited a blow; and
God knows she had striven to pick out the piece of bacon that she thought
he would like, and it was not her fault that she couldn't get any money
nowhere. Why was he cruel to her? He never would find another woman to
care for him more than she did.... Esther had a good husband, Esther had
always been lucky. Two hours more to wait, and she felt so tired, so
tired. The milk-women were calling their ware--those lusty short-skirted
women that bring an air of country into the meanest alley. She sat down on
a doorstep and looked on the empty Haymarket, vaguely conscious of the low
vice which still lingered there though the morning was advancing. She
turned up Shaftesbury Avenue, and from the beginning of Dean Street she
watched to see if the shutters were yet down. She thought they were, and
then saw that she was mistaken. There was nothing to do but to wait, and
on the steps of the Royalty Theatre she waited. The sun was shining, and
she watched the cab horses, until the potboy came through and began
cleaning the street lamp. She didn't care to ask him any questions;
dressed as she was, he might answer her rudely. She wanted to see Esther
first. Esther would pity and help her. So she did not go directly to the
"King's Head," but went up the street a little way and came back. The
boy's back was turned to her; she peeped through the doors. There was no
one in the bar, she must go back to the steps of the theatre. A number of
children were playing there, and they did not make way for her to sit
down. She was too weary to argue the point, and walked up and down the
street. When she looked through the doors a second time Esther was in the
"Is that you, Sarah?"
"Yes, it is me."
"Then come in.... How is it that we've not seen you all this time? What's
"I've been out all night. Bill put me out of doors this morning, and I've
been walking about ever since."
"Bill put you out of doors? I don't understand."
"You know Bill Evans, the man we met on the race-course, the day we went
to the Derby.... It began there. He took me home after your dinner at the
'Criterion.'... It has been going on ever since."
"Good Lord! ...Tell me about it."
Leaning against the partition that separated the bars, Sarah told how she
had left her home and gone to live with him.
"We got on pretty well at first, but the police was after him, and we made
off to Belgium. There we was very hard up, and I had to go out on the
"He made you do that?"
"He couldn't starve, could he?"
The women looked at each other, and then Sarah continued her story. She
told how they had come to London, penniless. "I think he wants to turn
honest," she said, "but luck's been dead against him.... It's that
difficult for one like him, and he's been in work, but he can't stick to
it; and now I don't know what he's doing--no good, I fancy. Last night I
got anxious and couldn't sleep, so I sat up. It was about two when he came
in. We had a row and he dragged me downstairs and he put me out. He said
he never wanted to see my ugly face again. I don't think I'm as bad as
that; I've led a hard life, and am not what I used to be, but it was he
who made me what I am. Oh, it don't matter now, it can't be helped, it is
all over with me. I don't care what becomes of me, only I thought I'd like
to come and tell you. We was always friends."
"You mustn't give way like that, old girl. You must keep yer pecker up.
You're dead beat.... You've been walking about all night, no wonder. You
must come and have some breakfast with us."
"I should like a cup of tea, Esther. I never touches spirits now. I got
"Come into the parlour. You'll be better when you've had breakfast. We'll
see what we can do for you."
"Oh, Esther, not a word of what I've been telling you to your husband. I
don't want to get Bill into trouble. He'd kill me. Promise me not to
mention a word of it. I oughtn't to have told you. I was so tired that I
didn't know what I was saying."
There was plenty to eat--fried fish, a nice piece of steak, tea and
coffee. "You seem to live pretty well," said Sarah, "It must be nice to
have a servant of one's own. I suppose you're doing pretty well here."
"Yes, pretty well, if it wasn't for William's health."
"What's the matter? Ain't he well?"
"He's been very poorly lately. It's very trying work going about from
race-course to race-course, standing in the mud and wet all day long....
He caught a bad cold last winter and was laid up with inflammation of the
lungs, and I don't think he ever quite got over it."
"Don't he go no more to race meetings?"
"He hasn't been to a race meeting since the beginning of the winter. It
was one of them nasty steeplechase meetings that laid him up."
"Do 'e drink?"
"He's never drunk, but he takes too much. Spirits don't suit him. He
thought he could do what he liked, great strong-built fellow that he is,
but he's found out his mistake."
"He does his betting in London now, I suppose?"
"Yes," said Esther, hesitating--"when he has any to do. I want him to give
it up; but trade is bad in this neighbourhood, leastways, with us, and he
don't think we could do without it."
"It's very hard to keep it dark; some one's sure to crab it and bring the
police down on you."
Esther did not answer; the conversation paused, and William entered.
"Halloa! is that you, Sarah? We didn't know what had become of you all
this time." He noticed that she looked like one in trouble, and was very
poorly dressed. She noticed that his cheeks were thinner than they used to
be, and that his broad chest had sunk, and that there seemed to be
strangely little space between it and his back. Then in brief phrases,
interrupting each other frequently, the women told the story. William
"I knew he was a bad lot. I never liked to see him inside my bar."
"I thought," said Esther, "that Sarah might remain here for a time."
"I can't have that fellow coming round my place."
"There's no fear of his coming after me. He don't want to see my ugly face
again. Well, let him try to find some one who will do for him all I have
"Until she gets a situation," said Esther. "I think that'll be the best,
for you to stop here until you get a situation."
"And what about a character?"
"You needn't say much about what you've been doing this last twelve
months; if many questions are asked, you can say you've been stopping with
us. But you mustn't see that brute again. If he ever comes into that 'ere
bar, I'll give him a piece of my mind. I'd give him more than a piece of
my mind if I was the man I was a twelvemonth ago." William coughed, and
Esther looked at him anxiously.
Lacking a parlour on the ground floor for the use of special customers,
William had arranged a room upstairs where they could smoke and drink.
There were tables in front of the windows and chairs against the walls,
and in the middle of the room a bagatelle board.
When William left off going to race-courses he had intended to refrain
from taking money across the bar and to do all his betting business in
He thought that it would be safer. But as his customers multiplied he
found that he could not ask them all upstairs; it attracted more attention
than to take the money quietly across the bar. Nevertheless the room
upstairs had proved a success. A man spent more money if he had a room
where he could sit quietly among his friends than he would seated on a
high stool in a public bar, jostled and pushed about; so it had come to be
considered a sort of club room; and a large part of the neighbourhood came
there to read the papers, to hear and discuss the news. And specially
useful it had proved to Journeyman and Stack. Neither was now in
employment; they were now professional backers; and from daylight to dark
they wandered from public-house to public-house, from tobacconist to
barber's shop, in the search of tips, on the quest of stable information
regarding the health of the horses and their trials. But the room upstairs
at the "King's Head" was the centre of their operations. Stack was the
indefatigable tipster, Journeyman was the scientific student of public
form. His memory was prodigious, and it enabled him to note an advantage
in the weights which would escape an ordinary observer. He often picked
out horses which, if they did not actually win, nearly always stood at a
short price in the betting before the race.
The "King's Head" was crowded during the dinner-hour. Barbers and their
assistants, cabmen, scene-shifters, if there was an afternoon performance
at the theatre, servants out of situation and servants escaped from their
service for an hour, petty shopkeepers, the many who grow weary of the
scant livelihood that work brings them, came there. Eleven o'clock! In
another hour the bar and the room upstairs would be crowded. At present
the room was empty, and Journeyman had taken advantage of the quiet time
to do a bit of work at his handicap. All the racing of the last three
years lay within his mind's range; he recalled at will every trifling
selling race; hardly ever was he obliged to refer to the Racing Calendar.
Wanderer had beaten Brick at ten pounds. Snow Queen had beaten Shoemaker
at four pounds, and Shoemaker had beaten Wanderer at seven pounds. The
problem was further complicated by the suspicion that Brick could get a
distance of ground better than Snow Queen. Journeyman was undecided. He
stroked his short brown moustache with his thin, hairy hand, and gnawed
the end of his pen. In this moment of barren reflection Stack came into
"Still at yer 'andicap, I see," said Stack. "How does it work out?"
"Pretty well," said Journeyman. "But I don't think it will be one of my
best; there is some pretty hard nuts to crack."
"Which are they?" said Stack. Journeyman brightened up, and he proceeded
to lay before Stack's intelligence what he termed a "knotty point in
Stack listened with attention, and thus encouraged, Journeyman proceeded
to point out certain distributions of weight which he said seemed to him
difficult to beat.
"Anyone what knows the running would say there wasn't a pin to choose
between them at the weights. If this was the real 'andicap, I'd bet drinks
all around that fifteen of these twenty would accept. And that's more than
anyone will be able to say for Courtney's 'andicap. The weights will be
out to-morrow; we shall see."
"What do you say to 'alf a pint," said Stack, "and we'll go steadily
through your 'andicap? You've nothing to do for the next 'alf-hour."
Journeyman's dingy face lit up. When the potboy appeared in answer to the
bell he was told to bring up two half-pints, and Journeyman read out the
weights. Every now and then he stopped to explain his reasons for what
might seem to be superficial, an unmerited severity, or an undue leniency.
It was not usual for Journeyman to meet with so sympathetic a listener; he
had often been made to feel that his handicapping was unnecessary, and he
now noticed, and with much pleasure, that Stack's attention seemed to
increase rather than to diminish as he approached the end. When he had
finished Stack said, "I see you've given six-seven to Ben Jonson. Tell me
why you did that?"
"He was a good 'orse once; he's broken down and aged; he can't be trained,
so six-seven seems just the kind of weight to throw him in at. You
couldn't give him less, however old and broken down he may be. He was a
good horse when he won the Great Ebor Grand Cup."
"Do you think if they brought him to the post as fit and well as he was
the day he won the Ebor that he'd win?"
"What, fit and well as he was when he won the Great Ebor, and with
six-seven on his back? He'd walk away with it."
"You don't think any of the three-year-olds would have a chance with him?
A Derby winner with seven stone on his back might beat him."
"Yes, but nothing short of that. Even then old Ben would make a race of
it. A nailing good horse once. A little brown horse about fifteen two, as
compact as a leg of Welsh mutton.... But there's no use in thinking of
him. They've been trying for years to train him. Didn't they used to get
the flesh off him in a Turkish bath? That was Fulton's notion. He used to
say that it didn't matter 'ow you got the flesh off so long as you got it
off. Every pound of flesh off the lungs is so much wind, he used to say.
But the Turkish bath trained horses came to the post limp as old rags. If
a 'orse 'asn't the legs you can't train him. Every pound of flesh yer take
off must put a pound 'o 'ealth on. They'll do no good with old Ben, unless
they've found out a way of growing on him a pair of new forelegs. The old
ones won't do for my money."
"But do you think that Courtney will take the same view of his
capabilities as you do--do you think he'll let him off as easily as you
"He can't give him much more.... The 'orse is bound to get in at seven
stone, rather under than over."
"I'm glad to 'ear yer say so, for I know you've a headpiece, and 'as all
the running in there." Stack tapped his forehead. "Now, I'd like to ask
you if there's any three-year-olds that would be likely to interfere with
"Derby and Leger winners will get from eight stone to eight stone ten, and
three-year-olds ain't no good over the Cesarewitch course with more than
eight on their backs."
The conversation paused. Surprised at Stack's silence, Journeyman said--
"Is there anything up? Have you heard anything particular about old Ben?"
Stack bent forward. "Yes, I've heard something, and I'm making inquiries."
"How did you hear it?"
Stack drew his chair a little closer. "I've been up at Chalk Farm, the
'Yarborough Arms'; you know, where the 'buses stop. Bob Barrett does a
deal of business up there. He pays the landlord's rent for the use of the
bar--Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays is his days. Charley Grove bets
there Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, but it is Bob that does the
biggest part of the business. They say he's taken as much as twenty pounds
in a morning. You know Bob, a great big man, eighteen stun if he's an
ounce. He's a warm 'un, can put it on thick."
"I know him; he do tell fine stories about the girls; he has the pick of
the neighbourhood, wears a low hat, no higher than that, with a big brim.
I know him. I've heard that he 'as moved up that way. Used at one time to
keep a tobacconist's shop in Great Portland Street."
"That's him," said Stack. "I thought you'd heard of him."
"There ain't many about that I've not heard of. Not that I likes the man
much. There was a girl I knew--she wouldn't hear his name mentioned. But
he lays fair prices, and does, I believe, a big trade."
"'As a nice 'ome at Brixton, keeps a trap; his wife as pretty a woman as
you could wish to lay eyes on. I've seen her with him at Kempton."
"You was up there this morning?"
"It wasn't Bob Barrett that gave you the tip?"
"Not likely." The men laughed, and then Stack said--
"You know Bill Evans? You've seen him here, always wore a blue Melton
jacket and billycock hat; a dark, stout, good-looking fellow; generally
had something to sell, or pawn-tickets that he would part with for a
"Yes, I know the fellow. We met him down at Epsom one Derby Day. Sarah
Tucker, a friend of the missis, was dead gone on him."
"Yes, she went to live with him. There was a row, and now, I believe,
they're together again; they was seen out walking. They're friends,
anyhow. Bill has been away all the summer, tramping. A bad lot, but one of
them sort often hears of a good thing."
"So it was from Bill Evans that you heard it."
"Yes, it was from Bill. He has just come up from Eastbourne, where he 'as
been about on the Downs a great deal. I don't know if it was the horses he
was after, but in the course of his proceedings he heard from a shepherd
that Ben Jonson was doing seven hours' walking exercise a day. This seemed
to have fetched Bill a bit. Seven hours a day walking exercise do seem a
bit odd, and being at the same time after one of the servants in the
training stable--as pretty a bit of goods as he ever set eyes on, so Bill
says--he thought he'd make an inquiry or two about all this walking
exercise. One of the lads in the stable is after the girl, too, so Bill
found out very soon all he wanted to know. As you says, the 'orse is dicky
on 'is forelegs, that is the reason of all the walking exercise."
"And they thinks they can bring him fit to the post and win the
Cesarewitch with him by walking him all day?"
"I don't say they don't gallop him at all; they do gallop him, but not as
much as if his legs was all right."
"That won't do. I don't believe in a 'orse winning the Cesarewitch that
ain't got four sound legs, and old Ben ain't got more than two."
"He's had a long rest, and they say he is sounder than ever he was since
he won the Great Ebor. They don't say he'd stand no galloping, but they
don't want to gallop him more than's absolutely necessary on account of
the suspensory ligament; it ain't the back sinew, but the suspensory
ligament. Their theory is this, that it don't so much matter about
bringing him quite fit to the post, for he's sure to stay the course; he'd
do that three times over. What they say is this, that if he gets in with
seven stone, and we brings him well and three parts trained, there ain't
no 'orse in England that can stand up before him. They've got another in
the race, Laurel Leaf, to make the running for him; it can't be too strong
for old Ben. You say to yourself that he may get let off with six-seven.
If he do there'll be tons of money on him. He'll be backed at the post at
five to one. Before the weights come out they'll lay a hundred to one on
the field in any of the big clubs. I wouldn't mind putting a quid on him
if you'll join me."
"Better wait until the weights come out," said Journeyman, "for if it
happened to come to Courtney's ears that old Ben could be trained he'd
clap seven-ten on him without a moment's hesitation."
"You think so?" said Stack.
"I do," said Journeyman.
"But you agree with me that if he got let off with anything less than
seven stone, and be brought fit, or thereabouts, to the post, that the
race is a moral certainty for him?"
"A thousand to a brass farthing."
"Mind, not a word."
"Is it likely?"
The conversation paused a moment, and Journeyman said, "You've not seen my
'andicap for the Cambridgeshire. I wonder what you'd think of that?" Stack
said he would be glad to see it another time, and suggested that they go
"I'm afraid the police is in," said Stack, when he opened the door.
"Then we'd better stop where we are; I don't want to be took to the
They listened for some moments, holding the door ajar.
"It ain't the police," said Stack, "but a row about some bet. Latch had
better be careful."
The cause of the uproar was a tall young English workman, whose beard was
pale gold, and whose teeth were white. He wore a rough handkerchief tied
round his handsome throat. His eyes were glassy with drink, and his
comrades strove to quieten him.
"Leave me alone," he exclaimed; "the bet was ten half-crowns to one. I
won't stand being welshed."
William's face flushed up. "Welshed!" he said. "No one speaks in this bar
of welshing." He would have sprung over the counter, but Esther held him
"I know what I'm talking about; you let me alone," said the young workman,
and he struggled out of the hands of his friends. "The bet was ten
half-crowns to one."
"Don't mind what he says, guv'nor."
"Don't mind what I says!" For a moment it seemed as if the friends were
about to come to blows, but the young man's perceptions suddenly clouded,
and he said, "In this blo-ody bar last Monday... horse backed in
Tattersall's at twelve to one taken and offered."
"He don't know what he's talking about; but no one must accuse me of
welshing in this 'ere bar."
"No offence, guv'nor; mistakes will occur."
William could not help laughing, and he sent Teddy upstairs for Monday's
paper. He pointed out that eight to one was being asked for about the
horse on Monday afternoon at Tattersall's. The stage door-keeper and a
scene-shifter had just come over from the theatre, and had managed to
force their way into the jug and bottle entrance. Esther and Charles had
been selling beer and spirits as fast as they could draw it, but the
disputed bet had caused the company to forget their glasses.
"Just one more drink," said the young man. "Take the ten half-crowns out
in drinks, guv'nor, that's good enough. What do you say, guv'nor?"
"What, ten half-crowns?" William answered angrily. "Haven't I shown you
that the 'orse was backed at Tattersall's the day you made the bet at
eight to one?"
"Ten to one, guv'nor."
"I've not time to go on talking.... You're interfering with my business.
You must get out of my bar."
"Who'll put me out?"
"Charles, go and fetch a policeman."
At the word "policeman" the young man seemed to recover his wits somewhat,
and he answered, "You'll bring in no bloody policeman. Fetch a policeman!
and what about your blooming betting--what will become of it?" William
looked round to see if there was any in the bar whom he could not trust.
He knew everyone present, and believed he could trust them all. There was
but one thing to do, and that was to put on a bold face and trust to luck.
"Now out you go," he said, springing over the counter, "and never you set
your face inside my bar again." Charles followed the guv'nor over the
counter like lightning, and the drunkard was forced into the street. "He
don't mean no 'arm," said one of the friends; "he'll come round to-morrow
and apologise for what he's said."
"I don't want his apology," said William. "No one shall call me a welsher
in my bar.... Take your friend away, and never let me see him in my bar
Suddenly William turned very pale. He was seized with a fit of coughing,
and this great strong man leaned over the counter very weak indeed. Esther
led him into the parlour, leaving Charles to attend to the customers. His
hand trembled like a leaf, and she sat by his side holding it. Mr. Blamy
came in to ask if he should lay one of the young gentlemen from the
tutor's thirty shillings to ten against the favourite. Esther said that
William could attend to no more customers that day. Mr. Blamy returned ten
minutes after to say that there was quite a number of people in the bar;
should he refuse to take their money?
"Do you know them all?" said William.
"I think so, guv'nor."
"Be careful to bet with no one you don't know; but I'm so bad I can hardly
"Much better send them away," said Esther.
"Then they'll go somewhere else."
"It won't matter; they'll come back to where they're sure of their money."
"I'm not so sure of that," William answered, feebly. "I think it will be
all right, Teddy; you'll be very careful."
"Yes, guv'nor, I'll keep down the price."
One afternoon Fred Parsons came into the bar of the "King's Head." He wore
the cap and jersey of the Salvation Army; he was now Captain Parsons. The
bars were empty. It was a time when business was slackest. The morning's
betting was over; the crowd had dispersed, and would not collect again
until the _Evening Standard_ had come in. William had gone for a walk.
Esther and the potboy were alone in the house. The potman was at work in
the backyard, Esther was sewing in the parlour. Hearing steps, she went
into the bar. Fred looked at her abashed, he was a little perplexed. He
"Is your husband in? I should like to speak to him."
"No, my husband is out. I don't expect him back for an hour or so. Can I
give him any message?"
She was on the point of asking him how he was. But there was something so
harsh and formal in his tone and manner that she refrained. But the idea
in her mind must have expressed itself in her face, for suddenly his
manner softened. He drew a deep breath, and passed his hand across his
forehead. Then, putting aside the involuntary thought, he said--
"Perhaps it will come through you as well as any other way. I had intended
to speak to him, but I can explain the matter better to you.... It is
about the betting that is being carried on here. We mean to put a stop to
it. That's what I came to tell him. It must be put a stop to. No
right-minded person--it cannot be allowed to go on."
Esther said nothing; not a change of expression came upon her grave face.
Fred was agitated. The words stuck in his throat, and his hands were
restless. Esther raised her calm eyes, and looked at him. His eyes were
pale, restless eyes.
"I've come to warn you," he said, "that the law will be set in motion....
It is very painful for me, but something must be done. The whole
neighbourhood is devoured by it." Esther did not answer, and he said, "Why
don't you answer, Esther?"
"What is there for me to answer? You tell me that you are going to get up
a prosecution against us. I can't prevent you. I'll tell my husband what
"This is a very serious matter, Esther." He had come into command of his
voice, and he spoke with earnest determination. "If we get a conviction
against you for keeping a betting-house, you will not only be heavily
fined, but you will also lose your licence. All we ask is that the betting
shall cease. No," he said, interrupting, "don't deny anything; it is quite
useless, we know everything. The whole neighbourhood is demoralized by
this betting; nothing is thought of but tips; the day's racing--that is
all they think about--the evening papers, and the latest information. You
do not know what harm you're doing. Every day we hear of some new
misfortune--a home broken up, the mother in the workhouse, the daughter on
the streets, the father in prison, and all on account of this betting. Oh,
Esther, it is horrible; think of the harm you're doing."
Fred Parsons' high, round forehead, his weak eyes, his whole face, was
expressive of fear and hatred of the evil which a falsetto voice denounced
with much energy.
Suddenly he seemed to grow nervous and perplexed. Esther was looking at
him, and he said, "You don't answer, Esther?"
"What would you have me answer?"
"You used to be a good, religious woman. Do you remember how we used to
speak when we used to go for walks together, when you were in service in
the Avondale road? I remember you agreeing with me that much good could be
done by those who were determined to do it. You seem to have changed very
much since those days."
For a moment Esther seemed affected by these remembrances. Then she said
in a low, musical voice--
"No, I've not changed, Fred, but things has turned out different. One
doesn't do the good that one would like to in the world; one has to do the
good that comes to one to do. I've my husband and my boy to look to.
Them's my good. At least, that's how I sees things."
Fred looked at Esther, and his eyes expressed all the admiration and love
that he felt for her character. "One owes a great deal," he said, "to
those who are near to one, but not everything; even for their sakes one
should not do wrong to others, and you must see that you are doing a great
wrong to your fellow-creatures by keeping on this betting. Public-houses
are bad enough, but when it comes to gambling as well as drink, there's
nothing for us to do but to put the law in motion. Look you, Esther, there
isn't a shop-boy earning eighteen shillings a week that hasn't been round
here to put his half-crown on some horse. This house is the immoral centre
of the neighbourhood. No one's money is refused. The boy that pawned his
father's watch to back a horse went to the 'King's Head' to put his money
on. His father forgave him again and again. Then the boy stole from the
lodgers. There was an old woman of seventy-five who got nine shillings a
week for looking after some offices; he had half-a-crown off her. Then the
father told the magistrate that he could do nothing with him since he had
taken to betting on horse-races. The boy is fourteen. Is it not shocking?
It cannot be allowed to go on. We have determined to put a stop to it.
That's what I came to tell your husband."
"Are you sure," said Esther, and she bit her lips while she spoke, "that
it is entirely for the neighbourhood that you want to get up the
"You don't think there's any other reason, Esther? You surely don't think
that I'm doing this because--because he took you away from me?"
Esther didn't answer. And then Fred said, and there was pain and pathos in
his voice, "I am sorry you think this of me; I'm not getting up the
prosecution. I couldn't prevent the law being put in motion against you
even if I wanted to.... I only know that it is going to be put in motion,
so for the sake of old times I would save you from harm if I could. I came
round to tell you if you did not put a stop to the betting you'd get into
trouble. I have no right to do what I have done, but I'd do anything to
save you and yours from harm."
"I am sorry for what I said. It was very good of you."
"We have not any proofs as yet; we know, of course, all about the betting,
but we must have sworn testimony before the law can be set in motion, so
you'll be quite safe if you can persuade your husband to give it up."
Esther did not answer. "It is entirely on account of the friendship I feel
for you that made me come to warn you of the danger. You don't bear me any
ill-will, Esther, I hope?"
"No, Fred, I don't. I think I understand." The conversation paused again.
"I suppose we have said everything." Esther turned her face from him. Fred
looked at her, and though her eyes were averted from him she could see
that he loved her. In another moment he was gone. In her plain and
ignorant way she thought on the romance of destiny. For if she had married
Fred her life would have been quite different. She would have led the life
that she wished to lead, but she had married William and--well, she must
do the best she could. If Fred, or Fred's friends, got the police to
prosecute them for betting, they would, as he said, not only have to pay a
heavy fine, but would probably lose their licence. Then what would they
do? William had not health to go about from race-course to race-course as
he used to. He had lost a lot of money in the last six months; Jack was at
school--they must think of Jack. The thought of their danger lay on her
heart all that evening. But she had had no opportunity of speaking to
William alone, she had to wait until they were in their room. Then, as she
untied the strings of her petticoats, she said--
"I had a visit from Fred Parsons this afternoon."
"That's the fellow you were engaged to marry. Is he after you still?"
"No, he came to speak to me about the betting."
"About the betting--what is it to do with him?"
"He says that if it isn't stopped that we shall be prosecuted."
"So he came here to tell you that, did he? I wish I had been in the bar."
"I'm glad you wasn't. What good could you have done? To have a row and
make things worse!"
William lit his pipe and unlaced his boots. Esther slipped on her
night-dress and got into a large brass bedstead, without curtains. On the
chest of drawers Esther had placed the books her mother had given her, and
William had hung some sporting prints on the walls. He took his
night-shirt from the pillow and put it on without removing his pipe from
his mouth. He always finished his pipe in bed.
"It is revenge," he said, pulling the bed-clothes up to his chin, "because
I got you away from him."
"I don't think it is that; I did think so at first, and I said so."
"What did he say?"
"He said he was sorry I thought so badly of him; that he came to warn us
of our danger. If he had wanted to do us an injury he wouldn't have said
nothing about it. Don't you think so?"
"It seems reasonable. Then what do you think they're doing it for?"
"He says that keeping a betting-house is corruption in the neighbourhood."
"You think he thinks that?"
"I know he do; and there is many like him. I come of them that thinks like
that, so I know. Betting and drink is what my folk, the Brethren, holds as
"But you've forgot all about them Brethren?"
"No, one never forgets what one's brought up in."
"But what do you think now?"
"I've never said nothing about it. I don't believe in a wife interfering
with her husband; and business was that bad, and your 'ealth 'asn't been
the same since them colds you caught standing about in them betting rings,
so I don't see how you could help it. But now that business is beginning
to come back to us, it might be as well to give up the betting."
"It is the betting that brings the business; we shouldn't take five pounds
a week was it not for the betting. What's the difference between betting
on the course and betting in the bar? No one says nothing against it on
the course; the police is there, and they goes after the welshers and
persecutes them. Then the betting that's done at Tattersall's and the
Albert Club, what is the difference? The Stock Exchange, too, where
thousands and thousands is betted every day. It is the old story--one law
for the rich and another for the poor. Why shouldn't the poor man 'ave his
'alf-crown's worth of excitement? The rich man can have his thousand
pounds' worth whenever he pleases. The same with the public
'ouses--there's a lot of hypocritical folk that is for docking the poor
man of his beer, but there's no one that's for interfering with them that
drink champagne in the clubs. It's all bloody rot, and it makes me sick
when I think of it. Them hypocritical folk. Betting! Isn't everything
betting? How can they put down betting? Hasn't it been going on since the
world began? Rot, says I! They can just ruin a poor devil like me, and
that's about all. We are ruined, and the rich goes scot-free.
Hypocritical, mealy-mouthed lot. 'Let's say our prayers and sand
the sugar'; that's about it. I hate them that is always prating out
religion. When I hears too much religion going about I says now's the time
to look into their accounts."
William leaned out of bed to light his pipe from the candle on the
"There's good people in the world, people that never thinks but of doing
good, and do not live for pleasure."
"'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,' Esther. Their only pleasure
is a bet. When they've one on they've something to look forward to;
whether they win or lose they 'as their money's worth. You know what I say
is true; you've seen them, how they look forward to the evening paper to
see how the 'oss is going on in betting. Man can't live without hope. It
is their only hope, and I says no one has a right to take it from them."
"What about their poor wives? Very little good their betting is to them.
It's all very well to talk like that, William, but you know, and you can't
say you don't, that a great deal of mischief comes of betting; you know
that once they think of it and nothing else, they neglect their work.
There's Stack, he's lost his place as porter; there's Journeyman, too,
he's out of work."
"And a good thing for them; they've done a great deal better since they
"For the time, maybe; but who says it will go on? Look at old John; he's
going about in rags; and his poor wife, she was in here the other night, a
terrible life she's 'ad of it. You says that no 'arm comes of it. What
about that boy that was 'ad up the other day, and said that it was all
through betting? He began by pawning his father's watch. It was here that
he made the first bet. You won't tell me that it is right to bet with bits
of boys like that."
"The horse he backed with me won."
"So much the worse.... The boy'll never do another honest day's work as
long as he lives.... When they win, they 'as a drink for luck; when they
loses, they 'as a drink to cheer them up."
"I'm afraid, Esther, you ought to have married the other chap. He'd have
given you the life that you'd have been happy in. This public-'ouse ain't
suited to you."
Esther turned round and her eyes met her husband's. There was a strange
remoteness in his look, and they seemed very far from each other.
"I was brought up to think so differently," she said, her thoughts going
back to her early years in the little southern seaside home. "I suppose
this betting and drinking will always seem to me sinful and wicked. I
should 'ave liked quite a different kind of life, but we don't choose our
lives, we just makes the best of them. You was the father of my child, and
it all dates from that."
"I suppose it do."
William lay on his back, and blew the smoke swiftly from his mouth.
"If you smoke much more we shan't be able to breathe in this room."
"I won't smoke no more. Shall I blow the candle out?"
"Yes, if you like."
When the room was in darkness, just before they settled their faces on the
pillow for sleep, William said--
"It was good of that fellow to come and warn us. I must be very careful
for the future with whom I bet."
On Sunday, as soon as dinner was over, Esther had intended to go to East
Dulwich to see Mrs. Lewis. But as she closed the door behind her, she saw
Sarah coming up the street.
"Ah, I see you're going out."
"It don't matter; won't you come in, if it's only for a minute?"
"No, thank you, I won't keep you. But which way are you going? We might go
a little way together."
They walked down Waterloo Place and along Pall Mall. In Trafalgar Square
there was a demonstration, and Sarah lingered in the crowd so long that
when they arrived at Charing Cross, Esther found that she could not get to
Ludgate Hill in time to catch her train, so they went into the Embankment
Gardens. It had been raining, and the women wiped the seats with their
handkerchiefs before sitting down. There was no fashion to interest them,
and the band sounded foolish in the void of the grey London Sunday.
Sarah's chatter was equally irrelevant, and Esther wondered how Sarah
could talk so much about nothing, and regretted her visit to East Dulwich
more and more. Suddenly Bill's name came into the conversation.
"But I thought you didn't see him any more; you promised us you wouldn't."
"I couldn't help it.... It was quite an accident. One day, coming back
from church with Annie--that's the new housemaid--he came up and spoke to
"What did he say?"
"He said, 'How are ye?... Who'd thought of meeting you!'"
"And what did you say?"
"I said I didn't want to have nothing to do with him. Annie walked on, and
then he said he was very sorry, that it was bad luck that drove him to
"And you believed him?"
"I daresay it is very foolish of me. But one can't help oneself. Did you
ever really care for a man?"
And without waiting for an answer, Sarah continued her babbling chatter.
She had asked him not to come after her; she thought he was sorry for what
he had done. She mentioned incidentally that he had been away in the
country and had come back with very particular information regarding a
certain horse for the Cesarewitch. If the horse won he'd be all right.
At last Esther's patience was tired out.
"It must be getting late," she said, looking towards where the sun was
setting. The river rippled, and the edges of the warehouses had
perceptibly softened; a wind, too, had come up with the tide, and the
women shivered as they passed under the arch of Waterloo Bridge. They
ascended a flight of high steps and walked through a passage into the
"I was miserable enough with him; we used to have hardly anything to eat;
but I'm more miserable away from him. Esther, I know you'll laugh at me,
but I'm that heart-broken... I can't live without him... I'd do anything
"He isn't worth it."
"That don't make no difference. You don't know what love is; a woman who
hasn't loved a man who don't love her, don't. We used to live near here.
Do you mind coming up Drury Lane? I should like to show you the house."
"I'm afraid it will be out of our way."
"No, it won't. Round by the church and up Newcastle Street.... Look,
there's a shop we used to go to sometimes. I've eaten many a good sausage
and onions in there, and that's a pub where we often used to go for a
The courts and alleys had vomited their population into the Lane. Fat
girls clad in shawls sat around the slum opening nursing their babies. Old
women crouched in decrepit doorways, fumbling their aprons; skipping ropes
whirled in the roadway. A little higher up a vendor of cheap ices had set
up his store and was rapidly absorbing all the pennies of the
neighborhood. Esther and Sarah turned into a dilapidated court, where a
hag argued the price of trotters with a family leaning one over the other
out of a second-floor window. This was the block in which Sarah had lived.
A space had been cleared by the builder, and the other side was shut in by
the great wall of the old theatre.
"That's where we used to live," said Sarah, pointing up to the third
floor. "I fancy our house will soon come down. When I see the old place it
all comes back to me. I remember pawning a dress over the way in the lane;
they would only lend me a shilling on it. And you see that shop--the
shutters is up, it being Sunday; it is a sort of butcher's, cheap meat,
livers and lights, trotters, and such-like. I bought a bullock's heart
there, and stewed it down with some potatoes; we did enjoy it, I can tell
Sarah talked so eagerly of herself that Esther had not the heart to
interrupt her. They made their way out into Catherine Street, and then to
Endell Street, and then going round to St. Giles' Church, they plunged
into the labyrinth of Soho.
"I'm afraid I'm tiring you. I don't see what interest all this can be to
"We've known each other a long time."
Sarah looked at her, and then, unable to resist the temptation, she
continued her narrative--Bill had said this, she had said that. She
rattled on, until they came to the corner of Old Compton Street. Esther,
who was a little tired of her, held out her hand. "I suppose you must be
getting back; would you like a drop of something?"
"It is going on for seven o'clock; but since you're that kind I think I'd
like a glass of beer."
"Do you listen much to the betting talk here of an evening?" Sarah asked,
as she was leaving.
"I don't pay much attention, but I can't help hearing a good deal."
"Do they talk much about Ben Jonson for the Cesarewitch?"
"They do, indeed; he's all the go."
Sarah's face brightened perceptibly, and Esther said--
"Have you backed him?'
"Only a trifle; half-a-crown that a friend put me on. Do they say he'll
"They say that if he don't break down he'll win by 'alf a mile; it all
depends on his leg."
"Is he coming on in the betting?"
"Yes, I believe they're now taking 12 to 1 about him. But I'll ask
William, if you like."
"No, no, I only wanted to know if you'd heard anything new."
During the next fortnight Sarah came several times to the "King's Head."
She came in about nine in the evening, and stayed for half-an-hour or
more. The ostensible object of her visit was to see Esther, but she
declined to come into the private bar, where they would have chatted
comfortably, and remained in the public bar listening to the men's
conversation, listening and nodding while old John explained the horse's
staying power to her. On the following evening all her interest was in
Ketley. She wanted to know if anything had happened that might be