Never had a Derby excited greater interest. Four hot favourites, between whic_he 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 agains_ignet-ring, who, half-trained, had run Fly-leaf to a head. Four to on_gainst 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, bu_he 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, bu_hey were not ripe yet. Fly-leaf, he could not make much of that—not bein_uch of a reader. So what with one thing and another Ketley didn't believ_uch in this 'ere Derby. Journeyman caustically remarked that, omens or n_mens, one horse was bound to win. Why didn't Herbert look for an omen amon_he outsiders? Old John's experiences led him to think that the race la_etween 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 clim_ut of the dip Fly-leaf will have had about enough of it." Stack nodde_pproval. He had five bob on Dewberry. He didn't know much about his stayin_owers, but all the stable is on him; "and when I know the stable-money i_ight I says, 'That's good enough for me!'"
Ginger, who came in occasionally, was very sweet on Necklace, whom he declare_o 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 ha_on the One Thousand. He wouldn't have ridden her quite that way himself; bu_hen what was a steeplechase rider's opinion worth regarding a flat race? Th_ompany demurred, and old John alluded to Ginger's magnificent riding when h_on the Liverpool on Foxcover, steadying the horse about sixty yards fro_ome, and bringing him up with a rush in the last dozen strides, nailing Ji_utton, who had persevered all the way, on the very post by a head. Bil_vans, who happened to look in that evening, said that he would not b_urprised to see all the four favourites bowled out by an outsider. He ha_eard something that was good enough for him. He didn't suppose the guv'no_ould take him on the nod, but he had a nice watch which ought to be good fo_hree ten.
"Turn it up, old mate," said William.
"All right, guv'nor, I never presses my goods on them that don't want 'em. I_here's any other gentleman who would like to look at this 'ere timepiece, o_ 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 t_ave 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 hav_o get over the counter?"
"I suppose, Mrs. Latch, you have seen a great deal of racing?" said Ginger.
"No, sir. I've heard a great deal about racing, but I never saw a race run."
"How's that, shouldn't you care?"
"You see, my husband has his betting to attend to, and there's the house t_ook 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 th_lock, 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 hurr_ou, 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, gentlemen, gentlemen."
Old John lit his pipe and led the way. William held the door for them. A fe_inutes after the house was closed.
A locking of drawers, fastening of doors, putting away glasses, making thing_enerally tidy, an hour's work before bed-time, and then they lighted thei_andle 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. _hall 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, no_etley neither."
They were both tired, and with an occasional remark they undressed and go_nto 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 _ong silence William said—
"It do seem strange that you who has been mixed up in it so much should neve_ave seen a race." Esther didn't answer. She was falling asleep, and William'_oice was beginning to sound vague in her ears. Suddenly she felt him give he_ 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 b_ 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 on_ould run into a deal of money, and he was afraid it might make him late o_he course. Besides, the road wasn't what it used to be; every one goes b_rain now. They dropped off to sleep talking of how they should get Sarah'_ddress.
Three or four days passed, and one morning William jumped out of bed and said—
"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 heav_leeper, 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 m_lothes."
"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 _hite ground, the sleeves and throat and the white hat tastefully trimmed wit_ilac and white lace; a nice sunshade to match. At that moment a knock came a_he door.
"All right, Teddy, wait a moment, my wife's not dressed yet. Do make haste, Esther."
Esther stepped into the skirt so as not to ruffle her hair, and she wa_uttoning the bodice when little Mr. Blamy entered.
"Sorry to disturb you, ma'am, but there isn't no time to lose if the governo_on't want to lose his place on the 'ill."
"Now then, Teddy, make haste, get the toggery out; don't stand there talking."
The little man spread the Gladstone bag upon the floor and took a suit o_hecks from the chest of drawers, each square of black and white nearly a_arge as a sixpence.
"You'll wear the green tie, sir?" William nodded. The green tie was a yard o_lowing sea-green silk. "I've got you a bunch of yellow flowers, sir; will yo_ear them now, or shall I put them in the bag?"
William glanced at the bouquet. "They look a bit loud," he said; "I'll wai_ill we get on the course; put them in the bag."
The card to be worn in the white hat—"William Latch, London," in gold letter_n a green ground—was laid on top. The boots with soles three inches high wen_nto 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 whic_as written in gold letters, "William Latch, 'The King's Head,' London. Fai_rices, prompt payment."
It was a grey day, with shafts of sunlight coming through, and as the ca_assed over Waterloo Bridge, London, various embankments and St. Paul's on on_ide, wharves and warehouses on the other, appeared in grey curves an_traight silhouettes. The pavements were lined with young men—here and there _irl's dress was a spot of colour in the grey morning. At the station they me_ourneyman 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 eac_ther's dress; get in, get in," and William pressed them into a third-clas_arriage. They had not seen each other for so long a while, and there was s_uch to say that they did not know where to begin. Sarah was the first t_peak.
"It 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 on_nother before."
They rolled out of the grey station into the light, and the plate-glass dre_he rays together till they burnt the face and hands. They sped alongside o_he upper windows nearly on a level with the red and yellow chimney-pots; the_assed open spaces filled with cranes, old iron, and stacks of railwa_leepers, pictorial advertisements, sky signs, great gasometers rising roun_nd black in their iron cages over-topping or nearly the slender spires. _rain steamed along a hundred-arched viaduct; and along a black embankment th_ther trains rushed by in a whirl of wheels, bringing thousands of clerks u_rom the suburbs to their city toil.
The excursion jogged on, stopping for long intervals before strips of sordi_arden where shirts and pink petticoats were blowing. Little streets ascende_he hillsides; no more trams, 'buses, too, had disappeared, and afoot the fol_urried along the lonely pavements of their suburbs. At Clapham Junctio_etting men had crowded the platform; they all wore grey overcoats with race- glasses slung over their shoulders. And the train still rolled through th_rick 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 h_nd the Gaffer, in company with all the great racing men of the day, used t_rive down by road, were listened to with admiration. Esther had finishe_elling the circumstances in which she had met Margaret; and Sarah questione_er about William and how her marriage had come about. The train had stoppe_utside 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 thos_louds, and the women glanced at the waterproofs which they carried on thei_rms.
They passed bits of common with cows and a stray horse, also a little rura_emetery; but London suddenly began again parish after parish, the same blu_oofs, the same tenement houses. The train had passed the first cedar and th_irst tennis lawn. And knowing it to be a Derby excursion the players pause_n their play and looked up. Again the line was blocked; the train stoppe_gain and again. But it had left London behind, and the last stoppage was i_ront of a beautiful June landscape. A thick meadow with a square weather- beaten church showing between the spreading trees; miles of green corn, wit_irds flying in the bright air, and lazy clouds going out, making way for th_ndless blue of a long summer's day.