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Chapter 31

  • 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.
  • William apologised.
  • "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.