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Chapter 32

  • 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 th_tation—a square house with a pillared porch. Even at this early hour th_ondon pilgrimage was filing by. Horses were drinking in the trough; thei_rivers were drinking in the bar; girls in light dresses shared glasses o_eer with young men. But the greater number of vehicles passed withou_topping, anxious to get on the course. They went round the turn in lon_rocession, a policeman on a strong horse occupied the middle of the road. Th_aggonettes and coaches had red-coated guards, and the air was rent with th_ooting of the long brass horns. Every kind of dingy trap went by, sometime_rawn by two, sometimes by only one horse—shays half a century old jingle_long; there were even donkey-carts. Esther and Sarah were astonished at th_umber of costers, but old John told them that that was nothing to what it wa_ifty years ago. The year that Andover won the block began seven or eigh_iles from Epsom. They were often half-an-hour without moving. Such chaffin_nd laughing, the coster cracked his joke with the duke, but all that was don_way with now.
  • "Gracious!" said Esther, when William appeared in his betting toggery. "_houldn't have known you."
  • He did seem very wonderful in his checks, green necktie, yellow flowers, an_hite 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'_hey? 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'_urry. The races won't begin for hours yet. It's only about a mile—a nic_alk. These gentlemen will look after you. You know where to find me," h_aid, 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 drov_way.
  • "Well, that's what I calls cheek," said Sarah. "Going off by himself in _aggonette and leaving us to foot it."
  • "He must look after his place on the 'ill or else he'll do no betting," sai_ourneyman. "We've plenty of time; racing don't begin till after one."
  • Recollections of what the road had once been had loosened John's tongue, an_e continued his reminiscences of the great days when Sir Thomas Hayward ha_aid 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 accep_he third bet, saying that the horse was then being backed on the course a_vens. So Sir Thomas had only lost thirty thousand pounds on the race.
  • Journeyman was deeply interested in the anecdote; but Sarah looked at the ol_an with a look that said, "Well, if I'm to pass the day with you two I neve_ant 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 _ield ablaze with buttercups; it passed by a fish-pond into which thre_runkards were gazing. "Do you hear what they're saying about the fish?" sai_arah.
  • "Don't pay no attention to them," said Esther. "If you knew as much abou_runkards as I do, you'd want no telling to give them a wide berth…. Isn't th_ountry 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. _ouldn't take another situation out of London if I was offered twenty a year."
  • "But look," said Esther, "at the trees. I've hardly been in the country sinc_ left Woodview, unless you call Dulwich the country—that's where Jackie wa_t nurse."
  • The Cockney pilgrimage passed into a pleasant lane overhung with chestnut an_aburnum trees. The spring had been late, and the white blossoms stood up lik_andles—the yellow dropped like tassels, and the streaming sunlight filled th_eaves with tints of pale gold, and their light shadows patterned the re_arth of the pathway. But very soon this pleasant pathway debouched on _hirsting roadway where tired horses harnessed to heavy vehicles toiled up _ong hill leading to the Downs. The trees intercepted the view, and the blow_ust whitened the foliage and the wayside grass, now in possession of hawke_nd vagrant. The crowd made way for the traps; and the young men in blue an_rey trousers, and their girls in white dresses, turned and watched the fou_orses bringing along the tall drag crowned with London fashion. There th_nwieldly omnibus and the brake filled with fat girls in pink dresses an_ellow hats, and there the spring cart drawn up under a hedge. The cottag_ates were crowded with folk come to see London going to the Derby. Outhouse_ad been converted into refreshment bars, and from these came a smell of bee_nd oranges; further on there was a lamentable harmonium—a blind man singin_ymns to its accompaniment, and a one-legged man holding his hat for alms; an_ot far away there stood an earnest-eyed woman offering tracts, warning fol_f their danger, beseeching them to retrace their steps.
  • At last the trees ceased and they found themselves on the hilltop in a glar_f 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 som_xplanations. The white building was the Grand Stand. The winning-post was _ittle further this way.
  • "Where do they start?" said Sarah.
  • "Over yonder, where you see that clump. They run through the furze right up t_attenham Corner."
  • A vast crowd swarmed over the opposite hill, and beyond the crowd the wome_aw a piece of open downland dotted with bushes, and rising in gentle inclin_o a belt of trees which closed the horizon. "Where them trees are, that'_Tattenham Corner_." The words seemed to fill old John with enthusiasm, and h_escribed how the horses came round this side of the trees. "They comes righ_own that 'ere 'ill—there's the dip—and they finishes opposite to where we i_tanding. Yonder, by Barnard's Ring."
  • "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 _air of stilts fully eight feet high. He uttered short warning cries from tim_o time, held out his wide trousers and caught pennies in his conical cap.
  • Drags and carriages continued to arrive. The sweating horses were unyoked, an_rooms and helpers rolled the vehicles into position along the rails. Lackey_rew forth cases of wine and provisions, and the flutter of table-cloths ha_egun to attract vagrants, itinerant musicians, fortune-tellers, beggin_hildren. All these plied their trades round the fashion of grey frock-coat_nd silk sun-shades. Along the rails rough fellows lay asleep; the plac_ooked like a vast dormitory; they lay with their hats over their faces, cla_ipes sticking from under the brims, their brown-red hands upon the gre_rass.
  • Suddenly old John pleaded an appointment; he was to meet a friend who woul_ive him the very latest news respecting a certain horse; and Esther, Sarah, and Journeyman wandered along the course in search of William. Along the rail_trangely-dressed men stood on stools, satchels and race-glasses slung ove_heir shoulders, great bouquets in their button-holes. Each stood between tw_oles on which was stretched a piece of white-coloured linen, on which wa_nscribed their name in large gold letters. Sarah read some of these name_ut: "Jack Hooper, Marylebone. All bets paid." "Tom Wood's famous boxin_ooms, Epsom." "James Webster, Commission Agent, London." And these bettin_en bawled the prices from the top of their high stools and shook thei_atchels, which were filled with money, to attract custom. "What can I do fo_ou 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 _lace, 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 man_hallenging cocks, each trying to outshrill the other.
  • Under the hill-side in a quiet hollow had been pitched a large and commodiou_ent. Journeyman mentioned that it was the West London Gospel-tent. He though_he parson would have it pretty well all to himself, and they stopped before _an filled with barrels of Watford ales. A barrel had been taken from the va_nd placed on a small table; glasses of beer were being served to a thirst_rowd; and all around were little canvas shelters, whence men shouted,
  • "'Commodation, 'commodation."
  • The sun had risen high, and what clouds remained floated away like filament_f white cotton. The Grand Stand, dotted like a ceiling with flies, stood ou_istinct and harsh upon a burning plain of blue. The light beat fiercely upo_he booths, the carriages, the vehicles, the "rings," the various stands. Th_ountry around was lost in the haze and dazzle of the sunlight; but a squar_ile 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. An_hrough this crush of perspiring, shrieking humanity Journeyman, Esther, an_arah sought vainly for William. The form of the ground was lost in th_ultitude and they could only tell by the strain in their limbs whether the_ere walking up or down hill. Sarah declared herself to be done up, and it wa_ith difficulty that she was persuaded to persevere a little longer. At las_ourneyman 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 o_our. 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. "Wha_rice the favourite?" "Two to one," cried William. The two half-crowns wer_ropped into the satchel, and, thus encouraged, William called out louder tha_ver, "The old firm, the old firm; don't forget the old firm." There was _mile on his lips while he halloaed—a cheery, good-natured smile, which mad_im popular and brought him many a customer.
  • "On the Der-by, on the Der-by, on the Der-by!" All kinds and conditions of me_ame to make bets with him; custom was brisk; he could not join the women, wh_ere busy with the lunch-basket, but he and Teddy would be thankful for th_iggest 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—yo_an manage a couple, Teddy?"
  • "I think I can, guv'nor."
  • There was a nice piece of beef in the basket, and Esther cut several larg_andwiches, buttering the bread thickly and adding plenty of mustard. When sh_rought 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 resentmen_or the suffering he had occasioned her dropped out of her heart. For th_irst time he was really her husband; for the first time she felt that sens_f unity in life which is marriage, and knew henceforth he was the one thin_hat 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 t_e rid of him. Sarah had many a tale to tell; and while listening to th_atrimonial engagements that had been broken off, Esther shifted her paraso_rom time to time to watch her tall, gaunt husband. He shouted the odds, willing to bet against every horse, distributed tickets to the various fol_hat crowded round him, each with his preference, his prejudice, his belief i_mens, in tips, or in the talent and luck of a favourite jockey. Sara_ontinued her cursive chatter regarding the places she had served in. She fel_nclined for a snooze, but was afraid it would not look well. While hesitatin_he ceased speaking, and both women fell asleep under the shade of thei_arasols. It was the shallow, glassy sleep of the open air, through which the_ivined easily the great blur that was the race-course.
  • 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 littl_enser, and when they awoke the sky was the same burning blue, and th_ultitude moved to and fro like puppets.
  • Sarah was in no better temper after than before her sleep. "It's all very wel_or you," she said. "You have your husband to look after…. I'll never come t_he Derby again without a young man… I'm tired of sitting here, the grass i_oasting. Come for a walk."
  • They were two nice-looking English women of the lower classes, prettil_ressed in light gowns with cheap sunshades in their cotton-gloved hands.
  • Sarah looked at every young man with regretful eyes. In such mood_cquaintanceships are made; and she did not allow Esther to shake off Bil_vans, who, just as if he had never been turned out of the bar of the "King'_ead," came up with his familiar, "Good morning, ma'am—lovely weather for th_aces." Sarah's sidelong glances at the blue Melton jacket and the billycoc_at defined her feelings with sufficient explicitness, and it was not probabl_hat any warning would have been heeded. Soon they were engaged in animate_onversation, and Esther was left to follow them if she liked.
  • She walked by Sarah's side, quite ignored, until she was accosted by Fre_arsons. They were passing by the mission tent, and Fred was calling upon th_olk to leave the ways of Satan for those of Christ. Bill Evans was about t_nswer some brutal insult; but seeing that "the Christian" knew Esther h_hecked himself in time. Esther stopped to speak to Fred, and Bill seized th_pportunity 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. _ope you'll never come again, unless you come with us," he said, pointing t_ome girls dressed as bookmakers, with Salvation and Perdition written on th_atchels hung round their shoulders. They sought to persuade the passers-by t_ome into the tent. "We shall be very glad to see you," they said, and the_istributed mock racing cards on which was inscribed news regarding certai_maginary racing. "The Paradise Plate, for all comers," "The Salvation Stakes, an Eternity of Happiness added."
  • Fred repeated his request. "I hope the next time you come here it will be wit_s; 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 _rey-bearded man with an anxious face spoke of sinners and redemption.
  • Suddenly a harmonium began to play a hymn, and, standing side by side, Esthe_nd Fred sang together. Prayer was so inherent in her that she felt no sens_f incongruity, and had she been questioned she would have answered that i_id not matter where we are, or what we are doing, we can always have God i_ur 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 fin_inners."
  • "I haven't forgotten God, but I must do my duty to my husband. It would b_ike setting myself up against my husband's business, and you don't think _ught to do that? A wife that brings discord into the family is not a goo_ife, 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 se_yself 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 o_usbands."
  • "I place little reliance on those who are not with Christ. His love for you i_ot of the Spirit. Let us not speak of him. I loved you very deeply, Esther. _ould have brought you to Christ…. But perhaps you'll come to see u_ometimes."
  • "I do not forget Christ. He's always with me, and I believe you did care fo_e. 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 w_aid a prayer together."
  • Fred didn't answer, and Esther moved away, wondering where she should fin_arah.