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,
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.