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Chapter 33

  • The crowd shouted. She looked where the others looked, but saw only th_urning blue with the white stand marked upon it. It was crowded like the dec_f a sinking vessel, and Esther wondered at the excitement, the cause of whic_as hidden from her. She wandered to the edge of the crowd until she came to _halk road where horses and mules were tethered. A little higher up sh_ntered the crowd again, and came suddenly upon a switchback railway. Full o_aughing and screaming girls, it bumped over a middle hill, and then ros_lowly till it reached the last summit. It was shot back again into the mids_f its fictitious perils, and this mock voyaging was accomplished to the soun_f 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 wel_hat they rocked to and fro, imitating as nearly as possible the action o_eal horses. Esther watched the riders. A blue skirt looked like a ridin_abit, and a girl in salmon pink leaned back in her saddle just as if she ha_een taught how to ride. A girl in a grey jacket encouraged a girl in whit_ho rode a grey horse. But before Esther could make out for certain that th_an in the blue Melton jacket was Bill Evans he had passed out of sight, an_he had to wait until his horse came round the second time. At that moment sh_aught sight of the red poppies in Sarah's hat.
  • The horses began to slacken speed. They went slower and slower, then stoppe_ltogether. The riders began to dismount and Esther pressed through th_ystanders, fearing she would not be able to overtake her friends.
  • "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 thre_orses."
  • Round and round they went, their steeds bobbing nobly up and down to the soun_f fifes, drums and cymbals. They passed the winning-post many times; they ha_o pass it five times, and the horse that stopped nearest it won the prize. _ong-drawn-out murmur, continuous as the sea, swelled up from the course—_urmur which at last passed into words: "Here they come; blue wins, th_avourite's beat." Esther paid little attention to these cries; she did no_nderstand them; they reached her indistinctly and soon died away, absorbed i_he strident music that accompanied the circling horses. These had now begu_o slacken speed…. They went slower and slower. Sarah and Bill, who rode sid_y side, seemed like winning, but at the last moment they glided by th_inning-post. Esther's steed stopped in time, and she was told to choose _hina mug from a great heap.
  • "You've all the luck to-day," said Bill. "Hayfield, who was backed all th_inter, broke down a month ago…. 2 to 1 against Fly-leaf, 4 to 1 agains_ignet-ring, 4 to 1 against Dewberry, 10 to 1 against Vanguard, the winner a_0 to 1 offered. Your husband must have won a little fortune. Never was ther_uch 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 the_isited the peep-shows, and especially liked St. James's Park with the Hors_uards out on parade; the Spanish bull-fight did not stir them, and Sara_ouldn't find a single young man to her taste in the House of Commons. Amon_he performing birds they liked best a canary that climbed a ladder. Bill wa_ttracted by the American strength-testers, and he gave an exhibition of hi_uscle, 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. Onc_ore the air was rent with the cries of "Here they come! Here they come!" Eve_he 'commodation men left their canvas shelters and pressed forward inquirin_hich had won. A moment after a score of pigeons floated and flew through th_lue air and then departed in different directions, some making straight fo_ondon, others for the blue mysterious evening that had risen about th_owns—the sun-baked Downs strewn with waste paper and covered by tipsy men an_omen, 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 gentleman?"
  • "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 o_he 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 bein_aughed at.
  • "Come up here, Esther," said William; "stand on my box. The 'orses are jus_oing up the course for the preliminary canter. And you, Sarah, take Teddy'_lace. 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 suc_eautiful goers," said another.
  • There were two or three false starts, and then, looking through a multitude o_ats, Esther saw five or six thin greyhound-looking horses. They passed lik_hadows, flitted by; and she was sorry for the poor chestnut that trotted i_mong the crowd.
  • This was the last race. Once more the favourite had been beaten; there were n_ets to pay, and the bookmakers began to prepare for departure. It was th_oor little clerks who were charged with the luggage. Teddy did not seem as i_e 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 o_arriages. Everywhere horses waited with their harness on, and Sarah wa_fraid 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 th_nstinct of departure which takes a vast herd at a certain moment. The grea_andscape, half country, half suburb, glinted beneath the rays of a settin_un; and through the white dust, and the drought of the warm roads, the brake_nd carriages and every crazy vehicle rolled towards London; orange-sellers,
  • tract-sellers, thieves, vagrants, gipsies, made for their variou_uarters—roadside inns, outhouses, hayricks, hedges, or the railway station.
  • Down the long hill the vast crowd made its way, humble pedestrians an_arriage 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 chang_heir clothes, and there division would happen in the crowd—half for th_ailway station, half for the London road. It was there that the traditiona_ports of the road began. A drag, with a band of exquisites armed with pea-
  • shooters, peppering on costers who were getting angry, and threatening t_rive over the leaders. A brake with two poles erected, and hanging on _tring quite a line of miniature chamber-pots. A horse, with his fore-leg_lothed in a pair of lady's drawers. Naturally unconscious of the garment, th_orse stepped along so absurdly that Esther and Sarah thought they'd chok_ith laughter.
  • At the station William halloaed to old John, whom he caught sight of on th_latform. He had backed the winner—forty to one about Sultan. It was Ketle_ho had persuaded him to risk half a sovereign on the horse. Ketley was at th_erby; he had met him on the course, and Ketley had told him a wonderful stor_bout a packet of Turkish Delight. The omen had come right this time, an_ourneyman took a back seat.
  • "Say what you like," said William, "it is damned strange; and if anyone di_ind the way of reading them omens there would be an end of us bookmakers." H_as only half in earnest, but he regretted he had not met Ketley. If he ha_nly had a fiver on the horse—200 to 5!
  • They met Ketley at Waterloo, and every one wanted to hear from his own lip_he story of the packet of Turkish Delight. So William proposed they shoul_ll come up to the "King's Head" for a drink. The omnibus took them as far a_iccadilly Circus; and there the weight of his satchel tempted William t_nvite 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 a_pen evening bodice and the black and white elegance of the young men a_inner, took the servants by surprise, and made them feel that they were ou_f place in such surroundings. Old John looked like picking up a napkin an_sking at the nearest table if anything was wanted. Ketley proposed the gril_oom, but William, who had had a glass more than was good for him, declare_hat he didn't care a damn—that he could buy up the whole blooming show. Th_ead-waiter suggested a private room; it was abruptly declined, and Willia_ook up the menu. "Bisque Soup, what's that? You ought to know, John." Joh_hook his head. "Ris de veau! That reminds me of when——" William stopped an_ooked 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. Allusio_as made to the dust and heat. Journeyman suggested a sluice, and the_nquired their way to the lavatories. Esther and Sarah were away longer tha_he men, and stood dismayed at the top of the room till William called fo_hem. The other guests seemed a little terrified, and the head-waiter, t_eassure them, mentioned that it was Derby Day.
  • William had ordered champagne, but it had not proved to any one's tast_xcept, perhaps, to Sarah, whom it rendered unduly hilarious; nor did th_elicate food afford much satisfaction; the servants played with it, and lef_t on their plates; and it was not until William ordered up the saddle o_utton and carved it himself that the dinner began to take hold of th_ompany. Esther and Sarah enjoyed the ices, and the men stuck to the cheese, _ine Stilton, which was much appreciated. Coffee no one cared for, and th_ittle glasses of brandy only served to augment the general tipsiness. Willia_iccupped out an order for a bottle of Jamieson eight-year-old; but pipes wer_ot 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 o_urkish 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 o_aper on the pavement. But Ketley could not concentrate his thoughts on th_ain lines of the story, and it was lost in various dissertations. But th_ompany was none the less pleased with it, and willingly declared tha_ookmaking was only a game for mugs. Get on a winner at forty to one, and yo_ould 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 quit_elpless; Journeyman, who seemed to know what he was doing, very kindl_romised to look after him.
  • Ketley assured the commissionaire that he was not drunk; and when they go_utside Sarah felt obliged to step aside; she came back, saying that she fel_ little better.
  • They stood on the pavement's edge, a little puzzled by the brilliancy of th_oonlight. And the three men who followed out of the bar-room were agree_egarding the worthlessness of life. One said, "I don't think much of it; al_ live for is beer and women." The phrase caught on William's ear, and h_aid, "Quite right, old mate," and he held out his hand to Bill Evans. "Bee_nd women, it always comes round to that in the end, but we mustn't let the_ear us say it." The men shook hands, and Bill promised to see Sarah safel_ome. Esther tried to interpose, but William could not be made to understand,
  • and Sarah and Bill drove away together in a hansom. Sarah dozed of_mmediately on his shoulder, and it was difficult to awaken her when the ca_topped before a house whose respectability took Bill by surprise.