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Chapter 42

  • Esther kept William within doors during the winter months. If his health di_ot improve it got no worse, and she had begun to hope that the breakage o_he blood-vessel did not mean lung disease. But the harsh winds of spring di_ot suit him, and there was business with his lawyer to which he was oblige_o attend. A determined set was going to be made against the renewal of hi_icence, and he was determined to defeat his opponents. Counsel wa_nstructed, and a great deal of money was spent on the case. But the licenc_as nevertheless refused, and the north-east wind did not cease to rattle; i_eemed resolved on William's death, and with a sick husband on her hands, an_ll the money they had invested in the house irreparably lost, Esther began t_ake preparations for moving.
  • William had proved a kind husband, and in the seven years she had spent in the
  • "King's Head" there had been some enjoyment of life. She couldn't say that sh_ad been unhappy. She had always disapproved of the betting. They had tried t_o without it. There was a great deal in life which one couldn't approve of.
  • But Ketley had never been very right in his head, and Sarah's misfortune ha_ad very little to do with the "King's Head." They had all tried to keep he_rom that man; it was her own fault. There were worse places than the "King'_ead." It wasn't for her to abuse it. She had lived there seven years; she ha_een her boy growing up—he was almost a young man now, and had had the bes_ducation. That much good the "King's Head" had done. But perhaps it was n_onger suited to William's health. The betting, she was tired thinking abou_hat; and that constant nipping, it was impossible for him to keep from i_ith every one asking him to drink with them. A look of fear and distres_assed across her face, and she stopped for a moment….
  • She was rolling up a pair of curtains. She did not know how they were to live, that was the worst of it. If they only had back the money they had sunk in th_ouse she would not so much mind. That was what was so hard to bear; all tha_oney lost, just as if they had thrown it into the river. Seven years of har_ork—for she had worked hard—and nothing to show for it. If she had been doin_he grand lady all the time it would have been no worse. Horses had won an_orses had lost—a great deal of trouble and fuss and nothing to show for it.
  • That was what stuck in her throat. Nothing to show for it. She looked roun_he dismantled walls, and descended the vacant staircase. She would neve_erve another pint of beer in that bar. What a strong, big fellow he was whe_he first went to live with him! He was sadly changed. Would she ever see hi_trong and well again? She remembered he had told her that he was worth nearly £3000. She hadn't brought him luck. He wasn't worth anything like that to-day.
  • "How much have we in the bank, dear?"
  • "A bit over six hundred pounds. I was reckoning of it up yesterday. But wha_o you want to know for? To remind me that I've been losing. Well, I have bee_osing. I hope you're satisfied."
  • "I wasn't thinking of such a thing."
  • "Yes, you was, there's no use saying you wasn't. It ain't my fault if the
  • 'orses don't win; I do the best I can."
  • She did not answer him. Then he said, "It's my 'ealth that makes me irritable, dear; you aren't angry, are you?"
  • "No, dear, I know you don't mean it, and I don't pay no attention to it." Sh_poke so gently that he looked at her surprised, for he remembered her quic_emper, and he said, "You're the best wife a man ever had."
  • "No, I'm not, Bill, but I tries to do my best."
  • The spring was the harshest ever known, and his cough grew worse and th_lood-spitting returned. Esther grew seriously alarmed. Their doctor spoke o_rompton Hospital, and she insisted on his going there to be examined. Willia_ould not have her come with him; and she did not press the point, fearing t_rritate him, but sat at home waiting anxiously for him to return, hopin_gainst hope, for their doctor had told her that he feared very long trouble.
  • And she could tell from his face and manner that he had bad news for her. Al_er strength left her, but she conquered her weakness and said—
  • "Now tell me what they said. I've a right to know; I want to know."
  • "They said it was consumption."
  • "Oh, did they say that?"
  • "Yes, but they don't mean that I'm going to die. They said they hoped the_ould patch me up; people often live for years with only half a lung, and i_s only the left one that's gone."
  • He coughed slightly and wiped the blood from his lips. Esther was quit_vercome.
  • "Now, don't look like that," he said, "or I shall fancy I'm going to die to- morrow."
  • "They said they thought that they could patch you up?"
  • "Yes; they said I might go on a long while yet, but that I would never be th_an I was."
  • This was so obvious she could not check a look of pity.
  • "If you're going to look at me like that I'd sooner go into the hospital a_nce. It ain't the cheerfulest of places, but it will be better than here."
  • "I'm sorry it was consumption. But if they said they could patch you up, i_ill be all right. It was a great deal for them to say."
  • Her duty was to overcome her grief and speak as if the doctors had told hi_hat there was nothing the matter that a little careful nursing would fail t_ut right. William had faith in the warm weather, and she resolved to put he_rust in it. It was hard to see him wasting away before her eyes and kee_heerful looks in her face and an accent of cheerfulness in heir voice. Th_unshine which had come at last seemed to suck up all the life that was i_im; he grew paler, and withered like a plant. Then ill-luck seemed to hav_oined in the hunt; he could not "touch" a winner, and their fortune draine_way with his life. Favourites and outsiders, it mattered not; whatever h_acked lost; and Esther dreaded the cry "Win-ner, all the win-ner!" He sat o_he little balcony in the sunny evenings looking down the back street for th_oy to appear with the "special." Then she had to go and fetch the paper. O_he rare occasions when he won, the spectacle was even more painful. H_rightened up, his thin arm and hand moved nervously, and he began to mak_rojects and indulge in hopes which she knew were vain.
  • She insisted, however, on his taking regularly the medicine they gave him a_he hospital, and this was difficult to do. For his irritability increased i_easure as he perceived the medicine was doing him no good; he found faul_ith the doctors, railed against them unjustly, and all the while the little; cough continued, and the blood-spitting returned at the end of crue_ntervals, when he had begun to hope that at least that trouble was done with.
  • One morning he told his wife that he was going to ask the doctors to examin_im again. They had spoken of patching up; but he wanted to know whether h_as going to live or die. There was a certain relief in hearing him speak s_lainly; she had had enough of the torture of hope, and would like to know th_orst. He liked better to go to the hospital alone, but she felt that sh_ould not sit at home counting the minutes for him to return, and begged to b_llowed to go with him. To her surprise, he offered no opposition. She ha_xpected that her request would bring about quite a little scene, but he ha_aken it so much as a matter of course that she should accompany him that sh_as doubly glad that she had proposed to go with him; if she hadn't he migh_ave accused her of neglecting him. She put on her hat; the day was too ho_or a jacket; it was the beginning of August; the town was deserted, and th_treets looked as if they were about to evaporate or lie down exhausted, an_he poor, dry, dusty air that remained after the season was too poor even fo_sther's healthy lungs; it made William cough, and she hoped the doctors woul_rder him to the seaside.
  • From the top of their omnibus they could see right across the plateau of th_reen Park, dry and colourless like a desert; as they descended the hill the_oticed that autumn was already busy in the foliage; lower down the dells wer_ull of fallen leaves. At Hyde Park Corner the blown dust whirled about th_ill-top; all along St. George's Place glimpses of the empty Park appeare_hrough the railings. The wide pavements, the Brompton Road, and a semi- detached public-house at the cross-roads, announced suburban London to th_ondoner.
  • "You see," said William, "where them trees are, where the road turns off t_he left. That 'ouse is the 'Bell and Horns.' That's the sort of house _hould like to see you in."
  • "It's a pity we didn't buy it when we had the money."
  • "Buy it! That 'ouse is worth ten thousand pounds if it's worth a penny."
  • "I was once in a situation not far from here. I like the Fulham Road; it'_ike a long village street, ain't it?"
  • Her first service was with Mrs. Dunbar, in Sydney Street, and she remembere_he square church tower at the Chelsea end; a little further on there was th_estry Hall in the King's Road, and then Oakley Street on the left, leadin_own to Battersea. Mrs. Dunbar used to go to some gardens at the end of th_ing's Road. Cremorne Gardens, that was the name; there used to be fire-work_here, and she often spent the evening at the back window watching the rocket_o up. That was just before Lady Elwin had got her the situation as kitchen- maid at Woodview. She remembered the very shops—there was Palmer's th_utterman, and there was Hyde's the grocer's. Everything was just as she ha_eft it. How many years ago? Fifteen or sixteen. So enwrapped was she i_emories that William had to touch her. "Here we are," he said; "don't yo_emember the place?"
  • She remembered very well that great red brick building, a centrepiece with tw_ings, surrounded by high iron railings lined with gloomy shrubs. The lon_traight walks, the dismal trees arow, where pale-faced men walked or reste_eebly, had impressed themselves on her young mind—thin, patient men, pacin_heir sepulchre. She had wondered who they were, if they would get well; an_hen, quick with sensation of lingering death, she had hurried away on he_rrands. The low wooden yellow-painted gates were unchanged. She had neve_efore seen them open, and it was new to her to see the gardens filled wit_right sunshine and numerous visitors. There were flowers in the beds, and th_rees were beautiful in their leafage. A little yellow was creeping through, and from time to time a leaf fell exhausted from the branches.
  • William, who was already familiar with the custom of the place, nodded to th_orter and was let pass without question. He did not turn to the principa_ntrance in the middle of the building, but went towards a side entrance. Th_ouse physician was standing near it talking with a young man whom Esthe_ecognised as Mr. Alden. The thought that he, too, might be dying o_onsumption crossed her mind, but his appearance and his healthy, hearty laug_eassured her. A stout, common girl, healthy too, came out of the buildin_ith a child, a little thing of twelve or thirteen, with death in her face.
  • Mr. Alden stopped her, and in his cheerful, kind manner hoped the little on_as better. She answered that she was. The doctor bade him good-bye an_eckoned William and Esther to follow him. Esther would have liked to hav_poken to Mr. Alden. But he did not see her, and she followed her husband, wh_as talking with the doctor, through the doorway into a long passage. At th_nd of the passage there were a number of girls in print dresses. The gaiet_f the dresses led Esther to think that they must be visitors. But the littl_ough warned her that death was amongst them. As she went past she caugh_ight of a wasted form in a bath-chair. The thin hands were laid on the knees, on a little handkerchief, and there were spots on the whiteness deeper tha_he colour of the dress. They passed down another passage, meeting a sister o_heir way; pretty and discreet she was in her black dress and veil, and sh_aised her eyes, glancing affectionately at the young doctor. No doubt the_oved each other. The eternal love-story among so much death!
  • Esther wished to be present at the examination, but a sudden whim made Willia_ay that he would prefer to be alone with the doctor, and she returned to th_ardens. Mr. Alden had not yet gone. He stood with his back turned to her. Th_ittle girl she had seen him speaking to was sitting on a bench under th_rees; she held in her hands a skein of yellow worsted which her companion wa_inding into a ball. Two other young women were with them and all four wer_miling and whispering and looking towards Mr. Alden. They evidently sought t_ttract his attention, and wished him to come and speak to them. Just th_atural desire of women to please, and moved by the pathos of this poo_oquetting, he went to them, and Esther could see that they all wanted to tal_o him. She too would have liked to have spoken to him; he was an old friend.
  • And she walked up the grounds, intending to pass by him as she walked back.
  • His back was still turned to her, and they were all so interested that the_ave no heed to anything else. One of the young women had an exceedingl_retty face. A small oval, perfectly snow-white, and large blue eyes shade_ith long dark lashes; a little aquiline nose; and Esther heard her say, "_hould be well enough if it wasn't for the cough. It isn't no better since—"
  • The cough interrupted the end of the sentence, and affecting to misunderstan_er, Mr. Alden said—
  • "No better than it was a week ago."
  • "A week ago!" said the poor girl. "It is no better since Christmas."
  • There was surprise in her voice, and the pity of it took Mr. Alden in th_hroat, and it was with difficulty that he answered that "he hoped that th_resent fine weather would enable her to get well. Such weather as this," h_aid, "is as good as going abroad."
  • This assertion was disputed. One of the women had been to Australia for he_ealth, and the story of travel was interspersed by the little coughs, terrible in their apparent insignificance. But it was Mr. Alden that th_thers wished to hear speak; they knew all about their companion's trip t_ustralia, and in their impatience their eyes went towards Esther. So Mr.
  • Alden became aware of a new presence, and he turned.
  • "What! is it you, Esther?"
  • "Yes, sir."
  • "But there doesn't seem much the matter with you. You're all right."
  • "Yes, I'm all right, sir; it's my husband."
  • They walked a few yards up the path.
  • "Your husband! I'm very sorry."
  • "He's been an out-door patient for some time; he's being examined by th_octors now."
  • "Whom did you marry, Esther?"
  • "William Latch, a betting man, sir."
  • "You married a betting man, Esther? How curiously things do work out! _emember you were engaged to a pious young man, the stationer's foreman. Tha_as when you were with Miss Rice; you know, I suppose, that she's dead."
  • "No, sir, I didn't know it. I've had so much trouble lately that I've not bee_o see her for nearly two years. When did she die, sir?"
  • "About two months ago. So you married a betting man! Miss Rice did sa_omething about it, but I don't think I understood that he was a betting man; I thought he was a publican."
  • "So he was, sir. We lost our licence through the betting."
  • "You say he's being examined by the doctor. Is it a bad case?"
  • "I'm afraid it is, sir."
  • They walked on in silence until they reached the gate.
  • "To me this place is infinitely pathetic. That little cough never silent fo_ong. Did you hear that poor girl say with surprise that her cough is n_etter than it was last Christmas?"
  • "Yes, sir. Poor girl, I don't think she's long for this world."
  • "But tell me about your husband, Esther," he said, and his face filled with a_xpression of true sympathy. "I'm a subscriber, and if your husband would lik_o become an in-door patient, I hope you'll let me know."
  • "Thank you, sir; you was always the kindest, but there's no reason why _hould trouble you. Some friends of ours have already recommended him, and i_nly rests with himself to remain out or go in."
  • He pulled out his watch and said, "I am sorry to have met you in such sa_ircumstances, but I'm glad to have seen you. It must be seven years or mor_ince you left Miss Rice. You haven't changed much; you keep your good looks."
  • "Oh, sir."
  • He laughed at her embarrassment and walked across the road hailing a hansom, just as he used to in old times when he came to see Miss Rice. The memory o_hose days came back upon her. It was strange to meet him again after so man_ears. She felt she had seen him now for the last time. But it was foolish an_icked, too, to think of such things; her husband dying…. But she couldn'_elp it; he reminded her of so much of what was past and gone. A moment afte_he dashed these personal tears aside and walked open-hearted to meet William.
  • What had the doctor said? She must know the truth. If she was to lose him sh_ould lose everything. No, not everything; her boy would still remain to her, and she felt that, after all, her boy was what was most real to her in life.
  • These thoughts had passed through her mind before William had had time t_nswer her question.
  • "He said the left lung was gone, that I'd never be able to stand anothe_inter in England. He said I must go to Egypt."
  • "Egypt," she repeated. "Is that very far from here?"
  • "What matter how far it is! If I can't live in England I must go where I ca_ive."
  • "Don't be cross, dear. I know it's your health that makes you that irritable, but it's hard to bear at times."
  • "You won't care to go to Egypt with me."
  • "How can you think that, Bill? Have I ever refused you anything?"
  • "Quite right, old girl, I'm sorry. I know you'd do anything for me. I'v_lways said so, haven't I? It's this cough that makes me sharp tempered an_retful. I shall be different when I get to Egypt."
  • "When do we start?"
  • "If we get away by the end of October it will be all right. It will cost a lo_f money; the journey is expensive, and we shall have to stop there si_onths. I couldn't think of coming home before the end of April."
  • Esther did not answer. They walked some yards in silence. Then he said—
  • "I've been very unlucky lately; there isn't much over a hundred pounds in th_ank."
  • "How much shall we want?"
  • "Three or four hundred pounds at least. We won't take the boy with us, w_ouldn't afford that; but I should like to pay a couple of quarters i_dvance."
  • "That won't be much."
  • "Not if I have any luck. The luck must turn, and I have some splendi_nformation about the Great Ebor and the Yorkshire Stakes. Stack knows of _orse or two that's being kept for Sandown. Unfortunately there is not muc_oing in August. I must try to make up the money: it's a matter of life an_eath."
  • It was for his very life that her husband was now gambling on the race-course, and a sensation of very great wickedness came up in her mind, but she stifle_t instantly. William had noticed the look of fear that appeared in her eyes, and he said—
  • "It's my last chance. I can't get the money any other way; and I don't want t_ie yet awhile. I haven't been as good to you as I'd like, and I want to d_omething for the boy, you know."
  • He had been told not to remain out after sundown, but he was resolved to leav_o stone unturned in his search for information, and often he returned home a_ate as nine and ten o'clock at night coughing—Esther could hear him all u_he street. He came in ready to drop with fatigue, his pockets filled wit_porting papers, and these he studied, spreading them on the table under th_amp, while Esther sat striving to do some needlework. It often dropped out o_er hands, and her eyes filled with tears. But she took care that he shoul_ot see these tears; she did not wish to distress him unnecessarily. Poo_hap! he had enough to put up with as it was. Sometimes he read out th_orses' names and asked her which she thought would win, which seemed to her _ikely name. But she begged of him not to ask her; they had many quarrels o_his subject, but in the end he understood that it was not fair to ask her.
  • Sometimes Stack and Journeyman came in, and they argued about weights an_istances, until midnight; old John came to see them, and every day he ha_eard some new tip. It often rose to Esther's lips to tell William to back hi_ancy and have done with it; she could see that these discussions onl_atigued him, that he was no nearer to the truth now than he was a fortnigh_go. Meanwhile the horse he had thought of backing had gone up in the betting.
  • But he said that he must be very careful. They had only a hundred pounds left; he must be careful not to risk this money foolishly—it was his very life- blood. If he were to lose all this money, he wouldn't only sign his own deat_arrant, but also hers. He might linger on a long while—there was no knowing, but he would never be able to do any work, that was certain (unless he wen_ut to Egypt); the doctor had said so, and then it would be she who would hav_o support him. And if God were merciful enough to take him off at once h_ould leave her in a worse plight than he had found her in, and the bo_rowing up! Oh, it was terrible! He buried his face in his hands, and seeme_uite overcome. Then the cough would take him, and for a few minutes he coul_nly think of himself. Esther gave him a little milk to drink, and he said—
  • "There's a hundred pounds left, Esther. It isn't much, but it's something. _on't believe that there's much use in my going to Egypt. I shall never ge_ell. It is better that I should pitch myself into the river. That would b_he least selfish way out of it."
  • "William, I will not have you talk in that way," Esther said, laying down he_ork and going over to him. "If you was to do such a thing I should neve_orgive you. I could never think the same of you."
  • "All right, old girl, don't be frightened. I've been thinking too much abou_hem horses, and am a bit depressed. I daresay it will come out all right. _hink that Mahomet is sure to win the Great Ebor, don't you?"
  • "I don't think there's no better judge than yourself. They all say if he don'_all lame that he's bound to win."
  • "Then Mahomet shall carry my money. I'll back him to-morrow."
  • Now that he had made up his mind what horse to back his spirits revived. H_as able to dismiss the subject from his mind, and they talked of othe_hings, of their son, and they laid projects for his welfare. But on the da_f the race, from early morning, William could barely contain himself. Usuall_e took his winnings and losings very quietly. When he had been especiall_nlucky he swore a bit, but Esther had never seen any great excitement befor_ race was run. The issues of this race were extraordinary, and it was heart- breaking to see him suffer; he could not remain still a moment. A prey to al_he terrors of hope, exhausted with anticipation, he rested himself agains_he sideboard and wiped drops of sweat from his forehead. A broiling sunligh_nfested their window-panes, the room grew oven-like, and he was obliged a_ast to go into the back parlour and lie down. He lay there in his shir_leeves quite exhausted, hardly able to breathe; the arm once so strong an_ealthy was shrunken to a little nothing. He seemed quite bloodless, an_ooking at him Esther could hardly hope that any climate would restore him t_ealth. He just asked her what the time was, and said, "The race is being ru_ow." A few minutes after he said, "I think Mahomet has won. I fancied I sa_im get first past the post." He spoke as if he were sure, and said nothin_bout the evening paper. If he were disappointed, Esther felt that it woul_ill him, and she knelt down by the bedside and prayed that God would allo_he horse to win. It meant her husband's life, that was all she knew. Oh, tha_he horse might win! Presently he said, "There's no use praying, I feel sur_t is all right. Go into the next room, stand on the balcony so that you ma_ee the boy coming along."
  • A pale yellow sky rose behind the brick neighbourhood, and with agonised sou_he woman viewed its plausive serenity. There seemed to be hope in it_uietness. At that moment the cry came up, "Win-ner, Win-ner." It came fro_he north, from the east, and now from the west. Three boys were shoutin_orth the news simultaneously. Ah, if it should prove bad news! But someho_he too felt that the news was good. She ran to meet the boy. She had a half- penny ready in her hand; he fumbled, striving to detach a single paper fro_he quire under his arm. Seeing her impatience, he said, "Mahomet's won." The_he pavement seemed to slide beneath her feet, and the setting sun she coul_ardly see, so full was her heart, so burdened with the happiness that she wa_ringing to the poor sick fellow who lay in his shirt sleeves on the bed i_he back room. "It's all right," she said. "I thought so too; it seemed lik_t." His face flushed, life seemed to come back. He sat up and took the pape_rom her. "There," he said, "I've got my place-money, too. I hope Stack an_ourneyman come in tonight. I'd like to have a chat about this. Come, give m_ kiss, dear. I'm not going to die, after all. It isn't a pleasant thing t_hink that you must die, that there's no hope for you, that you must go unde_round."
  • The next thing to do was to pick the winner of the Yorkshire Handicap. In thi_e was not successful, but he backed several winners at Sandown Park, and a_he close of the week had made nearly enough to take him to Egypt.
  • The Doncaster week, however, proved disastrous. He lost most of his winnings, and had to look forward to retrieving his fortunes at Newmarket. "The worst o_t is, if I don't make up the money by October, it will be no use. They sa_he November fogs will polish me off."
  • Between Doncaster and Newmarket he lost a bet, and this bet carried him bac_nto despondency. He felt it was no use struggling against fate. Better remai_n London and be taken away at the end of November or December; he couldn'_ast much longer than that. This would allow him to leave Esther at leas_ifty pounds to go on with. The boy would soon be able to earn money. It woul_e better so. No use wasting all this money for the sake of his health, whic_asn't worth two-pence-three-farthings. It was like throwing sovereigns afte_arthings. He didn't want to do any betting; he was as hollow as a shel_nside, he could feel it. Egypt could do nothing for him, and as he had to go, better sooner than later. Esther argued with him. What should she have to liv_or if he was taken from her. The doctors had said that Egypt might set hi_ight. She didn't know much about such things, but she had always heard tha_t was extraordinary how people got cured out there.
  • "That's true," he said. "I've heard that people who couldn't live a week i_ngland, who haven't the length of your finger of lung left, can go on al_ight out there. I might get something to do out there, and the boy might com_ut after us."
  • "That's the way I like to hear you talk. Who knows, at Newmarket we might hav_uck! Just one big bet, a winner at fifty to one, that's all we want."
  • "That's just what has been passing in my mind. I've got particular informatio_bout the Cesarewitch and Cambridgeshire. I could get the price you spea_f—fifty to one against the two, Matchbox and Chasuble—the double event, yo_now. I'm inclined to go it. It's my last chance."