Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
From ‘Esther Waters’
By George Moore (1852–1933)
A SLOPING roof formed one end of the room, and through a broad, single pane the early sunlight fell across a wall papered with blue and white flowers. Print dresses hung over the door. On the wall were two pictures—a girl with a basket of flowers, the colored supplement of an illustrated newspaper, and an old and dilapidated last-century print. On the chimney-piece there were photographs of the Gale family in Sunday clothes, and the green vases that Sarah had given Margaret on her birthday.  1
  In a low, narrow iron bed, pushed close against the wall in the full glare of the sunlight, Esther lay staring half awake, her eyes open but still dim with dreams. She looked at the clock. It was not yet time to get up, and she raised her arms as if to cross them behind her head, but a sudden remembrance of yesterday arrested the movement, and a sudden shadow settled on her face. She had refused to prepare the vegetables. She hadn’t answered, and the cook had turned her out of the kitchen. She had rushed from the house under the momentary sway of hope that she might succeed in walking back to London. But William had overtaken her in the avenue, he had expostulated with her, he had refused to allow her to pass. She had striven to tear herself from him, and, failing, had burst into tears. William had been very kind, and at last she had allowed him to lead her back, and all the time he had filled her ears with assurances that he would make it right with his mother. But Mrs. Latch had closed her kitchen against her, and she had had to go to her room. Even if they paid her fare back to London, how was she to face her mother? What would father say? He would drive her from the house. But she had done nothing wrong…. Why did cook insult her?  2
  As she pulled on her stockings she stopped and wondered if she should awake Margaret Gale. Margaret’s bed stood in the blonde shadow of the obliquely falling wall. She lay in a heavy attitude, one arm thrown forward, her short, square face raised to the light. Margaret slept so deeply that for a moment Esther felt afraid. Suddenly the eyes opened, and Margaret looked at her vaguely, as if out of eternity. Raising her hands to her eyes, she said:  3
  “What time is it?”  4
  “It has just gone six.”  5
  “Then there’s plenty of time, we needn’t be down before seven. You get on with your dressing, there’s no use my getting up till you are done—we’d be tumbling over each other. This is no room to put two girls to sleep in—one glass not much bigger than your hand. You’ll have to get your box under your bed…. In my last place I had a beautiful room with a Brussels carpet and a marble wash-handstand. I wouldn’t stay here three days if it weren’t—” The girl laughed and turned lazily over.  6
  Esther did not answer.  7
  “Now, isn’t it a grubby little room to put two girls to sleep in? What was your last place like?”  8
  Esther answered that she had hardly been in service before. Margaret was too much engrossed in her own thoughts to notice the curtness of the answer.  9
  “There’s only one thing to be said for Woodview, and that is the eating; we have everything we want, and we’d have more than we want if it weren’t for the old cook, she must have her little bit out of everything, and she cuts us short in our bacon in the morning. But that reminds me! You have set the cook against you; you’ll have to bring her over to your side if you want to remain here.”  10
  “Why should I be asked to wash up the moment I came in the house, before even I had time to change my dress?”  11
  “It was rather hard on you. She always gets as much as she can out of her kitchen-maid. But last night she was pressed, there was company to dinner. I’d have lent you an apron, and the dress you had on wasn’t of much account.”  12
  “It isn’t because a girl is poor——”  13
  “Oh, I didn’t mean that; I know well enough what it is to be hard up.” Margaret clasped her stays across her plump figure and walked to the door for her dress. She was a pretty girl, with a snub nose and large, clear eyes. Her hair was lighter in tone than Esther’s, and she had brushed it from her forehead so as to obviate the defect of her face, which was too short.  14
  Esther was on her knees, saying her prayers, when Margaret turned to the light to button her boots.  15
  “Well I never!” she exclaimed. “Do you think prayers do any good?”  16
  Esther looked up angrily.  17
  “I don’t want to say anything against saying prayers, but I wouldn’t before the others if I was you—they’ll chaff dreadful, and call you Creeping Jesus.”  18
  “Oh, Margaret, I hope they won’t do anything so wicked. But I’m afraid I shall not be long here, so it doesn’t matter what they think of me.”  19
  When they got down-stairs they opened the windows and doors, and Margaret took Esther round, showing her where the things were kept, and telling her for how many she must lay the table. The rashers were frying when a number of boys and men came clattering up the passage. They cried to Esther to hurry up, declaring that they were late. Esther did not know who they were, but she served them as best she might. They breakfasted hastily and rushed away to the stables. They had not been long gone when the squire and his son Arthur appeared in the yard. The Gaffer, as he was called, was a man of about medium height. He wore breeches and gaiters, and in them his legs seemed grotesquely thick. His son was a narrow-chested, under-sized young man, absurdly thin and hatchet-faced. He was also in breeches and gaiters, and to his boots were attached long-necked spurs. His pale yellow hair gave him a somewhat ludicrous appearance. But he seemed quite different the moment he was in the saddle. He rode a beautiful chestnut horse, a little too thin, so Esther thought. The ugly little boys were mounted on horses equally thin. The squire rode a strout gray cob, and he watched the chestnut, and was also interested in the brown horse that walked with its head in the air, pulling at the smallest of all the boys, a little, freckled, red-headed fellow.  20
  “That’s Silver Braid, the brown horse, the one that the Demon is riding; the chestnut is Bayleaf, Ginger is riding him; he won the City and Suburban. Oh, we did have a fine time then, for we all had a bit on. The betting was twenty to one, and I won twelve and sixpence. Grover won thirty shillings. They say that John—that’s the butler—won a little fortune, but he is so close no one knows what he does…. Cook wouldn’t have anything on; she says that betting is the curse of servants—you know what is said, that it was through betting that Mrs. Latch’s husband got into trouble. He was steward here, you know, in the late squire’s time.”  21
  Then Margaret told all she had heard on the subject. The late Mr. Latch had been a confidential steward, and large sums of money were constantly passing through his hands for which he was never asked for any exact account. Contrary to all expectation, Marksman was beaten for the Chester Cup, and the squire’s property was placed under the charge of a receiver. Under the new management things were gone into more closely, and it was then discovered that Mr. Latch’s accounts were incapable of satisfactory explanation. The defeat of Marksman had hit Mr. Latch as hard as it had hit the squire, and to pay his debts of honor he had to take from the money placed in his charge, confidently hoping to return it in a few months. The squire’s misfortunes anticipated the realization of his intentions, proceedings were threatened, but were withdrawn on Mrs. Latch coming forward with all her savings and volunteering to forego her wages for a term of years. Old Latch died soon after; some lucky bets set the squire on his legs again, the matter was half forgotten, and in the next generation it became the legend of the Latch family. So it was to others, but to Mrs. Latch it became an incurable grief, and to remove her son from influences, which, in her opinion, had caused his father’s death, Mrs. Latch had always refused Mr. Barfield’s offers to do something for William. Against her will he had been taught to ride, in the hope of his becoming a jockey, but to her great joy he soon grew out of all such possibility. She had then placed him in an office in Brighton. But the young man’s height and shape marked him out for livery, and Mrs. Latch was pained when Mr. Barfield proposed it. “Why cannot they leave me my son?” she cried, for it seemed to her that in that hateful cloth, buttons, and cockade, he would be no more her son, nor could she entirely forget what the Latches had been long ago.  22
  “I believe there’s going to be a trial this morning,” said Margaret; “Silver Braid was stripped—you noticed that—and Ginger always rides in the trials.”  23
  “I don’t know what a trial is,” said Esther. “They are not carriage-horses, are they? They look too slight.”  24
  “Carriage-horses, you ninny! Where have you been to all this while—can’t you see that they are race-horses?”  25
  Esther hung down her head and murmured something which Margaret didn’t catch.  26
  “To tell the truth, I didn’t know much about them when I came, but then one never hears anything else here. And that reminds me—it is as much as your place is worth to breathe one syllable about them horses; you must know nothing when you are asked. That’s what Jim Story got sacked for—saying in the Red Lion that Valentine pulled up lame. We don’t know how it came to the Gaffer’s ears. I believe that it was Mr. Leopold that told, he finds out everything. But I was telling you how I learned about the race-horses. It was from Jim Story—Jim was my pal—Sarah is after William, you know, the fellow who brought you into the kitchen last night. Jim could never talk about anything but the ’osses. We’d go every night and sit in the woodshed—that’s to say if it was wet, if it was fine, we’d walk in the drive-way. I’d have married Jim, I know I should, if he hadn’t been sent away. That’s the worst of being a servant. They sent Jim away just as if he was a dog. It was wrong of him to say the horse pulled up lame, I admit that, but they needn’t have sent him away as they did.”  27
  Esther did not listen to Margaret’s discursive chatter. She was absorbed in the consideration of her own perilous position. Would they send her away at the end of the week, or that very afternoon? Would they give her a week’s wages, or would they turn her out destitute to find her way back to London as best she might? What should she do if they turned her out-of-doors that very afternoon? Walk back to London? She did not know if that was possible. She did not know how far she had come—a long distance, no doubt. She had seen woods, hills, rivers, and towns flying past. Never would she be able to find her way back through that endless country; besides, she could not carry her box on her back…. What was she to do? Not a friend, not a penny in the world. Oh, why did such misfortune fall on a poor little girl who had never harmed anyone in the world! And if they did give her her fare back—what then? Should she go home?… To whom?… To her mother—to her poor mother, who would burst into tears, who would say, “Oh, my poor darling, I don’t know what we shall do, your father will never consent to your remaining here.”  28
  Mrs. Latch had not spoken to her since she had come into the kitchen. It seemed to Esther that she had looked round with the air of one anxious to discover something that might serve as a pretext for blame. She had told Esther to make haste and lay the table afresh. Those who had gone were the stable folk, and breakfast had now to be prepared for the other servants. The person in the dark-green dress who spoke with her chin in the air, whose nose had been pinched to purple just above the nostrils, was Miss Grover, the lady’s-maid. Grover addressed an occasional remark to Sarah Tucker, a tall girl with a thin, freckled face, and dark-red hair. The butler, who was not feeling well, did not appear at breakfast, and Esther was sent to him with a cup of tea.  29
  There were the plates to wash and the knives to clean, and when they were done there was cabbage, potatoes, onions to prepare, saucepans to fill with water, coal to fetch for the fire. She worked steadily without flagging, absorbed in her work, and in anticipation of Mrs. Barfield who would come down, no doubt, about ten o’clock to order dinner. It was now past nine. The race-horses were coming through the paddock gate; Margaret called to Mr. Randal, a little man, wizen, with a face sallow with frequent indigestions.  30
  “Well, do you think the Gaffer’s satisfied?” said Margaret.  31
  John made no articulate reply, but he muttered something, and his manner showed that he strongly deprecated all female interest in racing, and when Sarah and Grover came running down the passage and overwhelmed him with questions, crowding round him, asking both together if Silver Braid had won his trial, he testily pushed them aside, declaring that if he had a race-horse he would not have a woman-servant in the place…. “A positive curse, this chatter, chatter…. Won his trial, indeed! What business had a lot of female folk….” The rest of John’s sarcasm was lost in his shirt collar as he hurried away to his pantry, closing the door after him.  32
  “What a testy little man he is!” said Sarah; “he might have told us which won. He has known the Gaffer so long that he knows the moment he looks at him whether the gees are all right.”  33
  “One can’t speak to a chap in the lane that he doesn’t know all about it next day,” said Margaret. “Peggy hates him; you know the way she skulks about the back garden and up the ’ill so that she may meet young Johnson as he is ridin’ home.”  34
  “I’ll have none of this scandal-mongering going on in my kitchen,” said Mrs. Latch. “Do you see that girl there? She can’t get past to her scullery.”  35
  Esther would have managed pretty well if it had not been for the dining-room lunch. Miss Mary was expecting some friends to play tennis with her, and, besides the roast chicken, there were côtelettes à la Saubise and a curry. There was for desert a jelly and a blanc-mange, and Esther did not know where any of the things were, and a great deal of time was wasted. “Don’t you move; I might as well get it myself,” said the old woman. Mr. Randal, too, lost his temper, for she had no hot plates ready, nor could she distinguish between those that were to go to the dining-room and those that were to go to the servants’ hall. She understood, however, that it would not be wise to give way to her feeling, and that the only way she could hope to retain her situation was by doing nothing to attract attention. She must learn to control that temper of hers—she must and would. And it was in this frame of mind and this determination that she entered the servants’ hall.  36
  There were not more than ten or eleven at dinner, but sitting close together they seemed more numerous, and quite half the number of faces that looked up, as she took her place next to Margaret Gale, were unknown to her. There were the four ugly little boys whom she had seen on the race-horses, but she did not recognize them at first, and nearly opposite, sitting next to the lady’s-maid, was a small, sandy-haired man about forty; he was beginning to show signs of stoutness, and two little round whiskers grew on his pallid cheeks. Mr. Randal sat at the end of the table, helping the pudding. He addressed the sandy-haired man as Mr. Swindles, but Esther learned afterward his real name was Ward, and that he was Mr. Barfield’s head-groom. She likewise discovered that “the Demon” was not the real name of the carroty-haired little boy, and she looked at him in amazement when he whispered in her ear that he would dearly love a real go-in at that pudding, but it was so fattening that he didn’t even dare to venture on more than a couple of sniffs. Seeing that the girl did not follow him, he added, by way of explanation, “You know that I must keep under the six stone, and at times it becomes awful ’ard.”  37
  Esther thought him a nice little fellow, and tried to persuade him to forego his resolution not to touch pudding, until Mr. Swindles told her to desist. The attention of the whole table being thus drawn toward the boy, Esther was still further surprised at the admiration he seemed so easily to command and the important position he seemed to occupy, notwithstanding his diminutive stature, whereas the bigger boys were treated with very little consideration. The long-nosed lad, with weak eyes and sloping shoulders, who sat on the other side of the table on Mr. Swindles’ left, was everybody’s laughing-stock, especially Mr. Swindles’, who did not cease to poke fun at him. Mr. Swindles was now telling poor Jim’s misadventures with the Gaffer.  38
  “But why do you call him Mr. Leopold when his name is Mr. Randal?” Esther ventured to inquire of the Demon.  39
  “On account of Leopold Rothschild,” said the Demon; “he’s pretty near as rich, if the truth was known;… won a pile over the City and Sub. Pity you weren’t there; might have had a bit on.”  40
  “I have never seen the city,” Esther replied, innocently.  41
  “Never seen the City and Sub!… I was up, had a lot in hand, so I came away from my ’orses the moment I got into the dip. The Tinman nearly caught me on the post—came with a terrific rush; he is just hawful, that Tinman is. I did catch it from the Gaffer,… he did give it me.”  42
  The plates of all the boys except the Demon’s were now filled with beefsteak-pudding, potatoes, and greens, likewise Esther’s. Mr. Leopold, Mr. Swindles, the house-maid, and the cook dined off the leg of mutton, a small slice of which was sent to the Demon. “That for a dinner!” and as he took up his knife and fork and cut a small piece of his one slice, he said, “I suppose you never had to reduce yourself three pounds; girls never have. I do run to flesh so, you wouldn’t believe it. If I don’t walk to Portslade and back every second day, I go up three or four pounds. Then there is nothing for it but the physic, and that’s what settles me. Can you take physic?”  43
  “I took three Beecham’s pills once.”  44
  “Oh, that’s nothing. Can you take castor-oil?”  45
  Esther looked in amazement at the little boy at her side. Swindles had overheard the question and burst into a roar of laughter. Everyone wanted to know what the joke was, and, feeling they were poking fun at her, Esther refused to answer.  46
  The first helpings of pudding or mutton had taken the edge off their appetites, and before sending their plates for more they leaned over the table, listening and laughing open-mouthed. It was a bare room, lighted with one window, against which Mrs. Latch’s austere figure appeared in the dark-gray silhouette. The window looked on one of the little back courts and tiled ways which had been built at the back of the house; and the shadowed northern light softened the listening faces with gray tints.  47
  “You know,” said Mr. Swindles, glancing at Jim as if to assure himself that the boy was there and unable to escape from the hooks of his sarcasm, “how fast the Gaffer talks, and how he hates to be asked to repeat his words? Knowing this, Jim always says, ‘Yes, sir; yes, sir.’ ‘Now do you quite understand?’ says the Gaffer. ‘Yes, sir; yes, sir,’ replies Jim, not having understood one word of what was said; but relying on us to put him right. ‘Now what did he say I was to do?’ says Jim, the moment the Gaffer is out of hearing. But this morning we were on ahead and the Gaffer had Jim all to himself. As usual he says, ‘Now do you quite understand?’ and as usual Jim says, ‘Yes sir; yes sir.’ Suspecting that Jim had not understood, I said when he joined us, ‘Now if you are not sure what he said you had better go back and ask him,’ but Jim declared that he had perfectly understood. ‘And what did he tell you to do?’ said I. ‘He told me,’ says Jim, ‘to bring the colt along and finish up close by where he would be standing at the end of the track.’ I thought it rather odd to send Firefly such a stiff gallop as all that, but Jim was certain that he had heard right. And off they went, beginning the other side of Southwick Hill. I saw the Gaffer with his arms in the air, and don’t know now what he said. Jim will tell you. He did give it you, didn’t he, you old Wool-gatherer?” said Mr. Swindles, slapping the boy on the shoulder.  48
  “You may laugh as much as you please, but I’m sure he did tell me to come along three-quarter speed after passing the barn,” replied Jim; and to change the conversation he asked Mr. Leopold for some more pudding, and the Demon’s hungry eyes watched the last portion being placed on the Wool-gatherer’s plate. Noticing that Esther drank no beer, he exclaimed:  49
  “Well, I never! to see yer eat and drink one would think that it was you who was a-wasting to ride the crack at Goodwood.”  50
  The remark was received with laughter, and, excited by his success, the Demon threw his arms round Esther, and seizing her hands, said, “Now yer a jest beginning to get through yer ’osses, and when you get on a level—” But the Demon, in his hungry merriment, had bestowed no thought of finding a temper in such a staid little girl, and a sound box on the ear threw him backward into his seat, surprised and howling. “Yer nasty thing!” he blubbered out. “Couldn’t you see it was only a joke?” But passion was hot in Esther. She had understood no word that had been said since she had sat down to dinner, and, conscious of her poverty and her ignorance, imagined easily that a great deal of the Demon’s conversation had been directed against her; and, choking with indignation, she only heard indistinctly the reproaches with which the other little boys covered her, “nasty, dirty, ill-tempered thing, scullery-maid,” etc.; nor did she understand their whispered plans to duck her when she passed the stables. All looked a little askance, especially Grover and Mr. Leopold. Margaret said:  51
  “That will teach these impertinent little jockey-boys that the servants’ hall is not the harness-room; they oughtn’t to be admitted here at all.”  52
  Mr. Leopold nodded, and told the Demon to leave off blubbering. “You can’t be so much hurt as all that. Come, wipe your eyes and have a piece of currant tart, or leave the room. I want to hear from Mr. Swindles an account of the trial. We know that Silver Braid won, but we haven’t heard how he won nor yet what the weights were.”  53
  “Well,” said Mr. Swindles, “what I makes out is this: I was riding within a pound or two of eight stone seven, and The Rake is, as you know, seven pounds, no more, worse than Bayleaf. Ginger rides usually as near as possible my weight—we’ll say he was riding eight stone seven, I think he could manage that—and the Demon we know, he is now riding over the six stone, in his ordinary clothes he rides six seven.”  54
  “Yes, yes; but how do we know that there wasn’t seven, perhaps ten, pounds of lead in the saddle-cloth?”  55
  “The Demon says there wasn’t. Don’t you Demon?”  56
  “I don’t know nothing; I’m not going to stand being clouted by the kitchen-maid.”  57
  “Oh, shut up, or leave the room,” said Mr. Leopold; “we don’t want to hear any more about that.”  58
  “I started making the running, according to orders. Ginger was within three quarters of a length of me, being pulled out of the saddle. The Gaffer was standing at the three quarters of the mile, and there Ginger won fairly easily, but they went on to the mile, them were the orders, and there the Demon won by half a length; that is to say if Ginger wasn’t a-kidding of him.”  59
  “A-kidding of me!” said the Demon. “When we was a quarter of a mile from ’ome I took a pull without his noticing me, and then I landed in last fifty yards by half a length. Ginger can’t ride much better than any other gentleman.”  60
  “Yer see,” said Mr. Swindles, “he’d sooner have a box on the ear from the kitchen-maid than be told a gentleman could kid him at a finish. He wouldn’t mind if it was the Tinman, eh, Demon?”  61
  “We know,” said Mr. Leopold, “that Bayleaf can get the mile; there must have been a lot of weight between them. Besides, I should think that the trial was at the three quarters of the mile. The mile was so much kid.”  62
  “I should say,” replied Mr. Swindles, “that the ’orses were tried at a stone, and if Silver Braid can beat Bayleaf at that weight, he’ll take a deal of beating at Goodwood.”  63
  And leaning forward, their arms on the table, with large pieces of cheese at the end of their knives, the maid-servants and the jockeys listened to Mr. Leopold and Mr. Swindles discussing the chances the stable had of pulling off the Stewards’ Cup with Silver Braid.  64
  “But he will always keep on trying them,” said Mr. Swindles, “and what’s the use, says I, of trying ’orses that are no more than ’alf fit, and them downs is just rotten with ’orse watchers; it has just come to this, that you can’t comb out an ’orse’s mane without seeing it in the papers the day after. If I had my way with them gentry—” Mr. Swindles finished his beer at a gulp, and he put down his glass as firmly as he desired to put down the horse watchers. At the end of a long silence, Mr. Leopold said:  65
  “Come into my pantry and smoke a pipe. Mr. Arthur will be down presently. Perhaps he’ll tell us what weight he was riding this morning.”  66
  “Cunning old bird,” said Mr. Swindles, as he rose from the table and wiped his shaven lips with the back of his hand; “and you’d have us believe that you didn’t know, would you? You’d have us believe, would you, that the Gaffer don’t tell you everything when you bring up his hot water in the morning, would you?”  67
  Mr. Leopold laughed under his breath, and looking mysterious and very rat-like, he led the way to his pantry. Esther watched them in strange trouble of soul.  68
  She had heard of races-courses as shameful places where men were led to their ruin, and betting she had always understood to be sinful, but in this house no one seemed to think of anything else. It was no place for a Christian girl.  69
  “Let’s have some more of the story,” Margaret said. “You’ve got the new number. The last piece was where he is going to ask the opera-singer to run away with him.”  70
  Sarah took an illustrated journal out of her pocket and began to read aloud.  71
  THE CROWD shouted. She looked where the others looked, but saw only the burning blue with the white stand marked upon it. It was crowded like the deck of a sinking vessel, and Esther wondered at the excitement, the cause of which was hidden from her. She wandered to the edge of the crowd until she came to a chalk road where horses and mules were tethered. A little higher up she entered the crowd again, and came suddenly upon a switchback railway. Full of laughing and screaming girls, it bumped over a middle hill, and rose slowly till it reached the last summit. It was shot back again into the midst of its fictitious perils; and this mock voyaging was accomplished to the sound of 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 well that they rocked to and fro, imitating as nearly as possible the action of real horses. Esther watched the riders. A blue skirt looked like a riding-habit, and a girl in a salmon pink leaned back in her saddle just as if she had been taught how to ride. A girl in a gray jacket encouraged a girl in white who rode a gray horse. But before Esther could make out for certain that the man in the blue Melton jacket was Bill Evans, he had passed out of sight, and she had to wait until his horse came round the second time. At that moment she caught sight of the red poppies in Sarah’s hat.
  The horses began to slacken speed. They went slower and slower, then stopped altogether. The riders began to dismount, and Esther pressed through the bystanders, fearing she would not be able to overtake her friends.  73
  “Oh, here you are!” said Sarah. “I thought I never should find you again. How hot it is!”  74
  “Were you on in that ride? Let’s have another, all three of us. These three horses.”  75
  Round and round they went, their steeds bobbing nobly up and down to the sound of fifes, drums, and cymbals. They passed the winning-post many times; they had to pass it five times, and the horse that stopped nearest it won the prize. A long-drawn-out murmur continuous as the sea swelled up from the course, a murmur which at last passed into the words: “Here they come! blue wins! the favorite’s beat!” Esther paid little attention to these cries; she did not understand them; they reached her indistinctly, and soon died away, absorbed in the strident music that accompanied the circling horses. These had now begun to slacken speed…. They went slower and slower. Sarah and Bill, who rode side by side, seemed like winning, but at the last moment they glided by the winning-post. Esther’s steed stopped in time, and she was told to choose a china mug from a great heap.  76
  “You’ve all the luck to-day,” said Bill. “Hayfield, who was backed all the winter, broke down a month ago…. Two to one against Fly-leaf; four to one against Signet-Ring; four to one against Dewberry; ten to one against Vanguard, the winner at fifty to one offered. Your husband must have won a little fortune. Never was there such a day for the bookies.”  77
  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 then visited the peep-shows, and especially liked St. James’s Park with the Horse Guards out on parade; the Spanish bull-fight did not stir them, and Sarah couldn’t find a single young man to her taste in the House of Commons. Among the performing birds they liked best a canary that climbed a ladder. Bill was attracted by the American strength-testers, and he gave an exhibition of his muscle, to Sarah’s very great admiration. They all had some shies at cocoanuts, and passed by J. Bilton’s great bowling saloon without visiting it. Once more the air was rent with cries of “Here they come! Here they come!” Even the ’commodation men left their canvas shelters and pressed forward, inquiring which had won. A moment after a score of pigeons floated and flew through the blue air and then departed in different directions, some making straight for London, others for the blue, mysterious evening that had risen about the downs—the sun-baked downs strewed with waste paper and covered with tipsy men and women—a screaming and disordered animality.  78
  “Well, so you’ve come back at last,” said William. “The favorite was beaten. I suppose you know that a rank outsider won. But what about this gentleman?”  79
  “Met these ’ere ladies on the ’ill an’ been showing them over the course. No offense, I hope, guv’nor?”  80
  William did not answer, and Bill took leave of Sarah in a manner that told Esther that they had arranged to meet again.  81
  “Where did you pick up that bloke?”  82
  “He came up and spoke to us, and Esther stopped to speak to the parson.”  83
  “To the parson. What do you mean?”  84
  The circumstance was explained, and William asked them what they thought of the racing.  85
  “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.”  86
  “So you saw no Derby after all?” said William.  87
  “Saw no racin’,” said his neighbor; “ain’t she won the cup?”  88
  The joke was lost on the women, who only perceived that they were being laughed at.  89
  “Come up here, Esther,” said William; “stand on my box. The ’orses are just going up the course for the preliminary canter—and you, Sarah, take Teddy’s place. Teddy, get down, and let the lady up.”  90
  “Yes, guv’nor. Come up ’ere, ma’am.”  91
  “And is those the ’orses?” said Sarah. “They do seem small.”  92
  The ringmen roared. “Not up to those on the ’ill, ma’am,” said one. “Not such beautiful goers,” said another.  93
  There were two or three false starts, and then looking through a multitude of hats, Esther saw five or six thin, greyhound-looking horses. They passed like shadows, flitted by; and she was sorry for the poor chestnut that trotted in among the crowd.  94
  This was the last race. Once more the favorite had been beaten; there were no bets to pay, and the bookmakers began to prepare for departure. It was the poor little clerks who were charged with the luggage. Teddy did not seem as if he 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 of carriages. Everywhere horses waited with their harness on, and Sarah was afraid 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 the instinct of departure which takes a vast herd at a certain moment. The great landscape, half country, half suburb, glinted beneath the rays of a setting sun, and through the white dust and the draught of the warm roads the brakes, and carriages, and every crazy vehicle rolled toward London: orange-sellers, tract-sellers, thieves, vagrants, gypsies, made for their various quarters—road-side inns, out-houses, hayricks, hedges, or the railway station. Down the long hill the vast crowd made its way, humble pedestrians and carriage folk, altogether, as far as the cross-roads.  95
  DAYS, weeks, and months passed away, and the two women came to live more and more like friends and less like mistress and maid. Not that Esther ever failed to use the respectful “ma’am” when she addressed her mistress, nor did they ever sit down to a meal at the same table. But these slight social distinctions, which habit naturally preserved, and which it would have been disagreeable to both to forego, were no check on the intimacy of their companionship. In the evening they sat in the library sewing, or Mrs. Barfield read aloud, or they talked of their sons. On Sundays they had their meetings. The folk came from quite a distance, and sometimes as many as five-and-twenty knelt round the deal table in the drawing-room, and Esther felt that these days were the happiest of her life. She was content in the peaceful present, and she knew that Mrs. Barfield would not leave her unprovided for. But she was not yet free from anxiety. Jack did not seem to be able to obtain regular employment in London, and her wages were so small that she could not help him much. So the sight of his handwriting made her tremble, and she sometimes did not show the letter to Mrs. Barfield for some hours after.
  One Sunday morning, after meeting, as the two women were going for their walk up the hill, Esther said:  97
  “I’ve a letter from my boy, ma’am. I hope it is to tell me that he’s got back to work.”  98
  “I’m afraid I sha’n’t be able to read it, Esther. I haven’t my glasses with me.”  99
  “It don’t matter, ma’am—it’ll keep.”  100
  “Give it to me—his writing is large and legible. I think I can read it. ‘My dear mother, the place I told you of in my last letter was given away, so I must go in the toy-shop till something better turns up. I only get six shillings a week and my tea, and I can’t quite manage on that.’ Then something—something—‘pay three and sixpence a week’—something—‘bed’—something—something.”  101
  “I know, ma’am; he shares a bed with the eldest boy.”  102
  “Yes, that’s it; and he wants to know if you can help him. ‘I don’t like to trouble you, mother; but it is hard for a boy to get his living in London.’”  103
  “But I’ve sent him all my money. I sha’n’t have any till next quarter.”  104
  “I’ll lend you some, Esther. We can’t leave the boy to starve. He can’t live on two and sixpence a week.”  105
  “You’re very good, ma’am; but I don’t like to take your money. We sha’n’t be able to get the garden cleared this winter.”  106
  “We shall manage somehow, Esther. The garden must wait. The first thing to do is to see that your boy doesn’t want for food.”  107
  The women resumed their walk up the hill. When they reached the top, Mrs. Barfield said:  108
  “I haven’t heard from Mr. Arthur for months. I envy you, Esther, those letters asking for a little money. What’s the use of money to us except to give it to our children. Helping others, that is the only happiness.”  109
  At the end of the coombe, under the shaws, stood the old red-tiled farm-house in which Mrs. Barfield had been born. Beyond it, down-lands rolled on and on, reaching half-way up the northern sky. Mrs. Barfield was thinking of the days when her husband used to jump off his cob and walk beside her through those gorse patches on his way to the farm-house. She had come from the farm-house beneath the shaws to go to live in an Italian house sheltered by a fringe of trees. That was her adventure. She turned from the view of the downs to the view of the sea. The plantations of Woodview touched the horizon, then the line dipped, and between the top branches of a row of elms appeared the roofs of the town. Over a long, spider-legged bridge a train wriggled like a snake, the bleak river flowed into the harbor, and the shingle banks saved the low land from inundation. Then the train passed behind the square, dogmatic tower of the village church. Her husband lay beneath the chancel; her father, mother, all her relations, lay in the church-yard. She would go there in a few years.  110
  Her daughter lay far away, far away in Egypt. Upon this down-land all her life had been passed, all her life except the few months she had spent by her daughter’s bedside in Egypt. She had come from that coombe, from that farm-house beneath the shaws, and had only crossed the down.  111
  And this barren landscape meant as much to Esther as to her mistress. It was on these downs that she had walked with William. He had been born and bred on these downs; now he lay far away in Brompton Cemetery; she had come back! and in her simple way she too wondered at the mystery of destiny.  112
  As they descended the hill Mrs. Barfield asked Esther if she ever heard of Fred Parsons.  113
  “No, ma’am; I don’t know what’s become of him.”  114
  “And if you were to meet him again, would you care to marry him?”  115
  “To marry and begin life over again! All the worry and bother over again! Why should I marry?—all I live for now is to see my boy settled in life.”  116
  The women walked on in silence, passing by long ruins of stables, coach-houses, granaries, rick-yards, all in ruin and decay. The women paused and went toward the garden; and removing some pieces of the broken gate, they entered a miniature wilderness. The espalier apple-trees had disappeared beneath climbing weeds, and long briers had shot out from the bushes, leaving few traces of the former walks—a damp, dismal place that the birds seemed to have abandoned. Of the green-house only some broken glass and a black, broken chimney remained. A great elm had carried away a large portion of the southern wall, and under the dripping trees an aged peacock screamed for his lost mate.  117
  “I don’t suppose that Jack will be able to find any more paying employment this winter. We must send him six shillings a week; that, with what he is earning, will make twelve; he’ll be able to live nicely on that.”  118
  “I should think he would indeed. But then, what about the wages of them who was to have cleared the garden for us?”  119
  “We sha’n’t be able to get the whole garden cleared, but Jim will be able to get a piece ready for us to sow some spring vegetables—not a large piece—but enough for us. The first thing to do will be to cut down those apple-trees…. I’m afraid we shall have to cut down that walnut. Nothing could grow underneath it…. Did anyone ever see such a mass of weed and brier? Yet it is only about ten years since we left Woodview, and the garden was let run to waste. Nature does not take long—a few years, a very few years.”  120
  All the winter the north wind was bitter on the hills; many trees fell in the park, and at the end of February, Woodview seemed barer and more desolate than ever, broken branches littered the road-way, and the tall trunks showed their wounds. The women sat over their fire in the evening listening to the blast, cogitating the work that awaited them as soon as the weather showed signs of breaking.  121
  Mrs. Barfield had laid by a few pounds during the winter; and the day that Jim cleared out the first piece of espalier-trees she spent entirely in the garden, hardly able to take her eyes off him. But the pleasure of the day was in a measure spoiled for her by the knowledge that on that day her son was riding in the great steeple-chase. She was full of fear for his safety; she did not sleep that night, and hurried down at an early hour to the garden to ask Jim for the newspaper which she had told him to bring her. He took some time to extract the paper from his torn pocket.  122
  “He isn’t in the first three,” said Mrs. Barfield. “I always know that he’s safe if he’s in the first three. We must turn to the account of the race to see if there were any accidents.”  123
  She turned over the paper.  124
  “Thank God, he’s safe!” she said; “his horse ran fourth.”  125
  “You worry yourself without cause, ma’am. A good rider like him don’t meet with accidents.”  126
  “The best riders are often killed, Esther. I never have an easy moment when I hear he’s going to ride in these races. Supposing one day I were to read that he was carried back on a shutter.”  127
  “We mustn’t let our thoughts run on such things, ma’am. If a war was to break out to-morrow, what should I do? And after all my trouble rearing him, after having worked for him all these years. But I don’t let my thoughts dwell on such things; we must keep on working, doing the best we can for them. There are all sorts of chances, and we can only pray that God may spare them.”  128
  “Yes, Esther, that’s all we can do. Work on, work on to the end…. Your boy is coming to see you to-day.”  129
  “Yes, ma’am; he’ll be here by twelve o’clock.”  130
  “You’re luckier than I am. I wonder if I shall ever see my boy again.”  131
  “Yes, ma’am, of course you will. He’ll come back to you right enough one of these days. There’s a good time coming; that’s what I always says…. And now I’ve got work to do in the house. Are you going to stop here, or are you coming in with me?”  132
  “I think I’ll remain here. I like to watch the work.”  133
  “It’ll do you no good standing about in the wet clay.”  134
  Mrs. Barfield smiled and nodded, and Esther paused at the broken gate to watch her mistress, who stood superintending the clearing away of ten years’ growth of weeds, as much interested in the prospect of a few peas and cabbages as in former days she had been in the culture of expensive flowers. She stood on what remained of a gravel walk, the heavy clay clinging to her boots, watching Jim piling weeds upon his barrow. Would he be able to finish the plot of ground by the end of the week? What should they do with that great walnut tree? Nothing would grow underneath it. Jim was afraid that he would not be able to cut it down and remove it without help. Mrs. Barfield suggested sawing away some of the branches, but Jim was not sure that the expedient would prove of much avail. In his opinion the tree took all the goodness out of the soil, and that while it stood they could not expect a very great show of vegetables. Mrs. Barfield asked if the sale of the tree trunk would indemnify her for the cost of cutting it down. Jim paused in his work, and leaning on his spade, considered if there was anyone in the town who, for the sake of the timber, would cut the tree down and take it away for nothing. There ought to be some such person in town; if it came to that, Mrs. Barfield ought to receive something for the tree. Walnut was a valuable wood, was extensively used by cabinet-makers, and so on, until Mrs. Barfield begged of him to get on with his digging.  135
  At twelve o’clock Esther and Mrs. Barfield walked out on the lawn. A loud wind came up from the sea, and it shook the evergreens as if it were angry with them. A rook carried a stick to the tops of the tall trees, and the women drew their cloaks about them. The train passed across the vista, and the women wondered how long it would take Jack to walk from the station. Then another rook stooped to the edge of the plantation, gathered a twig, and carried it away. The wind was rough; it caught the evergreens underneath and blew them out like umbrellas; the grass had not yet begun to grow, and the gray sea harmonized with the gray-green land. The women waited on the windy lawn, their skirts blown against their legs, keeping their hats on with difficulty. It was too cold for standing still. They turned and walked a few steps toward the house, and then looked round.  136
  A tall soldier came through the gate. He wore a long red cloak, and a small cap jauntily set on the side of his close-clipped head. Esther uttered a little exclamation and ran to meet him. He took his mother in his arms, kissed her, and they walked toward Mrs. Barfield together. All was forgotten in the happiness of the moment—the long fight for his life, and the possibility that any moment might declare him to be mere food for powder and shot. She was only conscious that she had accomplished her woman’s work—she had brought him up to man’s estate, and that was sufficient reward. What a fine fellow he was! She did not know he was so handsome, and blushing with pleasure and pride, she glanced shyly at him out of the corners of her eyes as she introduced him to her mistress.  137
  “This is my son, ma’am.”  138
  Mrs. Barfield held out her hand to the young soldier.  139
  “I have heard a great deal about you from your mother.”  140
  “And I of you, ma’am. You’ve been very kind to my mother. I don’t know how to thank you….”  141
  And in silence they walked toward the house.  142

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