She stood on the platform watching the receding train. A few bushes hid
the curve of the line; the white vapour rose above them evaporating in
the pale evening. A moment more and the last carriage would pass out of
sight. The white gates swung forward slowly and closed over the line.
An oblong box painted reddish brown and tied with a rough rope lay on the
seat beside her. The movement of her back and shoulders showed that the
bundle she carried was a heavy one the sharp bulging of the grey linen
cloth that the weight was dead. She wore a faded yellow dress and a black
jacket too warm for the day. A girl of twenty short strongly built with
short strong arms. Her neck was plump and her hair of so ordinary a
brown that it passed unnoticed. The nose was too thick but the nostrils
were well formed. The eyes were grey luminous and veiled with dark
lashes. But it was only when she laughed that her face lost its habitual
expression which was somewhat sullen; then it flowed with bright humour.
She laughed now showing a white line of almond-shaped teeth. The porter
had asked her if she were afraid to leave her bundle with her box. Both
he said would go up together in the donkey-cart. The donkey-cart came
down every evening to fetch parcels.... That was the way to Woodview
right up the lane. She could not miss it. She would find the lodge gate in
that clump of trees. The man lingered for she was an attractive girl but
the station-master called him away to remove some luggage.
It was a barren country. Once the sea had crawled at high tide half-way up
the sloping sides of those downs. It would do so now were it not for the
shingle bank which its surging had thrown up along the coast. Between the
shingle bank and the shore a weedy river flowed and the little town stood
clamped together its feet in the water's edge. There were decaying
shipyards about the harbour and wooden breakwaters stretched long thin
arms seawards for ships that did not come. On the other side of the
railway apple blossoms showed above a white-washed wall; some market
gardening was done in the low-lying fields whence the downs rose in
gradual ascents. On the first slope there was a fringe of trees. That was
The girl gazed on this bleak country like one who saw it for the first
time. She saw without perceiving for her mind was occupied with personal
consideration. She found it difficult to decide whether she should leave
her bundle with her box. It hung heavy in her hand and she did not know
how far Woodview was from the station. At the end of the platform the
station-master took her ticket and she passed over the level-crossing
still undecided. The lane began with iron railings laurels and French
windows. She had been in service in such houses and knew if she were
engaged in any of them what her duties would be. But the life in Woodview
was a great dream and she could not imagine herself accomplishing all
that would be required of her. There would be a butler a footman and a
page; she would not mind the page--but the butler and footman what would
they think? There would be an upper-housemaid and an under-housemaid and
perhaps a lady's-maid and maybe that these ladies had been abroad with
the family. She had heard of France and Germany. Their conversation would
no doubt turn on such subjects. Her silence would betray her. They would
ask her what situations she had been in and when they learned the truth
she would have to leave disgraced. She had not sufficient money to pay for
a ticket to London. But what excuse could she give to Lady Elwin who had
rescued her from Mrs. Dunbar and got her the place of kitchen-maid at
Woodview? She must not go back. Her father would curse her and perhaps
beat her mother and her too. Ah! he would not dare to strike her again
and the girl's face flushed with shameful remembrance. And her little
brothers and sisters would cry if she came back. They had little enough to
eat as it was. Of course she must not go back. How silly of her to think
of such a thing!
She smiled and her face became as bright as the month: it was the first
day of June. Still she would be glad when the first week was over. If she
had only a dress to wear in the afternoons! The old yellow thing on her
back would never do. But one of her cotton prints was pretty fresh; she
must get a bit of red ribbon--that would make a difference. She had heard
that the housemaids in places like Woodview always changed their dresses
twice a day and on Sundays went out in silk mantles and hats in the
newest fashion. As for the lady's-maid she of course had all her
mistress's clothes and walked with the butler. What would such people
think of a little girl like her! Her heart sank at the thought and she
sighed anticipating much bitterness and disappointment. Even when her
first quarter's wages came due she would hardly be able to buy herself a
dress: they would want the money at home. Her quarter's wages! A month's
wages most like for she'd never be able to keep the place. No doubt all
those fields belonged to the Squire and those great trees too; they must
be fine folk quite as fine as Lady Elwin--finer for she lived in a house
like those near the station.
On both sides of the straight road there were tall hedges and the
nursemaids lay in the wide shadows on the rich summer grass their
perambulators at a little distance. The hum of the town died out of the
ear and the girl continued to imagine the future she was about to enter
on with increasing distinctness. Looking across the fields she could see
two houses one in grey stone the other in red brick with a gable covered
with ivy; and between them lost in the north the spire of a church. On
questioning a passer-by she learnt that the first house was the Rectory
the second was Woodview Lodge. If that was the lodge what must the house
Two hundred yards further on the road branched passing on either side of
a triangular clump of trees entering the sea road; and under the leaves
the air was green and pleasant and the lungs of the jaded town girl drew
in a deep breath of health. Behind the plantation she found a large
white-painted wooden gate. It opened into a handsome avenue and the
gatekeeper told her to keep straight on and to turn to the left when she
got to the top. She had never seen anything like it before and stopped
to admire the uncouth arms of elms like rafters above the roadway; pink
clouds showed through and the monotonous dove seemed the very heart of
Her doubts returned; she never would be able to keep the place. The avenue
turned a little and she came suddenly upon a young man leaning over the
paling smoking his pipe.
"Please sir is this the way to Woodview?"
"Yes right up through the stables round to the left." Then noticing the
sturdily-built figure yet graceful in its sturdiness and the bright
cheeks he said "You look pretty well done; that bundle is a heavy one
let me hold it for you."
"I am a bit tired" she said leaning the bundle on the paling. "They told
me at the station that the donkey-cart would bring up my box later on."
"Ah then you are the new kitchen-maid? What's your name?"
"My mother's the cook here; you'll have to mind your p's and q's or else
you'll be dropped on. The devil of a temper while it lasts but not a bad
sort if you don't put her out."
"Are you in service here?"
"No but I hope to be afore long. I could have been two years ago but
mother did not like me to put on livery and I don't know how I'll face
her when I come running down to go out with the carriage."
"Is the place vacant?" Esther asked raising her eyes timidly looking at
"Yes Jim Story got the sack about a week ago. When he had taken a drop
he'd tell every blessed thing that was done in the stables. They'd get him
down to the 'Red Lion' for the purpose; of course the squire couldn't
"And shall you take the place?"
"Yes. I'm not going to spend my life carrying parcels up and down the
King's Road Brighton if I can squeeze in here. It isn't so much the
berth that I care about but the advantages information fresh from the
fountain-head. You won't catch me chattering over the bar at the 'Red
Lion' and having every blessed word I say wired up to London and printed
next morning in all the papers."
Esther wondered what he was talking about and looking at him she saw a
low narrow forehead a small round head a long nose a pointed chin
and rather hollow bloodless cheeks. Notwithstanding the shallow chest he
was powerfully built the long arms could deal a swinging blow. The low
forehead and the lustreless eyes told of a slight unimaginative brain
but regular features and a look of natural honesty made William Latch a
man that ten men and eighteen women out of twenty would like.
"I see you have got books in that bundle" he said at the end of a long
silence. "Fond of readin'?"
"They are mother's books" she replied hastily. "I was afraid to leave
them at the station for it would be easy for anyone to take one out and
I should not miss it until I undid the bundle."
"Sarah Tucker--that's the upper-housemaid--will be after you to lend them
to her. She is a wonderful reader. She has read every story that has come
out in _Bow Bells_ for the last three years and you can't puzzle her try
as you will. She knows all the names can tell you which lord it was that
saved the girl from the carriage when the 'osses were tearing like mad
towards a precipice a 'undred feet deep and all about the baronet for
whose sake the girl went out to drown herself in the moonlight I 'aven't
read the books mesel' but Sarah and me are great pals"
Esther trembled lest he might ask her again if she were fond of reading;
she could not read. Noticing a change in the expression of her face he
concluded that she was disappointed to hear that he liked Sarah and
regretted his indiscretion.
"Good friends you know--no more. Sarah and me never hit it off; she will
worry me with the stories she reads. I don't know what is your taste but
I likes something more practical; the little 'oss in there he is more to
my taste." Fearing he might speak again of her books she mustered up
courage and said--
"They told me at the station that the donkey-cart would bring up my box."
"The donkey-cart isn't going to the station to-night--you'll want your
things to be sure. I'll see the coachman; perhaps he is going down with
the trap. But golly! it has gone the half-hour. I shall catch it for
keeping you talking and my mother has been expecting you for the last
hour. She hasn't a soul to help her and six people coming to dinner. You
must say the train was late."
"Let us go then" cried Esther. "Will you show me the way?"
Over the iron gate which opened into the pleasure-ground thick branches
of evergreen oaks made an arch of foliage and between the trees a glimpse
was caught of the angles and urns of an Italian house--distant about a
hundred yards. A high brick wall separated the pleasure-ground from the
stables and as William and Esther turned to the left and walked up the
roadway he explained that the numerous buildings were stables. They passed
by many doors hearing the trampling of horses and the rattling of chains.
Then the roadway opened into a handsome yard overlooked by the house the
back premises of which had been lately rebuilt in red brick. There were
gables and ornamental porches and through the large kitchen windows the
servants were seen passing to and fro. At the top of this yard was a gate.
It led into the park and like the other gate was overhung by bunched
evergreens. A string of horses came towards this gate and William ran to
open it. The horses were clothed in grey cloth. They wore hoods and
Esther noticed the black round eyes looking through the eyelet holes. They
were ridden by small ugly boys who swung their little legs and struck
them with ash plants when they reached their heads forward chawing at the
bits. When William returned he said "Look there the third one; that's
he--that's Silver Braid."
An impatient knocking at the kitchen window interrupted his admiration
and William turning quickly said "Mind you say the train was late;
don't say I kept you or you'll get me into the devil of a pickle. This
way." The door let into a wide passage covered with coconut matting. They
walked a few yards; the kitchen was the first door and the handsome room
she found herself in did not conform to anything that Esther had seen or
heard of kitchens. The range almost filled one end of the room and on it
a dozen saucepans were simmering; the dresser reached to the ceiling and
was covered with a multitude of plates and dishes. Esther thought how she
must strive to keep it in its present beautiful condition and the elegant
white-capped servants passing round the white table made her feel her own
"This is the new kitchen-maid mother."
"Ah is it indeed?" said Mrs. Latch looking up from the tray of tartlets
which she had taken from the oven and was filling with jam. Esther noticed
the likeness that Mrs. Latch bore to her son. The hair was iron grey and
as in William's face the nose was the most prominent feature.
"I suppose you'll tell me the train was late?"
"Yes mother the train was a quarter of an hour late" William chimed in.
"I didn't ask you you idle lazy good-for-nothing vagabond. I suppose it
was you who kept the girl all this time. Six people coming to dinner and
I've been the whole day without a kitchen-maid. If Margaret Gale hadn't
come down to help me I don't know where we should be; as it is the
dinner will be late."
The two housemaids both in print dresses stood listening. Esther's face
clouded and when Mrs. Latch told her to take her things off and set to
and prepare the vegetables so that she might see what she was made of
Esther did not answer at once. She turned away saying under her breath
"I must change my dress and my box has not come up from the station yet."
"You can tuck your dress up and Margaret Gale will lend you her apron."
"What you've got on don't look as if it could come to much damage. Come
now set to."
The housemaids burst into loud laughter and then a sullen look of dogged
obstinacy passed over and settled on Esther's face even to the point of
visibly darkening the white and rose complexion.
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 coloured 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
And 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 her 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.
However he had been 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 all 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?
As she pulled on her stockings she stopped and wondered if she should
awake Margaret Gale. Margaret's bed stood in the shadow of the obliquely
falling wall; and she lay heavily one arm thrown forward her short
square face raised to the light. She 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--
"What time is it?"
"It has just gone six."
"Then there's plenty of time; we needn't be down before seven. You get on
with your dressing; there's no use in 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 washstand. I wouldn't stay here three days
if it weren't----" The girl laughed and turned lazily over.
Esther did not answer.
"Now isn't it a grubby little room to put two girls to sleep in? What was
your last place like?"
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
"There's only one thing to be said for Woodview and that is the eating;
we have anything 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."
"Why should I be asked to wash up the moment I came in the house before
even I had time to change my dress."
"It was 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
"It isn't because a girl is poor----"
"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
Esther was on her knees saying her prayers when Margaret turned to the
light to button her boots.
"Well I never!" she exclaimed. "Do you think prayers any good?"
Esther looked up angrily.
"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
"Oh Margaret I hope they won't do anything so wicked. But I am afraid I
shan't be long here so it doesn't matter what they think of _me_."
When they got downstairs 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. At that moment 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; and 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 undersized 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 as he stood talking to his
father but the moment he prepared to get into the saddle he seemed quite
different. He rode a beautiful chestnut horse a little too thin Esther
thought and the ugly little boys were mounted on horses equally thin. The
squire rode a stout grey 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
"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 six pence. 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 has on. 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."
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 honour 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 when Mrs.
Latch came forward with all her savings and volunteered 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. But to Mrs.
Latch it was 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. It was
against her will that he had been taught to ride; but to her great joy he
soon grew out of all possibility of becoming a jockey. 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 and she could not forget what the Latches had been long ago.
"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
"I don't know what a trial is" said Esther. "They are not
carriage-horses are they? They look too slight."
"Carriage-horses you ninny! Where have you been to all this while--can't
you see that they are race-horses?"
Esther hung down her head and murmured something which Margaret didn't
"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