Gentleman George's Bride
The appearance of a racecourse is much the same all the world over, and the Melbourne Racecourse differs only from that of Epsom in the regard of an octave. The melody of the turf is set a little lower to suit the less refined ears of our musicians. The grand opera of a steeplechase varies only in the class of singers; our tenor is not so good as he of London, our prima donna would not be thought much of at Liverpool, and our corps de ballet is neither so well dressed nor so well drilled as that which dances on the springy sward of the Downs, or joins in the tremendous chorus which salutes the winner of the Grand National. But we do our best to put the production of Signor Sathanas on the stage, and our libretto is translated into Australian by the best man we can discover. Our resources may be insufficient, but no one can doubt our willingness to please. The dramatis personæ jockeys, fine ladies, lorettes, Jews, three-card-men, loafers, swindlers, gamblers, pickpockets and police--are represented to the best of our ability, and if we do not raise the curtain upon so splendid an array of beauty and fashion as that which yearly beams from the dress-circle of the Epsom Grand Stand, we have at least equalled the legitimate theatre in our transpontine luxury of villains. The 'Ring' is overpoweringly admirable. No racecourse in the world can boast greasier, flashier, hoarser-voiced, or dirtier-handed bookmakers than Mephisto, Blackadder, Samuelson, Barnabas & Co.
Young Harry Marrable, walking up and down the lawn--elbowed by bawling bookmakers shouting the odds beneath the charming noses of the soft-goods aristocracy--was ill at ease. He had not seen Gentleman George, otherwise Mr. Finch, since the evening he had met him so opportunely at the 'Casino,' and though he had followed the advice given him in the matter of backing 'Trumpeter,' he was by no means certain that the ingenious husband of poor Keturah would perform his promise. Mr. Davis--who, resplendent in white coat and lavender gloves, smoked a priceless cigar on the cynical retirement of a camp-stool--had taken occasion a few minutes before to remind him that he 'wanted that £250 to-morrow, dear boy.' The course buzzed with the name of 'Bandoline,' upon the result of whose performance the greatly little Tobyman was understood to have risked £2,000. In addition to these anxieties was the awkward feeling that he had no business there at all, for his father, Thomas Marrable, had been taken seriously ill two days before, and was even then in a 'critical' condition. So, with fevered hands, dry lips, and an unpleasant feeling as of mental indigestion, Harry watched the preparations for the event of the day.
'--refused the jump,' and amid a furious medley of cheers, groans, and yells, 'Trumpeter' and 'Bandoline,' alone in the race, had but one fence between them and victory. 'Bandoline' led by half a length, Gentleman George sitting well back, composed, and easy.
'That fellow can ride,' said Horsefall. 'Who is he?'
'A man called Finch, a horse-breaker, I think,' returned Captain Pips. 'I don't know anything--ah! My God, he's killed.'
It was 'Trumpeter's' race, for 'Bandoline,' swerving at the final fence, breasted it, toppled, and fell, crushing his rider beneath him.
Harry turned sick. Was this an accident, or had the daring scoundrel, recklessly faithful to Luck and his promise, 'pulled' the beast as he had agreed, and so brought about this catastrophe? Blackadder, muttering oaths, shouldered his way through the crowd.
'He has broken his neck,' said he to Tobyman.
'Has he?' said Tobyman, ruefully adjusting the hat upon which he had jumped three minutes before. 'I knowd he was ridin' too 'ard at it.'
'He be damned,' says Blackadder, roughly contemptuous, 'I mean the horse.'
Harry felt a hand on his shoulder. It was that of Mr. Israel Davis, and its touch was not quite so firm as usual.
'How did you come off?' he asked.
'I've won,' said Harry. 'I can pay you that money the day after to-morrow.'
'I'm glad of that,' said Davis. 'I shall want all the money I can get. I have lost a small fortune--for me. Curse the brute!'
'I don't think it--it was the horse's fault,' said Harry. 'It--it seemed--'
'Of course it wasn't the horse's fault,' snapped Davis, no longer a Russian but a Tartar;' I meant the man.'
While they were cheering Trumpeter and Griswold, somebody brought a hurdle, upon which the unhappy rider of the dead horse was lifted and borne off the course. When Harry, trembling to know the worst, reached the spot, he saw only turf, trampled with boot-heels, and ploughed with an insignificant furrow at the place where ill-fated 'Bandoline' had literally bitten the dust. He made for the gates and home.
His father was no better, and Mrs. Harris, who had been invested with the responsibility of nursing the invalid, shook her head when questioned. By-and-by Dr. Dignato came, in a carriage accompanied by a kennel of dogs, and remarked that 'our patient must have quiet--perfect quiet. So I heard they killed a man to-day.' Mrs. Marrable had retired to her own room, and sent down her 'maid' every hour to 'make inquiries.' The children had been ordered to refrain from noise, and were 'playing at visiting.' Miss Mabel was the lady of the house, and said, 'How do you do?' to Miss Fanny. 'Did you go to the concert? How are the dear children?' After this they had a 'dinner party' at which little Toodles and Master Alfred personated the two 'poor relations,' and were instructed by Miss Mabel (a clever girl for her age) to refuse a second helping of pudding while Fanny (as footman) took care to only give them 'once champagne.' Harry went into the garden and smoked bitterly.
He had won his money, and released himself from Davis. So help him Heaven, he would never run risks of this nature again. He hoped that George hadn't done that purposely. It didn't look as if he had, although it was rumoured that people near the chair had seen him pull the horse off the jump. He hoped he wasn't dead. Should he tell old Keturah? What would be the use? He would 'sound' her, and see in what mood she would be likely to take the news that her husband had been found.
He went to town next day as usual, and 'stuck to business.'
On the evening he said to Keturah, 'Have you ever heard of your husband, Mrs. Harris?'
'No sir,' said she, with a blush and a frown, 'and dinna want to.'
'Ah! Somebody told me that they had seen him at--at Ballarat.'
'It's like enough. But, if you please, Mr. Harry, say nae mair; he's dead to me, let him be where he may, the black villain.'
'But, Ketty, suppose now that you heard he were ill, would you go to him?'
'--if you heard he was dead.'
She turned pale, 'What do you mean, sir--it's ill jesting wi' me. I tell ye, I'd not go if he were dying in yon room, unless he sent for me; and then I'd tell the villain what I thought o' him,' and leaving her questioner with an iron face, she went straight to her own room and inconsequentially wept.
The next day Mr. Marrable felt better.
'Bring Davis home with you to-night, Harry,' he said 'I want to talk to him.' Mr. Davis started when Harry gave him the message, and asked if Mr. Marrable had quite recovered. 'No, but he's much better, thank God,' said Harry. 'I say Davis, I'll get that money for you this afternoon.' 'All right,' said Davis, frowning. 'I am glad to hear it.' But when Harry Marrable had shut the door of Mr. Israel Davis's room, that gentleman took the trouble to lock it after him, and then sat down to ruminate on his own position.
The fact was--Mr. Israel confessed it to himself with many self-reproaches--that his vaunted sagacity had been at fault of late. His dubious speculations in 'bills' had not turned out so well as he thought he had a right to expect. Much 'paper,' of a kind which the 'Company' had imagined to be of the 'safest,' had been returned upon him. Some obnoxious journalist, in want of a 'subject,' had chosen to attack the Casino de Carambole, and a series of 'leaders' upon that institution-- 'leaders' which bristled with moral sentiments and blazed with Latin quotations, more or less incorrectly printed--had appeared in the daily press. The unlucky accident to 'Bandoline' had placed Mr. Davis in sore straights for money, and he confessed dismally that the £250 which that accident would enable young Marrable to pay him would be but a small instalment of the sum the bookmakers would demand that evening. He had counted upon this 'bill' being a tower of financial strength to him in days to come. When Mr. Harry Marrable was admitted to a larger participation in the profits of the firm, the astute Davis had promised himself that he would not part with the forgery for less than three times the amount which he had paid for it. Mr. Marrable was ill. It was possible that he might die. It was probable that he would take a less active part in business, and that the time for the 'sweating' of the foolish Harry was nigh at hand. It was provoking that by a turn of fortune Mr. Israel was to be a loser in a double sense. He went to the safe and took out the bill. There it lay--worth £1,000, at least, if he could only keep it a few months longer. The signature was well forged. The words Marrable and Davis were capitally imitated. Mr. Israel smiled as he recognised the final flourish of his own 's.' How provoking to be compelled to give up so splendid a prize! He began to wonder at the mood in which Master Harry must have found himself when he began forgery as a profession. He could imagine Harry Marrable with the door locked, as it was locked now--playing with a pen, as he himself now played--scribbling the signature of the firm, as he himself now--! A bright notion occurred to Davis. He thought he saw a way to receive the £250, and keep the bill into the bargain. He would try.
He was engaged in 'trying' for some time, and having at last succeeded to his satisfaction, he put on his hat and went out. 'If Mr. Henry should ask for me,' said he to the chief clerk, 'be good enough to tell him that I have gone home, and that I will see him at his father's this evening.' The clerk delivered the message, and Harry felt a little alarmed. Surely, Davis did not intend to reveal the ugly secret! No, he could not imagine that.
He sat with the sick man, on thorns, until the grinding of Davis's cab-wheels upon the gravel proclaimed his fate at hand.
'Here he is,' he cried. 'I'll fetch him up,' and meeting Israel on the stairs, he dragged him from the stairs into the dressing-room adjoining the bed-chamber.
'Where's the bill?'
Mr. Israel was very calm.
'I am sorry I was obliged to leave, Harry. How is your father?'
'Better,' said Harry. 'Have you got it with you?'
'I have,' said Mr. Davis, producing the bill from his pocket, and waving it gently in the air.
'Then here's the money,' cried the poor boy, 'see, twelve £20 notes and a £10; count them.'
'I do not know, sir,' returned Mr. Davis, 'If I am altogether justified in giving up this document. I really, think, dear boy, that your father ought to be informed of the business.'
'Oh, for God's sake!' cried Harry in great alarm.
'I am sorry, dear boy, but really ----'
'Is that you, Davis?' said the voice of the sick man querulously; 'why don't you come in?'
'Oh Davis! give it to me!' urged Harry, with dry lips. 'Here take the money, I'll give you £50 more, I will, upon my honour Davis, I say.'
Mr. Israel Davis seemed to relent. He set his back against the dressing-room door, and extending one hand for the money, held out the bill with the other.
'Here then,' he said, nodding at the lowered gas-lamp, 'take it and let me see it burned before I leave the room.'
Harry clutched the bill, and had already held it towards the flame, when the door was flung open with that violence which is natural in a person who wishes to hastily enter a room, and who is ignorant that any impediment is likely to prevent him so doing with ease. The effect of this accident was to propel the elegant Israel forcibly forward.
'I beg your pardon,' cried Keturah, the intruder, aghast, 'but, the master's calling for ye.'
Mr. Davis muttered something inelegantly like an oath, and Harry, seeing through the open door his father's face, was seized with a sudden impulse.
He ran into the room, flung himself by the bedside, and holding out the forged acceptance, sobbed out his story in a few hurried words.
'I was in debt, father. They pressed me. I did this. Mr. Davis had it. I have paid him. See, here it is. Forgive me!'
Mr. Israel Davis stood astounded. Of all things in heaven and earth, he had not calculated upon this!
Thomas Marrable raised himself in his bed and called his Partner.
'What is this, Mr. Davis? My boy forged upon the firm--you should have told me. I would have paid it sooner than that this should happen.'
'I thought, sir,' returned Mr. Davis, whose agitation had subsided into a wolfish calmness, 'that you would be glad to be spared the pang of knowing such an--an indiscretion. The note was presented to me, and I paid it. Do you blame me?'
'--No,no,' said poor Thomas Marrable. 'You did it for the best, I have no doubt; yet----'
'Say no more, dear sir,' said Mr. Israel. 'Your son, I am sure, is truly penitent. Let us burn the bill, and forget that----'
'Why!--Why!--Why, you infernal scoundrel!' burst out young Mr. Harry, who had been staring at the fatal paper. 'This--this is not the bill I gave you!'
'Nonsense!' said Mr. Davis, showing his teeth in a vicious grin. 'What else should it be, give it to me, and let me burn it.'
In his haste he made as though he would absolutely tear it out of the young man's hands, but Harry held it fast.
'See, father. This is not the bill. I am sure it is not. That is not my signature.'
'Mr. Davis,' says Thomas Marrable, 'what the devil is the meaning of this? Where is the bill that you say my son has forged?'
'You have it in your hand, sir.'
The old man looked from one to the other in bewilderment. He was an honest tradesman, and he did not comprehend such complications of finance. Harry--who was in advance of his father in knowledge of roguery, by virtue of the very forgery he had committed--came to the right conclusion.
'I see what it is, father,' he said, 'he has forged this, so that I might burn it. He has got the original bill himself.'
Mr. Israel Davis was no common rogue, and he saw that there was but one way to redeem his blunder.
'My dear Mr. Marrable, your son is right. How much will you give me to return you the bill, and retire from the firm?'
'I'll--I'll send you to gaol!' cries Marrable.
'--And have the transaction explained in court? No, that would be a blunder worse than mine. Give me £500 and we will exchange documents.'
'I'll see you ---- first,' says Thomas Marrable.
'Not first, dear sir, not first,' returned Israel Davis, regaining all his composure. 'Afterwards you may have that pleasure. Come, £500. I will forego 20 per cent. on my share in the business and leave on the day your cheque for the balance is honoured.'
'I will see my solicitors,' groaned Thomas.
'I will see them if you like, dear sir; I shall explain matters more fully.'
Thomas Marrable stared.
'Are you not ashamed to talk like this,' he said at last.
'Ashamed! why should I be ashamed?' said Davis, with coolness. 'I was ashamed when you found me out--ashamed that I had allowed so trivial ill accident as the sudden opening of a door to disarrange my plans. But that is all, dear sir. You are a Christian, so is your dear boy there. You would be ashamed, perhaps. You have a "moral sense", a "society", a "parson." Bah. I am Israel Davis.'
'You are a monstrous scoundrel! Go. I will write to my solicitors.'
'Good evening, my, dear sir,' said Mr. Israel.
They heard his cart-wheels crunch the gravel, and then old Marrable looked at his son.
'It was my fault, Harry. I should never have allowed you to come in contact with that scoundrel. He is enough to corrupt any one.'
Harry Marrable suffered the excuse to be made, and left the sick-room with stern promise of repentance and amendment. On his way he met Keturah, cloaked and hooded.
'Oh, Harry, tell me,' cried she, 'Did you know anything?'
'What do you mean?'
'When you spoke to me last night about my husband. He's sent for me.'
'The, deuce he has!'
'A cab's come to fetch me. I have seen the mistress. I am going at once. Tell me, Mr. Harry is he sick or well?'
'How should I know, Ketty,' said the young man, fearful of betraying himself. 'He can't be ill if he has sent for you. Go and Make it up with him.'
'No, I'll never do that,' said Keturah, her anger rising. 'I'll see him, and tell him my opinion o' him, as I vowed I would do.'
The cab which had been sent for Mrs. Harris was not a handsome vehicle. The wheels were disagreeably loose, the iron step was bent and twisted, the cushions were mouldy, the tarpaullin-hood ragged and insufficient. The conduct of the driver, moreover, was not calculated to inspire confidence. He was a large, loose man, with a white nose and a mottled face. His enemies said that he drank so much brandy that his nose had passed through the red stage and achieved a white heat. He wore a flapping Yankee hat, and drove at a great pace, shouting.
So rapid was the manner in which the ricketty vehicle was whirled through space, that it was not until the panting horse dropped into a grateful walk at Prince's Bridge that the poor old woman felt herself enabled to ask questions.
'Who sent ye? and how far's Flemington?'
'Barney Welsher sent me,' returned white-nose, 'and it's about two mile.'
'Who's Barney Welsher?' asks Keturah alarmed.
'He keeps the "Horse and Jockey" on the Flemington course there. I'm a Flemington car, I am. I driven Joe Blueitt and another bloke, ye see, over there, ye see, when--cck!--out comes Barney, and ses "Go to Toorak and find Mr. Marrable's 'ouse, ask for a Mrs. Harris, and tell 'er 'er 'usban' wants 'er. Bring 'er out 'ere," he says, "and drive like 'ell" he ses. Ha'ay! Gu-u- u-ur!
--And the banging and slamming of the jolting car rendered further explanation impossible.
Keturah was considerably relieved when the man, who had never ceased to howl at his horse, or to thwack him violently with a lashless whip, pulled up in safety beneath the solitary lamp of a lonely public-house, and sat gloomily waiting for Mr. Welsher to emerge. At sight of this worthy hirer of cabs poor Keturah felt a strange terror seize her. Mr. Welsher was in his shirt-sleeves, a pipe decorated his mouth, and in his left paw he held a very greasy 'hand' of cards. Nevertheless, when he espied the old woman, he handed her out with a solemnity that--contrasted with his appearance and evident pursuit--had something bodeful in it.
'I heard that--that my husband was here,' said Keturah.
'So he is, marm,' replied Mr. Welsher, scanning her curiously. 'Walk in. There's some coves in the parlour, but don't mind them. 'Ave a drop o' gin after your drive? No--well, then, this way.'
The 'coves in the parlour' were not prepossessing. They were the sort of 'coves' engendered in the foul air of a stable; the sort of 'coves' to whom the inside of a prison would not he unfamiliar, it might be wagered. In the 'parlour' was that atmosphere of oaths and brandy, onions, cheese, and humanity, which may be found in apartments where seven foul-fed, foul-clothed, foul-mouthed ruffians have been playing 'euchre' for nine, consecutive hours. The cleanly Scotchwoman drew her honest petticoats about her and walked daintily. This was a strange place to where she had been brought, yet she felt that no harm was meant. Mr. Welsher politely aided her entrance, by saying, 'Now, then, make room there. Blarst yer, make room.' The terms in which the request was couched were not elegant, but they were intelligible, and Keturah felt that the sentence was dictated by a spirit of the truest politeness.
She passed through the unsavoury crowd and entered a room beyond the adjoining passage. Something was lying on a bed there. Something bound up. Something which had candles burning at its bedside, and a cup of water within reach of the hand it could not move. Something which Keturah Harris would have taken for a corpse, but for the great black eloquent eyes of it, which gazed at her with all the dumb agony of a dying dog.
Revenge melted into air.
'Geordie! my bairn! Geordie, my jo!'
Mr. Welsher reverently damned his soul, and shut the door, for the old faithful wife was on her knees at her husband's bedside.
"But what became of Israel Davis?"
"Who knows. He made good terms with the Marrables and left the colony--it is rumoured for America. But a man of his ability could get on anywhere."
"And now tell us the end of Mrs. Harris."
"I can only tell you this, that her story is true from beginning to end. Mrs. Harris is a 'charwoman.' She comes and washes stairs and so on at my house. When she gets her miserable wage, she goes home--to a wretched little house in a poor Melbourne suburb. In that house, there is a paralyzed and helpless man who has not yet reached middle-age. He is her husband. She expends her earnings in buying him nourishing food, and paying a child to mind him when she is away. She lives on scraps and pieces, and broken victual. He has brandy and tobacco. Aye, I've seen the woman hold the pipe to the speechless lips of the poor blackguard while he pulled at it!"
"Ah! there is a great deal of poetry in the lives of some very unpoetical-looking people, isn't there?