Geoffrey Hamlyn, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 15

The Brighton Races, and what Happened Thereat.

George Hawker just waited till he heard the retiring footsteps of the Major, and then, leaving the house, held his way rapidly towards Mary’s lodgings, which were in Hampstead; but finding he would be too late to gain admittance, altered his course when he was close to the house, and went to his own house, which was not more than a few hundred yards distant. In the morning he went to her, and she ran down the garden to meet him before the servant had time to open the door, looking so pretty and bright. “Ah, George!” said she, “you never came last night, after all your promises. I shall be glad when it’s all over, George, and we are together for good.”

“It won’t be long first, my dear,” he answered; “we must manage to get through that time as well as we can, and then we’ll begin to sound the old folks. You see I am come to breakfast.”

“I expected you,” she said; “come in and we will have such a pleasant chat, and after that you must take me down the town, George, and we will see the carriages.”

“Now, my love,” said George; “I’ve got to tell you something that will vex you; but you must not be down-hearted about it, you know. The fact is, that your friends, as they call themselves, moving heaven and earth to get you back, by getting me out of the way, have hit on the expedient of spreading false reports about me, and issuing scandals against me. They found out my address at the Nag’s Head, and came there after me not half an hour after you were gone, and I only got out of their way by good luck. You ought to give me credit for not giving any living soul the secret of our whereabouts, so that all I have got to do is to keep quiet here until our little business is settled, and then I shall be able to face them boldly again, and set everything straight.”

“How cruel!” she said; “how unjust! I will never believe anything against you, George.”

“I am sure of that, my darling;” he said, kissing her. “But now, there is another matter I must speak about, though I don’t like to — I am getting short of money, love.”

“I have got nearly a hundred pounds, George,” she said; “and, as I told you, I have five thousand pounds in the funds, which I can sell out at any time I like.”

“We shall do well, then, my Polly. Now let us go for a walk.”

All that week George stayed with her quietly, till the time of residence necessary before they could be married was expired. He knew that he was treading on a mine, which at any time might burst and blow his clumsy schemes to the wind. But circumstances were in his favour, and the time came to an end at last. He drank hard all the time without letting Mary suspect it, but afterwards, when it was all over, wondered at his nerve and self-possession through all those trying days, when he was forced eternally to have a smile or a laugh ready, and could not hear a step behind him without thinking of an officer, or look over his head without thinking he saw a gallows in the air.

It was during this time that he nursed in his heart a feeling of desperate hatred and revenge against William Lee, which almost became the leading passion of his life. He saw, or thought he saw, that this man was the author of all the troubles that were gathering so thick around his head, and vowed, if chance threw the man in his way again, that he would take ample and fearful vengeance, let it cost what it might. And though this feeling may have sometimes grown cold, yet he never to the last day forgot or forgave the injuries this man had done him.

Mary was as innocent of business as a child, and George found little difficulty in persuading her, that the best thing she could do under present circumstances, was to sell out the money she had in the funds, and place it in a bank, to be drawn on as occasion should require; saying that they should be so long perhaps, before they had any other fund to depend on, that they might find it necessary to undertake some business for a living, in which case, it would be as well to have their money under command at a moment’s notice.

There was, not far from the bank, an old Stockbroker, who had known her father, and herself, for many years, and was well acquainted with all their affairs, though they had but little intercourse by letter. To him she repaired, and, merely informing him that she was going to marry without her father’s consent, begged him to manage the business for her; which he, complimenting her upon her good fortune in choosing a time when the funds were so high, immediately undertook; at the same time recommended her to a banker, where she might open an account.

On the same day that this business was concluded, a licence was procured, and their wedding fixed for the next day. “Now,” thought George, as he leapt into bed on that night, “let only tomorrow get over safely, and I can begin to see my way out of the wood again.”

And in the morning they were married in Hampstead church. Parson, clerk, pew-opener, and beadle, all remarked what a handsome young couple they were, and how happy they ought to be; and the parson departed, and the beadle shut up the church, and the mice came out again and ate the Bibles, and the happy pair walked away down the road, bound together by a strong chain, which nothing could loose but death.

They went to Brighton. Mary had said she would so like to see the sea; and the morning after they arrived there — the morning after their wedding — Mary wrote an affectionate penitential letter to her father, telling him that she was married, and praying his forgiveness.

They were quite gay at Brighton, and she recovered her spirits wonderfully at first. George soon made acquaintances, who soon got very familiar, after the manner of their kind — greasy, tawdry, bedizened bucks — never asleep, always proposing a game of cards, always carrying off her husband. Mary hated them, while she was at times proud to see her husband in such fine company.

Such were the eagles that gathered round the carcass of George Hawker; and at last these eagles began to bring the hen-birds with them, who frightened our poor little dove with the amplitude and splendour of their feathers, and their harsh, strange notes. George knew the character of those women well enough, but already he cared little enough about his wife, even before they had been a month married, going on the principle that the sooner she learned to take care of herself, the better for her; and after they had been married little more than a month, Mary thought she began to see a change in her husband’s behaviour to her.

He grew sullen and morose, even to her. Every day almost he would come to her with a scowl upon his face; and when she asked if he was angry with her, would say, “No, that he wasn’t angry with her; but that things were going wrong — altogether wrong; and if they didn’t mend, he couldn’t see his way out of it at all.”

But one night he came home cheerful and hilarious, though rather the worse for liquor. He showed her a roll of notes which he had won at roulette — over a hundred pounds — and added, “That shall be the game for me in future, Polly; all square and above-board there.”

“My dear George, I wish you’d give up gambling.”

“So I will, some of these fine days, my dear. I only do it to pass the time. It’s cursed dull having nothing to do.”

“To-morrow is the great day at the races, George. I wish you would take me; I never saw a horserace.”

“Ay, to be sure,” said he; “we’ll go, and, what’s more, we’ll go alone. I won’t have you seen in public with those dowdy drabs.”

So they went alone. Such a glorious day as it was — the last happy day she spent for very long! How delightful it was, all this rush and crush, and shouting and hubbub around, while you were seated in a phaeton, secure above the turmoil! What delight to see all the beautiful women in the carriages, and, grandest sight of all, which struck awe and admiration into Mary’s heart, was the great Prince himself, that noble gentleman, in a gutter-sided hat, and a wig so fearfully natural that Mary secretly longed to pull his hair.

But princes and duchesses were alike forgotten when the course was cleared for the great event of the day, and, one by one, the sleek beauties came floating along, above the crowd, towards the starting-post. Then George, leaving Mary in the phaeton to the care of their landlady, pushed his way among the crowd, and, by dint of hard squeezing, got against the rail. He had never seen such horses as these; he had never known what first-class horse-racing was. Here was a new passion for him, which, like all his others, should only by its perversion end in his ruin.

He had got some money on one of the horses, though he, of course, had never seen it. There was a cheer all along the line, and a dark bay fled past towards the starting-post, seeming rather to belong to the air than the ground. “By George,” he said, aloud, as the blood mounted to his face, and tingled in his ears, “I never saw such a sight as that before.”

He was ashamed of having spoken aloud in his excitement, but a groom who stood by said, for his consolation —

“I don’t suppose you ever did, sir, nor no man else. That’s young Velocipede, and that’s Chiffney a-ridin’ him. You’ll see that horse walk over for everything next year.”

But now the horses came down, five of them abreast; at a walk, amid a dead silence from the crowd, three of them, steady old stagers, but two jumping and pulling. “Back, Velocipede; back, Lara!” says the starter; down goes the flag, they dart away, and then there is a low hum of conversation, until a murmur is heard down the course, which swells into a roar as you notice it. The horses are coming. One of the royal huntsmen gallops by, and then, as the noise comes up towards you, you can hear the maddening rush of the horses’ feet upon the turf, and, at the same time, a bay and a chestnut rush past in the last fierce struggle, and no man knows yet who has won.

Then the crowd poured once more over the turf, and surged and cheered round the winning horses. Soon it came out that Velocipede had won, and George, turning round delighted, stood face to face with a gipsy woman.

She had her hood low on her head, so that he could not see her face, but she said, in a low voice, “Let me tell your fortune.”

“It is told already, mother,” said George. “Velocipede has won; you won’t tell me any better news than that this day, I know.”

“No, George Hawker, I shan’t,” replied the gipsy, and, raising her hood for an instant, she discovered to his utter amazement the familiar countenance of Madge.

“Will you let me tell your fortune now, my boy?” she said.

“What, Madge, old girl! By Jove, you shall. Well, who’d a’ thought of seeing you here?”

“I’ve been following you, and looking for you ever so long,” she said. “They at the Nag’s Head didn’t know where you were gone, and if I hadn’t been a gipsy, and o’ good family, I’d never have found you.”

“You’re a good old woman,” he said. “I suppose you’ve some news for me?”

“I have,” she answered; “come away after me.”

He followed her into a booth, and they sat down. She began the conversation.

“Are you married?” she asked.

“Ay; a month since.”

“And you’ve got her money?”

“Yes,” he said; “but I’ve been walking into it.”

“Make the most of it,” said Madge. “Your father’s dead.”

“Dead!”

“Ay, dead. And, what’s worse, lad, he lived long enough to alter his will.”

“Oh, Lord! What do you mean?”

“I mean,” she said, “that he has left all his money to your cousin. He found out everything, all in a minute, as it were; and he brought a new will home from Exeter, and I witnessed it. And he turned me out of doors, and, next morning, after I was gone, he was found dead in his bed. I got to London, and found no trace of you there, till, by an accident, I heard that you had been seen down here, so I came on. I’ve got my living by casting fortins, and begging, and cadging, and such like. Sometime I’ve slept in a barn, and sometime in a hedge, but I’ve fought my way to you, true and faithful, through it all, you see.”

“So he’s gone,” said George, between his teeth, “and his money with him. That’s awful. What an unnatural old villain!”

“He got it into his head at last, George, that you weren’t his son at all.”

“The lunatic! — and what put that into his head?”

“He knew you weren’t his wife’s son, you see, and he had heard some stories about me before I came to live with him, and so, at the last, he took to saying he’d nought to do with you.”

“Then you mean to say ——”

“That you are my boy,” she said, “my own boy. Why, lad, who but thy own mother would a’ done for thee what I have? And thou never thinking of it all these years! Blind lad!”

“Good God!” said George. “And if I had only known that before, how differently I’d have gone on. How I’d have sneaked and truckled, and fetched and carried for him! Bah, it’s enough to drive one mad. All this hide-and-seek work don’t pay, old woman. You and I are bowled out with it. How easy for you to have given me a hint of this years ago, to make me careful! But you delight in mystery and conglomeration, and you always will. There — I ain’t ungrateful, but when I think of what we’ve lost, no wonder I get wild. And what the devil am I to do now?”

“You’ve got the girl’s money to go on with,” she said.

“Not so very much of it,” he replied. “I tell you I’ve been playing like — never mind what, this last month, and I’ve lost every night. Then I’ve got another woman in tow, that costs — oh curse her, what don’t she cost, what with money and bother? — In short, if I don’t get something from somewhere, in a few months I shall be in Queer Street. What chance is there of the parson’s dying?”

“It don’t matter much to you when he dies, I expect,” said she, “for you may depend that those that’s got hold of him won’t let his money come into your hands. He’s altered his will, you may depend on it.”

“Do you really think so?”

“I should think it more probable than not. You see that old matter with the Bank is known all over the country, although they don’t seem inclined to push it against you, for some reason. Yet it’s hardly likely that the Vicar would let his money go to a man who couldn’t be seen for fear of a rope.”

“You’re a raven, old woman,” he said. “What am I to do?”

“Give up play, to begin with.”

“Well?”

“Start some business with what’s left.”

“Ha, ha! Well, I’ll think of it. You must want some money, old girl! Here’s a fipunnote.”

“I don’t want money, my boy; I’m all right,” she said.

“Oh, nonsense; take it.”

“I won’t,” she answered. “Give me a kiss, George.”

He kissed her forehead, and bent down his head reflecting. When he looked up she was gone.

He ran out of the booth and looked right and left, but saw her nowhere. Then he went sulkily back to his wife. He hardly noticed her, but said it was time to go home. All the way back, and after they had reached their lodgings, he kept the same moody silence, and she, frightened at some unheard-of calamity, forbore to question him. But when she was going to bed she could withhold her anxiety no longer, and said to him:

“Oh, George, you have got some bad news; let me share it with you. If it is anything about my father, I implore you to tell me. How is it I have got no answer to the letter I wrote a month ago?”

He answered her savagely: “I don’t know anything about your father, and I don’t care. I’ve got bad news, d —— d bad news, if that will make you sleep the sounder. And, once for all, you’ll find it best, when you see me sulky, not to give me any of your tantrums in addition. Mind that.”

He had never spoken to her like that before. She went to her bed crushed and miserable, and spent the night in crying, while he went forth and spent the night with some of his new companions, playing wildly and losing recklessly, till the summer morning sun streamed through the shutters, and shone upon him desperate and nigh penniless, ripe for a fall lower than any he had had as yet.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 21:44