When Nate Oliver came for his first ride, Jack was immediately impressed by his horsemanship. Just seeing Trafalgar, drew awesome praise from the jockey.
“Yes, his musculature tells me that this is a prospective winner. It is only a matter of how good he is, and we’ll only find out in the running of him.” Nate Oliver was quick to declare.
One surprise for Jack was to see how quickly Nate formed a good relationship with Trafalgar. Before he ever mounted him, he seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time stroking around his head, muzzle and ears, murmuring quiet words.
Both Jack and Alf agreed that Sir Oswald had made the right choice to get the best out of the thoroughbred horse.
Nate, after another two weeks of work with Trafalgar, respectfully asked for permission to give him a full-speed workout over six furlongs.
Alf suggested that it might be prudent to have Sir Oswald present to see the power of the animal he had paid a ransom for. Of course, with this being about Trafalgar, then Becky had to be there too. “It wasn’t only the horse I wanted to view,” she would tell Jack later.
“I’m really looking forward to this.” Sir Oswald declared, “I have made enquiries that I hope I can put into action soon.”
Jack and Nate had agreed that Trafalgar’s pace should be kept in check until they reached the first furlong marker and then, from that point, the horse should be given his head. Full pace.
The watching group moved down to stand midway between the five and six-furlong markers so that they would get an appreciation of Trafalgar at his top speed.
Jack had to concentrate on Nate’s action on the horse, despite Becky standing close to his left shoulder. He had come to know Nate much better over the past weeks and knew they had the right man for the job. Nate was genuine, and when he smiled, which was frequent, all the tiny wrinkles were stretched from his face.
Now the jockey had Trafalgar ready at the start, and when Jack raised and dropped his arm, they saw the horse urged into a ready gallop until they reached the first marker when Nate leaned forward close to the horse’s neck. Trafalgar seemed to gain wings as he charged towards them.
As they came nearer Jack was sure he could see Nate whispering into Trafalgar’s ear. Whatever he was doing, the glorious motion of the chestnut animal came hurtling with deliciously long and rapid strides, every muscle rippling like waves on the ocean.
As Trafalgar hurtled past them, Jack’s breath was caught in his throat. Gasps of appreciation came from everyone in the group. Then Nate was slowing Trafalgar and turning him to trot steadily back towards them.
As soon as they were level, Nate slid from the saddle and panted, “Hell, I’ve ridden so many horses in my time, but I’ve never been on anything like this one.” His head nodded appreciatively, as his grey eyes assured them.
“You handled him so well, Nate,” Jack said, the elation of the moment gripping him.
“Would you say he’s ready for a race?” Sir Oswald asked.
Nate nodded his head assuredly, “Sir, in my humble opinion, I’d say that he is more than ready.”
Sir Oswald’s eyes were now on Jack as he said, “Well, I said I had been making enquiries, and there is a classy six-furlong maiden race for two-year-olds at York racecourse in three weeks. As a trainer, Jack, are you happy with that?”
“Definitely,” Jack said without hesitation, and he saw Alf’s head nod in agreement.
“I’ll set the wheels in motion. Gives us something to look forward to.”
“I can hardly wait,” Jack sighed
"Neither can I,” Becky whispered, and her glance up at him told Jack that she might not be referring to the race.
~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~
As though confirming that, Becky continued her genuine love of Trafalgar, often using it to signal her affection for Jack, from a distance. After one of their stable sessions, she reluctantly admitted that her aunt had demanded that she spend two days in the city with her.
“Shopping and gossiping,” Becky moaned, “And I have to share a hotel room with my aunt, and she snores.”
Jack laughed, “Don’t you?”
Becky snuggled against him, “Wouldn’t you like to find out sometime#?”
“I’d love to.”
Casual as it seemed, Becky’s shopping trip gave rise to the situation with Alf that had worried Jack for a while. The first day she was away, almost out of habit, he was at the stable early.
But on the second morning, he decided that it really wasn’t necessary, and he arrived at what had been his usual time, and Alf was busy moving the horses, one by one, into the grazing area. Trafalgar was moved into his gated area.
The older man, after giving Trafalgar a friendly pat along the flank, wasted no time in asking Jack a straight question, “Well now, I wonder what happened to early starts? Isn’t it time you told me?”
Slightly puzzled by Alf’s way of phrasing the question about earliness, but, having a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, Jack asked. “Tell you what?”
“About how close you and the major’s niece have become.”
Jack’s throat tightened. Here it was, the revelation that had to be faced one day, but would denying it be any use? “What makes you think that?”
Alf’s lips tightened, “You want a list?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Oh, come on, Jack,” Alf said, snapping his fingers in the air. “From the day you took that first ride with her, I was worried for you, and have remained worried.”
Jack could not find any words and just looked into the wrinkled questioning old eyes.
“Those late afternoon runs with Rascal, on warm days, and you dipped in the lake.”
God, Jack was thinking, he’s putting two and two together and it looks like he’s going to get four, “Yes, but you knew I did that.”
Alf gave a half-smile, “But then the major expressed concern about how secretive and vague his niece was about late afternoon walks she took. Coincidence, Jack?”
Alf paused, and Jack knew there was no use in denying the charges that were coming, but Alf’s voice became less accusative as he said, “You know, I never saw the pair of you together until the village fayre, when she threw her arms around the conquering hero.”
He coughed before going on, “The major told me how furious he was about that, but he was blaming her for being unladylike.”
Jack half-fearing the outcome now, but curious about the half-smile on Alf’s lips as he went on, “I noticed you being surprisingly fussy when piling up that hay in the corner. But you got careless. One lunchtime, I found it looking as though a horse had been rolling on it. But it wasn’t a horse, was it?”
Jack couldn’t help looking at his mentor in wonder, “What a spy you would make. But you said nothing.”
“I was mainly worried that you’d ignored my warnings, and how bloody stupid that was. Two events have changed my thinking.”
Jack was puzzled at how Alf’s demeanour seemed less challenging, “Changed? What events?”
Alf’s head shook slightly as he said, “The day Trafalgar arrived, the major brought his niece with him, and I saw her face whenever she looked your way. And yours was interesting too. Her look, that expression in the eyes, was even more obvious and frequent when we went to the Exhampton race meeting. That, and how often the pair of you stood close.”
“I’m sorry, Alf. Your warning has been in my mind—”
Alf now placed a friendly hand on Jack’s shoulder, “You are hooked like a salmon, aren’t you?”
Trying to avoid looking shamefaced, Jack could only nod his head.
“I’m no expert, Jack, but, despite my early fears, I believe that the young lady is equally hooked. Her eyes when she looked at you---Never the look of a lady who was likely to betray you. Well, only one woman has ever looked at me in that way, and that was my dear Maisie.”
Jack was shocked to see that Alf’s eyes had reddened, “Thank you for being so understanding, Alf.”
Alf sniffed, and held up a hand, “Oh, yes, I understand. I may have too many years behind me, Jack. Become long in the tooth. But I haven’t forgotten. Haven’t forgotten that sense of desperation to be with the one whose every glance is like a kiss. Times when all I wanted was the nearness, the touch, that glance. You know, Maisie and I never stopped holding hands until the very end.”
Jack saw that the older man’s eyes were moist now, as he gave a long heavy sniff.
“Alf, I appreciate your honesty.”
“All you need now,” Alf began, and he put both hands on Jack’s shoulders, “is continued caution. And a ton of luck. But where I can help—I will.”
“Thanks, Alf.” Jack couldn’t recall when he’d ever seen Alf so emotional.
“Just take care. I’ll find you time.”
Then, just as quickly, he was back to his normal self, “Christ, so many changes going on around me and I’m making time for young love.”
Jack could have hugged his dear old mentor but wondered what effect this news would have on Becky. Would she be pleased, or worried?
The next morning when Becky arrived, she leaned over him and murmured, “It just gets better and better, doesn’t it, Jack?”
In his light-hearted, light-headed, mood of contentment, Jack sighed, “Yes, he really is getting fitter and faster by the day.” And he laughed and grunted as Becky’s elbow nudged at his ribs.
“I wasn’t talking about Trafalgar, you devil.”
Jack was relaxed enough to enjoy continuing his teasing, “Oh, you’re talking about the other thoroughbred I have in this stable, the filly. Yes, she’s fairly fast too.”
Becky’s face came down to his and her mouth closed on his briefly before she drew back and said, “It’s been such an exciting few weeks. So much has happened. We’ve deceived everybody despite mixing with so many people.”
Jack became more serious, “Not everybody.”
“What?” She sat up shock and dismay on her lovely face.
“Haven’t you noticed anything about this morning?”
Becky’s brow furrowed, “Well, you haven’t seemed so worried about the time.”
“We have more time because—” He paused deliberately, and before he could continue, he saw it dawn on Becky’s face.
“Alf knows,” she gasped. “You told him?”
“I didn’t have to. He worked it out.” And he told her about it.
Becky’s face showed her surprise as Jack ended his story, “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
“You were away, yesterday, gallivanting in the city with your aunt and her friend.”
“Gallivanting? Huh, dull trips with two old gossips. Just what I wanted.” She shrugged, “That explains something. When Alf brought Ebony for my ride, he smiled at me more pleasantly.”
Jack nodded, “And today he’ll be leading Charger around the outer edge of the field until he sees the stable doors are open.” He glanced towards the closed doors now, “Hell, we’re imposing on his good nature. Best get out of here.”
Outside, and up to the fence, where Trafalgar came quickly to poke his handsome muzzle at Becky. It still amazed Jack to see the horse’s ready devotion to her. It had been like that since his arrival. No call or whistle needed. Jack always smiled at his own frequent comment now, “A horse of impeccable taste.”
Shortly after Becky returned to the house, Alf rode in leading Sir Oswald’s mount, Charger. Jack told Alf that Becky had been informed of his acceptance of their situation.
Alf chuckled, “Does she want to marry me?”
Jack joined in his jocularity, and said, “No, she has her hands full at the moment.”
“And not only her hands,” Alf slyly observed.
~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~
The following morning, sitting comfortably astride Rascal, Jack watched jockey, Nate, canter the two-year-old thoroughbred, Trafalgar, along one side of the Brandling estate lake. He marvelled at the way every muscle in that magnificent horse’s body rippled in a structured rhythm beneath his beautiful chestnut hide.
Just two days before his very first race, the animal looked in better condition than ever, and Jack could barely contain his excitement at the prospect of preparing a horse for a meeting as prestigious as York.
The minor race meeting Sir Oswald Brandling had taken them to, had filled Jack with wonder at the whole racing scene, and that was when he didn’t have a horse running.
Now the responsibility of training this thoroughbred weighed heavily upon him. Sir Oswald claimed that his purchase was not based solely on Jack’s success with Rascal in the annual village fayre race. But having put up the prize, Sir Oswald’s delight must have been an influence.
After paying an unspecified large amount for the thoroughbred, Sir Oswald had become quite passionate about the whole prospect and had subsequently purchased a four-wheeled horsebox to carry Trafalgar to race meetings.
And earlier, had told Jack and Alf, that if Trafalgar managed to win a race, he might consider investing in a second thoroughbred.
That alone had added to Jack’s worry about his own ability to deliver, but then Sir Oswald’s secondary reason had really given Jack a lift
“There is no doubt,” Sir Oswald had continued, “my niece has become a different character since the arrival of Trafalgar. You must have noticed how much more often she hangs around the stable. She just loves Trafalgar. His presence has really settled down that wild streak she had.”
That statement, as well as delighting Jack, had Alf, knowing the truth as he did, half turned away. From warning of the outcome of a culture clash, Alf had become an ally in the secrecy.