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The High And The Humble Chapter Fifteen Near Exposure

"Jack and Becky realise confession of their indiscretion is inevitable"

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Jack Wetherley walked slowly, morosely, along the front of the new stables. Not since the death of his father six years earlier, had he ever felt so low. Passing the open-gated front of the twenty, as yet, unused stalls, he was asking himself whether his months of intimacy, with Becky, the niece of Sir Oswald Brandling, were about to tear them apart.

They had both been aware of the risks they were taking in prolonging their warm affair. But life had a way of biting just as everything looked so promising. After two days since Becky had broken the news, he had given so much thought to their situation, and could see no solution but to admit the truth. And this was the right day for his confession.

Lord Duckham was due to visit that very lunchtime. As chief racehorse trainer to the Prince Regent, it was he who had set up the whole idea of Brandling Estate becoming the Brandling stables with Jack in charge. That was largely based on Jack’s success with Sir Oswald’s thoroughbred, Trafalgar.

His Lordship would be visiting for a final check that everything was ready for the movement of the first thoroughbreds from the royal stables, as well as extra staff, a clerk, and stable hands.

A sigh shuddered through Jack’s body at the thought that he would be losing all of this. As an ostler, he would find work somewhere, but he had begun to feel so at one with the people here, Sir Oswald, Alf and Nate, who had been given royal jockey status.

And then there was Becky, beautiful, and so loving. There was no doubt that she was going to be the biggest loss of all. He hadn’t seen her since her despairing revelation two days ago when they were nestled in one of their favourite haunts out on the Bascombe Hills.

Shocked and immediately worried as he was, when she had tearfully informed him of her pregnancy, Jack’s initial concern was the distress Becky must have been carrying for at least a week. Seven weeks overdue, she had wanted to be certain, but had withheld her worry to avoid upsetting him, and he loved her for that.

He had whispered that sentiment into her ear before adding, “We need to think it through. We’ve always known the risk we’ve been taking. Now it’s caught up with us, we need to give it careful thought.”

She turned her face up to him. “You’re not mad at me, are you?” Had she ever looked so woeful?

“Mad at you? How could I ever be mad at the lady I love so much.”

Her brown eyes were so reddened, “I feared you might want me to get rid of—”

Jack put his hand over her mouth, “Don’t dare say that. Don’t dare to think it.”

Becky raised her head closer, “Kiss me, Jack.”

The kiss was warm, kindly and so gentle.

Their ride back to the manor had been fairly quiet, but outside the manor, she had dismounted and said quietly, “I couldn’t live without you, Jack. Think of something.”

Standing outside the new stables now, Jack felt as though his lack of a clear solution was letting her down. The previous day he and Alf had watched over the general clearing up by the workforce, ready for Lord Duckham’s inspection. Alf had returned from his ride with Sir Oswald who had told him that his niece had seemed unwell.

Now Jack turned as the sound of hooves on the newly laid terracing heralded the return of Alf leading Charger behind him. Alf said that the Major had wanted to end the ride a little earlier as he was expecting Lord Duckham at lunchtime, before he moved on to the mansion of the Duke of Westmoreland on the banks of Lake Windermere.

As they were brushing down the two horses, Alf asked, “Is there anything wrong between you and Becky?”

“That’s a funny question,” Jack said, feeling just a little guilty at avoiding telling Alf the facts. He hadn’t kept secrets before, although Alf had been wily enough to first detect his relationship with Becky. Not this time, though.

Alf shrugged. “It’s just that the Major asked if I knew if anything had upset her.”

“How upset was she?”

“He just said that last few days she’d been quiet and, what was it? Truck—trunk something”

“Truculent?”

“Aye, that’s it. What’s that mean?”

“Grumpy, like you,” Jack said, desperately wanting to lighten the mood.

“Very funny,” Alf snorted, but more seriously. “Oh, the Major wants you to dress smartly for walking his Lordship around. So, when we’re done here, get away and into your fancies.”

Ever since his father died Jack had lived with his Aunt Rose, in her small cottage. She was surprised to see him home so early, and when she heard why he was getting changed, she laughed, “Mixing with Lords now, is it? Where’ll you be next?”

But pulling on his white shirt Jack felt as though he was dressing for his own execution. Without any clear idea or direction, he had decided that the sooner he spoke out, the quicker his situation would be resolved. But what about Becky? She was carrying his baby. God, he hated himself for being so hopelessly helpless.

Arriving back at the stables, he found Alf, sitting on a barrel at the stable door. Surprisingly, sitting alongside him was Nate, neatly dressed in fawn breeches and a dark green jacket. The sun was high overhead, and it should have been a perfect day, but Jack feared it was heading to be quite the opposite.

“You’re dressed up well, Jack,” Nate said.

Alf grinned, and shook his head. “Call that dressing? You look like a bloody scarecrow.”

Jack grimaced. This should be a perfect situation, sitting out in the sun, sharing friendly banter. He was feeling instead that this could be the last time. Trying to remain level-headed, he expressed his surprise that Nate was there.

Nate shrugged, “I never had a chance to thank Lord Duckham for giving me this royal jockey post. I heard he’ll be here today.”

“Any time now,” Alf said. “They’ve been in for lunch for over an hour.”

Nate nodded, and turned to Jack again. “Has he told you anything?”

Puzzled, Jack could only shake his head. ”About what?”

Nate frowned, looking slightly embarrassed. “You know, after that slimy assistant of Lord Duckham’s that you were---”

At that moment there was a loud, deep. “Good afternoon!” from their right, and Lord Duckham, silver hair blowing in the warm breeze, hand raised in greeting, appeared around the edge of the stable, flanked by a smiling Sir Oswald.

As the three men stood, Jack could not take his eyes off Becky, gorgeous as ever in a deep green gown, just one step behind Sir Oswald. But this wasn’t the usual Becky. Her eyes looked dull and although she managed a weak smile in Jack’s direction, she could only grant a nod to Alf and Nate. Alf’s glance at Jack was full of questions.

As Sir Oswald and Lord Duckham reached them, his Lordship shook each man warmly and generously by the hand. “A wonderful day for this,” he declared. Nate immediately took the opportunity to thank him for the royal appointment.

“Not at all,” his Lordship said, “It is well deserved, and a repeat of what you have achieved already will be pleasing for everyone.”

Jack was wincing inside at the thought that he would not be here to see that happen.

Sir Oswald turned back to his niece, “Why don’t you go and give Trafalgar a rub? Might cheer you up.” As Becky. eyes down, moved towards the fence where the chestnut waited, Sir Oswald said, “My niece has been rather low for the last few days.” Jack wasn’t sure whether the quick glance in his direction had any significance, as he went on, “I hope she isn’t coming down with something.”

Alf and Nate remained to enjoy the sunshine, while Jack led  Sir Oswald and Lord Duckham towards the new stable, and Sir Oswald pointed out the double-doored bay which would be storage space for hay, before the stalls even began.

 His Lordship appeared very impressed, and as they walked along in front of the twenty stalls his enthusiasm increased. Halfway along, after some time spent fondling Trafalgar, Becky caught up with them, her face was expressionless.

Jack was surprised to find the new living quarters so near completion. Sir Oswald talked about it to a very impressed Lord Duckham before they moved to complete the tour at the training track area.

The nearness of Becky made Jack even more uneasy as confession time could not be far away.

Trackside, the whole craft and labour force waited to hear Lord Duckham’s opinion of their efforts. His Lordship stamped his feet into the new ash surface surrounding the lake, and clearly satisfied with that test he said, “First class.” Then he drew a loud cheer from the men as he informed them that the bonus they had been promised, would be doubled.

As the crowd dispelled, Lord Duckham, came back to them, and with a deep chuckle he said, “I’m so generous with the Prince Regent’s money.” He plucked a large watch from his waistcoat pocket, glanced at it and pronounced, “A quarter to two. Barely time to complete the final duty on this occasion.”

While he spoke, Becky took the opportunity to sidle alongside Jack and whisper, “Any ideas?”

Jack looked down into those wonderful brown eyes, cursing that he had nothing to give her but bad news. “I’m going to have to confess.” And, as he saw her expression crumble, he added, “But you are, and always will be, my dearest lady.”

Jack was curious when Lord Duckham had mentioned a final act. Inspecting the finished work and thanking the builders had been the main intentions of his Lordship’s visit.

As they reached the steps to the main door, Jack knew he was guilty of avoiding making his confession. How would he do it? One of his main concerns was in shielding Becky from any hurt. Oh, God, how could he avoid that?

Sir Oswald broke into his worries, by turning to Lord Duckham, while mounting the steps, while waving his hand at Jack and Becky, and saying, “I think we should have a celebratory toast.”

Jack’s mind was in such a mixed whirl of worry and lost opportunity that he wondered how appropriate a celebratory drink could be. Entering the only main room he had ever been in, a manservant, who had replaced the odious, over-pompous, Vincent, indicated the four glasses already filled with champagne on Sir Oswald’s large desk.

“Thank you, Sanders,” Sir Oswald said, as the manservant left.

Jack caught Becky’s puzzled frown, as she added a slight baffled shrug to that. He dreaded the idea saying, in her presence what he must be said. But then Sir Oswald was speaking, “Before we raise our glasses, I believe, Lord Duckham, you have a delivery to make.”

“Thank you, Oswald,” Lord Duckham said, “I do need to get away promptly. Must be in Windermere before dark.”

Jack had noticed coach and horses standing to one side of the main entrance, and now was a little surprised as his Lordship, turned to face him, reached into an inside pocket of his three-quarter jacket and produced a long envelope, which he handed to Jack. “You need to read this. As you’ll see, it is not from me.”

Dazed, Jack glanced at the envelope and saw it addressed to Mr Jack Wetherley, Brandling Estate, and at the top was a royal crest. “Come on, man. Open it,” Lord Duckham urged with mock impatience. “My coach is waiting.”

The envelope wasn’t sealed, and with trembling fingers, Jack extracted the scented sheet inside it. Opening it, he began to read it silently, ‘To Mr Jack Wetherley. You are expected to attend St James’ Palace—‘ Jack’s legs began to shake.

“Out loud,” Sir Oswald demanded. “I think we all deserve to share this with you.”

Nervously, Jack glanced around him. Lord Duckham was looking at his watch again,

Sir Oswald was wearing a slight smile, and, at last there was a look of vague excitement on his darling Becky’s face.

He began to read out loud,

“You are expected to attend St James Palace at 2.30 pm on the 31st Inst for your investiture as knight of the realm by his Royal Highness , the Prince Regent, George. This is in recognition of your role as deputy chief racehorse trainer to his Highness.”

There was a scribble of a signature of the Royal Secretary at the end.

Sir Oswald came forward and shook his hand warmly, “I am delighted for you.”

“Thank you, sir,” Jack responded, at that moment confused, totally.

Sir Oswald went on, “You will be, Sir Jack Wetherley. And must stop calling me, ‘sir’, although I’d settle for ‘major.” He laughed, before turning to where Becky had been standing, with her mouth slightly open and tears on her cheeks, “Rebecca, even having a new knight in our midst does not improve your mood?”

 She would know only that this was only a temporary aberration. All their earlier fears and regrets remained. They still had to face the outcome of Jack’s confession. Someday he might be able to boast that he had once been a contender for a knighthood.

Becky came to stand in front of him. “I’m so proud of you, Jack.” She squeezed his hand and kissed him with incredible politeness on the cheek.  

Sir Oswald handed out the brimming glasses, raised his own, and said, “Here’s to the good health and success of Sir Jack Wetherley.”

Lord Duckham added, “And to the success and development of Brandling stables.” He put down his glass and gave Jack a tight handshake, “Congratulations, Jack. I know you’ll be an asset to our team.”

Now! Now was the time to tell them. Guilt at allowing this sham celebration hung over him. The whole thing was going to explode in their faces. The situation  was now even worse than before. His own cowardliness distressed him as all still remained to be revealed, but now he had further to fall. From knighthood to—what?

 Not three yards away, his darling Becky was dabbing at her eyes with a lacey handkerchief. He hated the fact that she had to suffer too.

Heading  for the door, Lord Duckham voiced his farewells and added, “When your party come down for the investiture you must all stay at my mansion in Ascot.”

Sir Oscar thanked him and said, “I’ll see you to the door.” On the way out he stopped, turned back to say, “I’d like you two to remain here until my return.”

The moment the door closed Becky was clinging to him. “You would be a ‘Sir’. My father would have allowed me to marry you.” Those eyes that should have been full of joy, now reflected his own despondency and concern.

How would Sir Oscar deal with their coming confession and obvious deception?

 

Published 
Written by redwriter
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