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The High And The Humble Chapter Seven

"Jack experiences is first horse meeting"

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It took nearly a week of trying before Trafalgar allowed the saddle to be fitted without any fuss. This was despite Sir Oswald having been informed that their purchase had been broken in.

For Jack, mounting the animal proved equally difficult but Becky’s relationship with the horse proved most valuable, for, as she stroked Trafalgar’s muzzle, Jack was able to get himself into the saddle. It took several days of this before Trafalgar allowed him to mount at any time.

One of the unexpected advantages of having Trafalgar was that Becky’s relationship with the horse allowed her to wander across to the stables quite casually.

Jack’s first careful rides on Trafalgar told him what a sturdy animal he had under him. Always, he was very aware of how his weight was more than his mount should be carrying, and he had in mind the instructions about gradual progress.

Sir Oswald had asked the groundsman to ensure that the flat stretch of turf that ran down the left-hand length of the lake was kept cut short almost as far as the village. A distance of almost a mile. Jack, with the help of Alf, set out to mark each furlong, up to the seventh with a tall wooden peg.

To facilitate this, Jack, knowing that there[i] were forty rods in a furlong, using a stick measuring one rod, cut a rope to twenty stick lengths. This made the task of measuring much less laborious. The whole task took them less than half a day.

“Bye, you’re some kind of clever bugger, you, Jack,” Alf said in admiration.

Jack took Trafalgar on a steady canter along the length, always aware of the suppressed power under him.

Jack’s eagerness to see his first race meeting was heightened when Sir Oswald, told them that Alf would drive the coach and Jack would be his drive stand-by alongside him.

Sir Oswald spoke of extra buildings which would house extra phaetons and a coach. He told them, proudly, “This, is because, with Trafalgar, I believe we’ll be doing much more travelling in the near future.”

The day before their journey, Alf returned from his ride with Sir Oswald, and showed Jack two black, three-quarter length jackets. “The major wants us looking as smart as possible tomorrow. One of these is mine. I’ve worn it before. But try on the other one.”

He handed over the jacket, and Jack looked at it dubiously. Smarter than anything he had worn before, it was clean, but the collar ends were slightly turned up. Jack shrugged into it.

“Not a bad fit,” Alf said with a grin, “if you were two stone heavier.”

Jack frowned, as he looked down, but not as bad as Alf’s joke had suggested. He had a pair of hardly worn breeches that would make a good contrast. And there was a pair of decent buckled shoes that he wore for best, which was rare.

The following day, Jack and Alf harnessed the two drays to the coach, side by side, in front of the house.

The front door opened and Vincent, the sour butler, bowed his head respectfully as Lady Brandling appeared, looking massive in a heavy pink shawl, over a powerfully red gown.

Jack held the carriage door open and offered an arm to guide Lady Brandling up. She gave a nod of gratitude and he found plenty of weight applied as she heaved herself through the door. Sir Oswald had followed his wife out, and Jack could only afford a swift exchange glance with Becky as she moved behind her uncle.

“Looking very smart, Jack,” Sir Oswald commented, stepping inside.

“Thank you, sir,” Jack replied, as Becky, in a neatly fitting lemon gown, came alongside him, causing him the usual palpitations. But he caught her grin, as, sotto voce, she commented. “It almost fits.”

As he was about to offer Becky his arm to help her up, she said, “You aren’t abandoning Trafalgar, I hope.”

From inside the coach Sir Oswald called, “Oh, she is besotted with that horse.”

Alf came up to the door. “And it’s mutual, major.” He turned to Becky and explained, “Two men from Farmer Briggs place are standing in for us for today, m’lady.”

Then, with a sly smirk in Jack’s direction, Becky deliberately took Alf’s proffered arm to step up inside the coach. Jack closed the coach door and then gave Alf a hand up onto the driver’s perch.

At a steady pace, they were in Exhampton racecourse in just over two hours.  Jack had been told it was only a minor course, but he found it a location of dazzle and colour. Bunting decorated the small stand, which had seats in the rear section for the upper echelon of punters.

Sir Oswald guided the two ladies into a hospitality tent for the gentry, as Jack and Alf drove on to park the carriage and give the horses some freedom. Jack caught a glimpse of the elegant colourful gowns of the ladies inside the tent.

Minor it might be, but Jack was quite overcome with the whole ambience, especially, as race time approached, and they stood on the outer rim of the colourful and sleekly clad upper classes to watch the runners for the first race parade. He thought none of the entrants compared with the majesty of Trafalgar.

When the jockeys appeared in their multicoloured silks to stand conversing with owners and trainers, Jack’s heart gave a lurch and his throat tightened. Oh, how he’d love to be part of this. To be involved in this kind of exciting preparation. Is this where training Trafalgar could lead him? It was sheer magic.

“Our Trafalgar makes this lot look like donkeys,” Alf commented beside him.

“I was thinking that,” Jack told him.

“Not exactly Ascot or Newmarket.”

“You’ve been there?”

Alf nodded. “Long time ago. Hell of a journey, but well worth it.”

They moved to trackside to watch the first race. That took them past the hospitality tent, and before they’d got much further, Becky, aglow in her lemon gown hurried out to greet them. “I’ve been watching for you,” she said, her eyes holding Jack’s. “Just a minute.” And she disappeared briefly before returning holding a tall slender glass in each hand.

“Champagne to start the fun,” she giggled, handing them a glass each.

Jack looked from the bubbling glass up to the shining brown eyes in front of him.

“I’ve never tasted champagne before,” he said.

“Ale’s better,” Alf mumbled, but added, before taking a huge mouthful. “Thank you, m’lady.”

Jack took a delicate sip and found it a mite sweet for his taste buds, but in response to Becky’s anxious query he said, “Quite tasty, m’lady.”

Becky laughed out loud, just as Sir Oswald came out of the tent, along with the majority of the others wanting to watch the first race.

“What’s funny?”

Becky told him what Jack had said about the champagne, and Sir Oswald frowned and told her, “Don’t be impudent, my dear. It is an acquired taste, which I do believe, Jack will become accustomed to.” Then to Alf, he asked, “Have you wagered on this race, Alf?”

“No, major, I’ll save it for a later race, or if—” And he gave a little chortle, “you obtain some inside information.”

Becky was standing so close to Jack, he could have easily, and joyfully, wrapped an arm around her waist. It was with some effort that he tried to keep his eyes from her face, which seemed to reflect the sunlight.

Sir Oswald was responding to Alf’s quip about a wager, “Strangely, the next race, is a two-year-old maiden race. Jack, you should know that this is the type of race that we’ll be entering Trafalgar in when he’s ready. At a much higher grade, of course.”

That suggestion of quality sent a shiver of concern through Jack.

Becky was quick to interject, “But, uncle, how can Trafalgar be in a maiden race when he’s a stallion?”

Both Sir Oswald and Alf gave a brief laugh before her uncle told her, “No, my dear, ‘maiden’ in this sense does not refer to the sex of an animal, but simply to any horse that has never won a race.”

As they all laughed, Jack was realising that, although he knew that small detail, he really had much to learn about the racing world.

“Come along, Rebecca,” Sir Oswald said, taking Becky’s arm, “better see if your aunt has talked her friends to death.”

Becky’s face gave a slight grimace, but, with an almost imperceptible shrug, and a sad glance in Jack’s direction she followed her uncle back into the tent.

As the afternoon moved on, Jack continued to absorb the general excitement of the event, while having his spirits raised even further whenever Becky managed to make an excuse to be out and near him. This happened mostly with each race when Sir Oswald was also around.

For the third race, Becky came out to say that her uncle had given her three guineas to place on any horse of her choice, and she had been told to ask Alf to show her how to approach the row of bookmaker stands.

Alf asked her if there was a horse she fancied in this seven-furlong race. “I’ll just pick a name I like,” she said, and she turned to Jack. “Have you had a wager yet?”

“He’s too mean,” Alf chuckled, and he gave Jack a long stare before adding, “But I imagine you could talk him into taking a risk, m’lady.”

That was the moment that Jack would recall later when Alf sought his confession. The old ostler clearly had strong suspicions then.

From a bookmaker’s board of ten runners, Becky quickly selected a horse noted as Red Spirit.

“Because I suggested a name with ‘red’ in it for Trafalgar,” she explained.

Alf urged them along the line of price boards until they found one that offered 8/1 against her choice. After Alf’s instruction, Becky stepped boldly up to the bookmaker, handed over her three guineas, indicated her choice and was handed a slip from the bookmaker’s clerk.

Sir Oswald came out to stand with them as the horses lined up. “Did you help her with the selection, Alf?” he asked.

“All her own choice, major,” Alf told him.

“Quite an amazing coincidence,” Sir Oswald said mysteriously, as he was told the name of the horse, but he didn’t elaborate.  Becky was pleased and announced her pleasure at seeing that, on her horse, the jockey was wearing bright red silks.

Those bright red silks stayed among the first three all the way to the final furlong when the horse charged ahead and won by two lengths. That sent Becky into paroxysms of delight. She hugged Alf, her uncle and finally, when she reached Jack, seemingly recalling the village fayre incident, she hesitated and glanced at her uncle.

Sir Oswald gave her a fond grin and said, “It would be cruel to leave Jack out of your celebrations.”

Instantly as her arms wrapped around his neck, Jack sensed that this hug was extra special, as her cheek rubbed against his, and her timing was extended, only by a few seconds, but to Jack, invaluably.

Her face flushed with excitement she stepped back, Sir Oswald was smiling at her exuberance, but Jack noticed a slight frown on Alf’s face. Something else he would remember later.

“My God, what are you going to be like when Trafalgar wins?” Sir Oswald commented, before guiding her back towards the tent, from which she emerged without delay, carrying two more glasses of champagne.

“My uncle says to help you acquire the taste,” she giggled, and as Jack took the glass her fingers trailed up his wrist.

By the end of the meeting, Jack was thinking that it had been one of the most heart-lifting days of his life, missing only close intimacy with Becky.

But the excitement of the day was not fully over, for, as Alf and Jack were about to go and prepare the coach for their return, Sir Oswald came from the hospitality tent accompanied by a short, slightly built man of indeterminate age. This was because his face was creased with a myriad of tiny wrinkles, yet his movement and smile suggested something less than middle age.

Behind them followed a beaming Becky, whose dark eyes quickly bathed Jack into a warmth that he wanted to live on.

“Alf, Jack, I want you to meet the coincidence I mentioned earlier,” Sir Oswald began.

“He was the jockey on Red Spirit,” Becky butted in with a wild show of enthusiasm, and immediately lowered her head under her uncle’s stern glance.

“Yes,” Sir Oswald went on his tone showing his aggravation, “I had already spoken with Mr Oliver here, even before the race he won, about riding Trafalgar for us.”

Jack and Alf exchanged positive looks as Nate Oliver was introduced, to them. As he talked Jack was quietly impressed with the modest way he talked. He learned that the wrinkled features were a result of constant weight problems and having to practically starve himself to maintain an acceptable racing weight. He was only thirty-six years old.

Standing beside him had Jack feeling like a giant, but he was delighted that Sir Oswald had found a skilled jockey for Trafalgar, a man who was willing to come to the manor and ‘ride out’ on Trafalgar.

So, all things considered, Jack’s first experience of a racecourse had been successful, and so stimulating. 

Written by redwriter
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