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The High And The Humble Chapter Ten High Hopes

"Jack,Becky, Alf and even Sir Oswald looking ahead to Trafalgar's Doncaster race"

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Heading for Doncaster race meeting, settled high on the horsebox seat, Jack knew he going to have to suppress his growing worry of what lay ahead. He flicked at the reins to urge on the two dray horses in order to keep pace with the carriage that Alf, the chief ostler, was driving.

Inside the carriage was Sir Oswald Brandling, and, surprisingly, his wife, Lady Brandling, who had missed the York race, but Sir Oswald had told Jack and Alf, she had decided that this Doncaster meeting was more up-market than the York event.

“So, she has more chance of meeting influential people,” he had laughed. “Who the hell she’s expecting to meet beats me.”

Also, in the carriage, just a little disgruntled, was their niece, Jack’s secret love, Becky Brandling. Her displeasure came from Lady Brandling’s insistence that she wore a bonnet rather than have her hair, as her aunt had put it, “blow about as though you were a wild gypsy.”

Jack had wondered what Lady Brandling might have thought if she knew that when she was in the stable hay with him, she was wilder than any gypsy.

Jack wore a half-smile as he recalled her angry glance as she climbed into the carriage, and he had murmured, “The bonnet suits you, m’lady.” Jack had been quite sincere. The narrow fringe of the pale blue bonnet was much more attractive than Lady Brandling’s wider elaboration.

Becky’s glare might have chilled his heart at any other time, but it was accompanied immediately by a turning of her head, and the sticking out of her lovely pink tongue, for his eyes only.

Since Trafalgar’s six lengths triumph in the maiden race at York three weeks earlier, Sir Oswald had no compunction about spending more money than he had expended already.

Talk of another thoroughbred was still uncertain, but the two dray horses pulling the horsebox under Jack’s guidance were recent purchases, and this outing was the first time they’d been used.

Sir Oswald always had the same moan when talking about the expense of thoroughbred ownership, “There’d be no financial concerns if it wasn’t for that bloody Bonaparte fellow messing about with my French wine trading. Good job the Spanish route remains strong.”

Jack’s rising concerns stemmed from running Trafalgar against real quality thoroughbreds, and over a full mile, two furlongs further than his earlier win. Jockey Nate had been sure the horse could manage that, and their training sessions over recent weeks had confirmed that.

All the runners in this trophy race being two-year-olds the Jockey Club would not support it but recognising that trainers needed to prepare their animals for the following year they did not object to a self-financing competition.

Initially, each owner of the twelve runners entered had agreed to put up fifty pounds, but subsequently, to Sir Oswald’s chagrin, the richer owners had decided it should be one hundred pounds, with the winner taking the full resultant twelve hundred pounds prize.

Jack had heard that two of the competing horses were already entered in the classic Two Thousand Guineas race for three-year-olds in early May. He could not allow himself to consider what the prospects might be if Trafalgar could win this Doncaster race.

Jack had been delighted when he learned that being equidistant between York and Doncaster, the Black Bull hostelry would once again be their stop-over. He also knew that Becky would ensure she had a lower-floor room for both nights. Could any prospect be better?

Training Trafalgar had been doubly pleasing over the intervening weeks since the York victory because Sir Oswald had raised no objections to Becky attending the training sessions more frequently. He saw her devotion to Trafalgar as a calming influence on her, without ever knowing what a calming influence she had on Jack.

Becky’s frequent viewing of training, and the increased training itself, had impinged on the time they had for special meetings in the hay of the stable. But it did mean they could be in each other’s company more often. In fact, Becky was overjoyed to have an opportunity to take part in the actual training on three occasions.

It was jockey Nate who reminded Jack of their worry at York when, briefly, Trafalgar had shown how unused he was to the nearness of other horses at the line-up. So, it had been agreed that their horse needed greater experience of the start.

Consequently, with Nate on Trafalgar, Jack riding Rascal, and Alf on Rusty, they tried a practice line-up. But Nate thought Trafalgar would meet a greater challenge in a race situation. That was when Becky had keenly suggested that she could be on Ebony, the horse she rode out on every day.

“Bloody good idea,” Alf said enthusiastically. “I’ll go and saddle him up for you, m’lady.”

Within five minutes, Becky was up on Ebony and circling with the other horses, while Nate tried to get Trafalgar to join them. “He’s just too damned aloof,” Nate chuckled.

Their first attempt at a starting line-up was spoiled by Trafalgar rearing up, before backing out of line despite Nate’s coaxing. On the second occasion, Trafalgar behaved better, and Jack agreed that further practice was essential.

By the time they had three such sessions, Jack, Alf, and Nate were all content that Trafalgar was showing that he could handle himself in a crowd of horses. It was pleasing that on that third practice, Sir Oswald came along and had Alf saddle his horse, Charger so that he could take part.

“Rebecca has told me,” he said, with a wry smile on his face, “that if Trafalgar wins this Doncaster race it will be because of her influence.”

Becky turned in her saddle and protested, “I didn’t say it like that, uncle.”

Her uncle’s smile broadened, as he said, ”I know, my dear. But if there is to be credit available, you may as well have some of it.”

Jack felt a warm glow inside him. The present situation was as though they were a close family group. Oh, if only that could be the case.

Having been there only three weeks earlier, the Black Bull hostelry was pleasantly familiar, and for Jack, it was full of good memories. Their collective celebration of Trafalgar’s victory, champagne, and a sumptuous meal. Then that personal celebration with only Becky.

As was become usual, Becky helped get Trafalgar out of his box and into the special stalls the hostelry had for racehorses.  Noticing how her beautiful hair was flowing free, Jack asked about her bonnet.

Becky wrinkled her nose and moaned, “I convinced my aunt that I couldn’t deal with horses wearing a bonnet.”

Sir Oswald collected them together in the main cosy lounge, and, having bought them drinks he told them, “Since we arrived, I’ve been given some very interesting information.”

He turned to Jack, a half-smile on his broad features. “You’ll find tomorrow, Jack, that Trafalgar will be racing against a horse of the most high-class background. A horse called Royal Standard.”

Before Jack could query that, Becky broke in, “But surely, uncle, Trafalgar is high-class?”

Her uncle laughed, “True, my dear, but tomorrow, apart from the other top-quality animals, he will be encountering this thoroughbred is from the vast stables of His Royal Highness, the Prince Regent.”

Jack knew immediately what that meant, but as he drew in his breath, Alf queried, “His Royal what? Who’s he?”

Sir Oswald turned a kindly look on Alf. “He is the king’s son, also named George.”

“But,” Alf’s face wrinkled up as he tried to ponder this, “I thought he was Prince of Wales?”

It was Nate who came in then, “The King has been ill, hasn’t he, sir?”

“That’s right. Getting worse apparently.” Sir Oswald nodded, “Loves his horseracing apparently,” He smiled before going on, “And the ladies too if the rumour is correct.” Then, his tone lowered as he added more dubiously, “And now he’s running the country.”

Becky’s voice sounded quietly contemptuous, “I’ll wager he’s among compare to our Trafalgar.”

And they all laughed, while Jack was hoping that she wasn’t in for a big disappointment and reluctantly that night he warned her about that. However, Becky would hear no negative talk, and they parted, with a long, warm kiss.

The following morning, assured him, and he nodded in Becky’s direction. “All the more so when m’lady arrived.”

She was looking gorgeous in a pale green gown, and her smile was coquettish as she asked, “Sleep well, Jack?”

Relishing her nearness, and that personal smile he said, “Very well.”

“Right,” Alf declared, “let’s get this big day started.”

Becky once more led Trafalgar into the horsebox, commenting that she wouldn’t mind having that job for life. The dray horses were harnessed, Sir Oswald and Lady Brandling boarded the carriage with Sir Oswald once more declaring, “Let’s away to the best of days.”

As Becky, with a final loving glance back at Jack, climbed into the carriage, he saw Lady Brandling fussily hand her a bonnet.

In less than two hours, they had reached Doncaster track, all elaborate with bunting, and flags. Jack had known that the full race card was richer in prize money and there was a marked air of opulence about the place. Gowns appeared more elegant, and Jack wondered if that was only his imagination.

For certain, Lady Brandling’s insistence on being there, in her vibrant finery and flower garden bonnet, while inflicting a bonnet on a reluctant Becky, appeared to bear out the standing of this occasion. Already, Jack was sensing the trembling deep in his gut.

Early afternoon, Nate took Trafalgar for a loosening-up canter along an extended strip of turf, similar the one in York. Jack was overjoyed when Becky joined him and Alf by the rail. Her hair was loose down her back, and he commented on that.

“My uncle gave me permission to come down. He said a bonnet would be inappropriate for tending to Trafalgar.” She gave a happy chuckle as she added, “My aunt was not too pleased.”

The jockey was smiling as he dismounted. “He feels so full of himself.” They began leading the horse back to his appointed stall, with Becky stroking his muzzle.

They reached the stables as a tall man with fair wavy hair was exiting. He was dressed in fancy fawn breeches and a three-quarter-length royal blue coat as he swaggered towards them. His superior sneer had annoyed him even before he began to speak in plummy tones.

“I’m informed,” he said imperiously, “that this is the one race wonder.”

“Who wants to know?” Becky asked, and Jack was grateful since this was clearly some kind of gentry, whom he was already tempted to punch.

“I am Sir Arthur Devort, second trainer after Lord Duckham, who has over thirty horses in his stable, for his Royal Highness, the Regent.” He turned and glared disdainfully at Jack and Alf, who could only stand quietly fuming. “And I suppose you are responsible for this magnificent stable of one paltry horse.”

Jack’s fists were clenched helplessly as he nodded his head.

“Surely, you don’t think this piece of meat can beat Royal Standard?”

Becky’s angry voice was shrill and sharp, “Sir, you are a boorish windbag. Our Trafalgar will make your animal look like a donkey.”

Jack, feeling so useless in this situation, loved what Becky had said. He held his breath as Sir Arthur faced Becky directly and hissed, “Young lady, I should put you over my knee.” His frown became a leer as he added, “Or perhaps that’s what you’d like?”

That was enough, Jack raised his fists, as both Alf and Nate, grabbed him, holding him back. “Steady, Jack. He’s not”

But even before they had performed that little charade, Becky had taken her own action and there was a loud crack as her open palm, swung full force, and struck the royal horse trainer high on the cheek.

Shaken, their antagonist, staggered back clutching at his face as Becky almost shrieked, “Sir Oswald Brandling will hear about this.”

Sir Arthur Devort, glanced uncertainly in the direction of the men, before whirling away and muttering, “Bitch.”

As he strode away Becky got in the last word, calling after him, “Prig! And that rhymes with another animal.”

Nate began to move away. Jack asked, “Where are you going?”

Nate turned back and told him. “I know Lord Duckham well. I’ve ridden for him. He is a real gent and. if he’s here, he needs to know about this. That bloke gives racing a bad name.”

Nate rushed away, and Becky ran to Jack, her face streaked with tears, and without even thinking about it, Jack took her into his arms, and said gently, “Thank you, sweet lady. You were magnificent.”

“Oh, Jack, I so feared he would get you into trouble. I’ve never struck anyone before.”

Holding her at arms-length, he tried to calm her by keeping things light. He rubbed at his neck, putting on a woeful face, recalling her use of the horsewhip on him at their first meeting. “Never?”

“Oh, Jack,” she sighed, but the memory had brought a half-smile to her face.

Alf gave a chuckle, “Maybe, m’lady could be a prize-fighter, Jack.”

They all laughed at that before Alf said a heartfelt, “You were really amazing dealing with that wretch, m’lady.”

Becky reached out a grateful hand to touch the older man’s shoulder, “Thank you, Alf. Would you do me a favour?”

“Leave you two alone?”

She laughed, “No. I look on you as a friend, Alf. So, when we’re away from higher authority, so-called, would you drop the ‘m’lady’ and call me Becky?”

Jack was delighted at her offer and was sure a touch of colour came into Alf’s grizzled cheeks, as he shuffled his feet, “I take that as an honour, m’—er—Becky.”

Becky gave Trafalgar’s muzzle a hearty rub, looked into his eyes, and said, “Whatever else you do, Trafalgar, you must beat that Royal Standard, for me.” She then excused herself, telling them she’d need to spend some time with her aunt and uncle. After she left, they housed Trafalgar temporarily, as Alf went on about what a fantastic female Becky was.

“I know, Alf.”

They made an occasional check to ensure Trafalgar was all right, and it was not until the start of the first race that he met with Becky again.

Jack and Alf were standing in front of the low stand and had watched the horses parade down to the six-furlong mark. Alf had risked one pound on a horse called Maisie’s Luck and had taken odds of ten to one. Jack recalled that Alf’s wife had been named Maisie.

“If she wins, I’m going to put it all on Trafalgar.”

“Such faith deserves a reward,” Jack laughed.

That was when Sir Oswald joined them followed by Lady Brandling looking rather red-faced, and Jack wondered how much champagne she’d consumed. However, when she spoke it was in her usual aloof tone, “I trust we’re in for a successful afternoon, Jack.”

“Hoping, m’lady.”

Becky came from behind them, wearing her bonnet, which, while looking at Jack, she touched and pulled a face. ”He has to beat Royal Standard,” Becky declared. “That right, uncle?”

Sir Oswald cleared his throat before telling them, “My niece has told me about the rudeness of this trainer fellow. I know that Lord Duckham is here. I shall try to have a word with him.” He smiled, “Especially if we win.”

“If?” Becky declared,” “If? Uncle, have you no faith.”

“Now, don’t get your hopes up, my dear.”

Becky shook her head sorrowfully, “Oh, you pessimistic men.”

They were immediately keen when they heard of Alf’s wager. “What colours?” Becky asked, and Alf told them that the jockey wore all white.

The noise of the crowd signalled the race start, and as the white-shirted jockey rode into a clear lead, it was Becky’s voice that rose highest. Maisie’s Luck won by two lengths and Alf’s smile broadened as Becky gave him a hug. Sir Oswald and Lady Brandling joined in congratulating him on his luck.

But, although pleased for Alf, watching the horses speed past, had raised familiar butterflies in Jack’s stomach. Was Trafalgar really as good as they hoped? The race ahead would resolve that question.


Written by redwriter
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