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The High And The Humble Chapter Two

"Jack and Rebecca form a steady awareness of each other and Jack learns of the dangers"

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Author's Notes

"Reading chapter one first will make this easier to understand"

Jack cautiously eased his mount, Rascal, alongside Ebony, on whom Sir Oswald’s niece sat, so relaxed now, so damned attractive, yet so far above him socially, as he asked, “Any particular direction, m’lady?”

She replied firmly, “I’m not a m’lady. I’ve told you. My name is Rebecca. Becky to my friends.” She gave a little snort, “Of which there are few.”

Through the trees the lake could be seen, ripples sparkling like sequins in the sunlight. Riding towards the lake edge and not having had an answer to his question, Jack told her, “We’ll go right.”

“Any reason?”

“When we complete the circuit, we’ll be nearer the manor.”

“How long will it take?”

Strange question, Jack thought, but he said, “Well, it’s not exactly Windemere. Fifteen to twenty minutes.”

“Have you been with my uncle for long?”

Jack was thrilled by her willingness to converse, along with that her frequent sideways glances were transfixing. “Two years, since I was eighteen,” he told her.

“Coincidence, I’ll be twenty-one next birthday,” she admitted, with a smile that lit up her beautiful face and had Jack suddenly weak in the saddle.

“You know horses, don’t you?”

“Ever since my father first sat me on one, m’—er -Rebecca,” Jack said, surprised that his social upbringing made it difficult not to be more respectful.

“Yes, it’s Rebecca. This whole social thing sickens me.”

Jack was taken aback by this. Just how different was this young lady? “I’ve always thought of upper folk as being content.”

“I hate it. All of it. Privilege? What does it mean? I have to dress in a certain acceptable way. Warned to keep a barrier between myself and the likes of you, working class. What nonsense.”

Jack was astounded at the way she was talking. To have her so near and willing to talk was all right with him, but surely it wouldn’t last.

“There’s one particular so-called ‘Lord’, peak of social life who—” She stopped in mid speech, her face reddened, before she went on, “Perhaps I should leave that until I know you better.”

Her last statement drove from his mind anything he might have said. What could that mean, ‘until I know you better’? Did that indicate her intention? Or was he just being hopeful?

‘If my father were alive,” Rebecca went on, “he’d be angry that I was having this friendly conversation with you. It is friendly, isn’t it?”

Putting on what he hoped was a wry smile, he rubbed ruefully at his shoulder. “It is now.” She returned his smile before saying, “I am so sorry about that. You’ll find I can be rather impetuous at times.”

There it was again, that hint of knowing her better. God, such a warm face, with the long black hair flaring out in the gentle breeze. Had he ever seen a face so lovely?

To bury the promise of that he said, “It was sad about your father. The way it happened.”

Their eyes met and held for a moment, as she said quietly, “I loved my father. But you know what convention would have him inflict on me?”

Jack shook his head uncertainly.

“He had decided on the man I would marry. Didn’t have to be handsome, or even loving. Just had to have status.”

Jack put in quietly, “Sir Oswald told Alf about why you were placed with the nuns.”

Rebecca half turned away in the saddle, as though to hide her face, and when she looked back at him her eyes were moistened. “He believed that what he demanded in his Will was the action of a loving father. So wrapped up in the expectations of this bloody society.”

That impinged on Jack the reminder of how far apart they were, status-wise. Commoner and lady. An unbridgeable divide. To lay that thought aside, he told her, “I thought it a cruel coincidence that the storm caught your parents in Biscay of all places.”

A brief silence as the horses trotted along, and Rebecca said, “That’s how he got his knighthood, you know. Being an officer on one of the ships in Nelson’s victorious fleet.”

Jack nodded, “Sir Oswald told Alf as much.”

As they rode on Jack, remembering that she’d asked to be shown special features, pointed up a rising bank where there was a badger sett.

Turning along the return bank, Jack pointed to the rising Bascombe hills, faint in the heat haze. “There’s a good clear ride out to where they are.”

“You’ve done it?”

“Oh, yes, with Rascal here, to ready him for the Merevale village fayre race.”

“When?”

“It’s this Saturday.”

“Is it only for villagers?”

“Oh, no. Sir Oswald has a special tent where his friends can drink. He puts up a fifty-pound prize for the race. Rascal here came second last year.”

Rebecca looked genuinely interested, “I’ll look forward to that.”

They rode in silence for a while and then Rebecca asked, “Your mother?”

“I never knew her. I was only two years old when she passed. Consumption. I live with her sister, Auntie Rose, a dear lady. Her cottage is only half a mile down the track.”

“You said your father got you interested in horses. Did he have horses?”

Jack drew in a deep breath. Almost five years had passed, yet the pain of watching his beloved father swiftly burn out from the unexpected fever had never left him. To talk about anything to do with his time with his father still hurt. Was this the time to override those emotions?

In answer to Rebecca’s question, he shook his head. “He had an old grey dray, which plodded him from place to place, or he could hitch it up to his small cart. When I was little, I loved stroking it, giving it a carrot.” And cautiously he told her his father regularly visited a Farmer Reese. His father had given special lessons to the farmer’s small daughter. Reese kept a range of horses.

He told Rebecca of the magic moment he was set astride a smaller horse, and how both the farmer and his father had recognised his natural ease and affection with the animal. Jack was twelve years old, and for the next three years, his knowledge of and ability with horses increased.

Jack sighed now as he went on, his hand rubbing between Rascal’s ears, “I was fifteen, becoming really easy among Farmer Reese’s horses when a fever took my father.” Jack saw Rebecca’s eyes on him. Was their sympathy there? “I was devastated. Auntie Rose was a rock for me, and Farmer Reese encouraged me with my understanding of horses.”

Rebecca had listened closely as Jack had talked, now she said, a poignant smile shaping her mouth, “So, there’s something we have in common. We’re both orphans.”

For an instant, their eyes held, and Jack had to look away before completing his story, “It was Farmer Reese who recommended me to the Highway Inn as an extra stable hand. Different horses every day. I loved it. And that’s where Alf found me and persuaded me to come here. Persuaded? I jumped at the offer.”

“Thank you for telling me,” Rebecca said quietly. “I must tell you sometime, what being privileged is really like.”

Again, that promise of a further meeting. The roof of the manor could be seen jutting over the trees on their right, and Jack indicated by turning Rascal in that direction. But before they picked up the fresh trail, he pointed out to Rebecca a large bushy patch on the edge of the lake to their left.

“In there, the lake forms a little bay,” he explained. “Ideal for bathing.”

“Do you do that?” she looked mildly surprised.

“When the weather’s like this, work done, late afternoon, I’ll gallop Rascal and then have a cooling dip, while the sun’s still high.”

“Is the water cold?”

“Refreshing,” Jack told her and nudged Rascal into a faster trot. “Alf will be wondering what happened. He’ll think I’m having trouble finding you.”

Urging Ebony to keep pace she called, “I haven’t been too much trouble, have I?”

Once more, Jack grinned and rubbed at his shoulder. “Not too much.” God, he couldn’t believe he was talking to a member of her class in this easy fashion.

Approaching the manor from the east wing, Jack could see the horses in the grazing field. In front of the house, Rebecca dismounted discretely, and stood while Jack jumped down from Rascal.

Then she took a step closer, brown eyes wide, and said quietly, “I’ve enjoyed being with you, Jack. And hearing about you. Not only that--” She checked whatever she was about to say as she held out a hand. A lady wanting to shake hands? But she immediately lowered it as she said, “I’d prefer giving a small thank you kiss. Would that be considered unladylike? Not that it bothers me”

Her question had Jack momentarily stunned. To kiss an upper-class lady? He’d always thought such a thing was not permitted. But all considerations were lost as her wonderful face came closer, and without further thought he bent his head towards that face, intending to kiss her smooth cheek. But she turned her head, and their lips were together.

It was a warm kiss, a gentle kiss, meant to be a brief kiss. But somehow their lips held, gradually moving, mixing against each other. Jack, head spinning, had hoped it would be a respectful kiss. Could the pleasure from that delicate connection be classed as respectful?

And had the kiss been broken with mutual unwillingness? Or was his imagination running wild? Her whispered, “Jack, I haven’t kissed that many men. Rarely repeated. But that, I wouldn’t mind trying another time. You?”

So stunned Jack feared that his response sounded stupidly weak.“Oh, yes.” When really he needed to tell her how wonderful it had been. He could still feel the pressure on his lips.

“Will you ride with me tomorrow?”

Her request thrilled him, but there were so many doubts. “It will depend on what Alf wants. You sure you can get away?” he asked.

 Rebecca simply shrugged. “I’m in charge of myself. Persuade him,” she hissed, before hurrying towards the rear door.

Totally enraptured by events, he remounted Rascal and, leading Ebony, he rode back to the stables where he found Alf sunning himself on the bench. He stood as soon as Jack appeared.

“By the crows, you took your time. She difficult?”

“Only at first.” And Jack went on to tell Alf about stopping Ebony’s gallop.

Alf had been looking around Ebony. The three stripes on her rump were still visible. “She’s been whipping him. I feared that.”

Jack told him that he had told her that the whip wasn’t necessary. He thought it wise not to mention her using the whip on him.

“You were still a long time. Bonny lass, is she?”

“Beautiful,” Jack said and told of submitting to her request to be accompanied around the lake. Alf’s face darkened at that, and when Jack said that she had requested his company on the following day, the older man’s cheeks blew out.

“That’s it,” he growled. “We close the door on your seeing her again.”

Jack felt a crumbling inside his chest, “Why?”

Maintaining his serious expression, Alf leaned towards Jack and said, “There are a hundred tales of these so elegant ladies, used to the foppish, flouncing men around them. Then they start wondering what rough grubby hands on their bubbies would feel like.”

Jack didn’t want to hear this. “But she’s just my age.”

“And a wild one,” Alf said firmly. “These ladies fancy giving a rantipole to some poor worker. When she’s found out, she screams assault. Then it’s the constabulary or at least the boot.”

Stunned, Jack could only tell Alf, “She hates privilege.”

“She say that? Stay away, Jack.  Down to the Sheaf and Bull tonight, take advantage of big Betsy Faine.” Awash with ale, behind the pub, Betsy's availability was well known.

The thought of comparing Betsy with Rebecca made him shudder. Alf was protective, Jack believed that, but he also believed that Rebecca did not fit into the normal category. It had only been one kiss-- yet what was his own mind reading into it?

Anyway, he threw himself into his work. The stalls had never been so clean, Alf commented. Each horse had been thoroughly brushed and groomed, and Jack, despite the uncertainties Rebecca had left in his mind, turned once again to Rascal’s preparation for Saturday’s race.

Published 
Written by redwriter
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