Three Years Later
The two finest of the Pemberton horses were entered in the Royal Cup Race at Ascot this year. George and Thomas, even though they were dressed in their finest Ascot wear of top hats, waisted black coats, white cravats, and pantaloons, were with Barnstable; with Robert, riding Siren; and their second jockey, riding Florabell. Thomas checked his pocket watch—half an hour to go. They must get back to the stands in time for the start of the race.
Robert was checking the saddle and all the horse’s tackle.
“All is well, Your Grace,” Robert said, mounting Siren and making his final adjustments of the reins. Fortunately for Robert, he had not grown too much more and was now considered one of the top English jockeys. He had had many offers to ride other horses, but he remained loyal to Pemberton. He liked that his sister was Duchess, and he liked living near his family in a pleasant cottage built for him on the Pemberton Estate.
George was giving last minute instructions to the second jockey as Thomas came over and said, “We best be getting back to our box. The ladies will want us there before the race starts.”
George smiled. “I hope the excitement of the race does not induce labor. Helena’s as big as a house these days.”
“When is the baby due, again?”
“One week—but it could happen at any time. I urged her to stay at home, but do you think she would listen to me?”
“You are going to be a Papa—and it is about time.”
George actually blushed. “Yes, finally. It took long enough.”
“Boy or girl?” Thomas asked.
“How should I know?”
“No, I mean which do you hope it will be?”
“I do not care, as long as he or she has all the parts and cries when delivered. Then I will be happy.”
A race steward came along the stables announcing that the horses should go to the starting post. The race would begin in ten minutes.
The Pemberton box was filled to overflowing. The Duchess of Pemberton was with her young two-year-old son, Edward, squirming on her lap before she finally handed him over to Nanny. Grandmamma turned to her and asked, “I could take him if you like.”
“No, let Nanny keep him for now. The race is about to start.”
Helena sat next to Jenny, her hands on her huge belly, taking small breaths to calm herself.
“At least it did not rain,” Jenny said looking up at the sky. “I thought for certain it would pour this morning.”
Aunt Rosemary was seated behind Helena and she leaned forward and asked, “How are you doing, precious one? Do you need anything? You look a little faint.”
Helena fanned herself with the racing program, “Just a little hot, but the race will be starting soon. I will be fine.”
Aunt Rosemary opened up her parasol and held it above Helena to give her some shade.
“Here, I can hold that,” Wilcox said, taking the parasol, as he was sitting next to Rosemary. He had been out of prison but a few months and was staying at Pemberton before he decided what he would do next.
At that moment Thomas and George arrived and sat down next to their wives.
“Are you excited?” Jenny asked Thomas as she took his arm.
Thomas turned to his son and mussed up his hair. “Are you ready for a big win?” he asked.
“Siren or Florabell?” the child asked. “Which will win?”
“My bet is on Siren with Florabell placing.”
“When will you let me ride Siren?” Edward asked.
“If he wins, I will put you on him up front of Robert, and you can take a victory lap.”
Edward clapped. “Yes, yes…”
The trumpeter blew the call to post, and the horses were at the starting post, chomping at the bit to head down the course.
Everyone in the stands stood, as tension grew before the starter dropped his flag to start the race. But once he did, the horses let loose at full speed. The length of the race was two miles, four furlongs. At first, the horses were closely bunched, but as the race progressed, the pack loosened up and, by the first turn, it was clear that Siren and Florabell were holding their own in the foremost grouping.
Jenny became very excited and Thomas handed her his binoculars as the horses rounded the second turn.
“Siren is in second,” Jenny announced. “Florabell is in fourth place.”
“Come on Siren…” Thomas shouted. “Robert, let up and let her take the lead.” He waved his arms in the air as though to urge the horse faster.
George was jumping up and down next to Helena, shouting, “Go, go, go!”
Finally, the field was heading into the home stretch. Siren was nose to nose with the favorite, Sincere. Florabell was now in third. The Pemberton box was situated just before the finish line so as the riders passed they could see both Siren and Sincere were still in the lead, but it was impossible to see who had won as they crossed the line. However, what was clear was that Florabell placed third.
The crowd was jubilant, but Thomas and George were going crazy because they did not know who had placed first.
They both broke from the box and raced over to the finish line to get some kind of result from the officials who would declare the winners. However, when they got there, the group was in a huddle, obviously still deciding the winner.
Thomas pushed forward and grabbed one of the official’s arms. “Who won?!” he shouted.
“Your Grace, we are still trying to decide. It was so very close. Please be patient. We will announce as soon as possible.” He turned away and, much to everyone’s surprise, the King, himself, came down from the royal box and went to confer with the judges.
Finally, one of the judges raised a flag, signaling a winner and announced that His Majesty had broken a tie amongst the judges and the results were—Siren, win—Sincere, place and Florabell, show.
George grabbed hold of Thomas and they hugged and jumped up and down—most ungentlemanly, but totally understandable.
Thomas raced back to the Pemberton box. Jenny leaned over the box railing to give Thomas a kiss and then handed Edward to him. He ran over with his child and hoisted him up in front of Robert on Siren.
“Take your lap, Robert,” Thomas said beaming.
Robert took Siren on his victory lap and returned to the paddock to receive the horseshoe of flowers as Thomas and George were handed the gold winner’s cup.
Back at the Pemberton box, Willoughby was already pouring champagne for all the guests. Thomas came back with Edward sitting on his father’s shoulders with his little legs dangling around Thomas’s neck. George was holding the cup over his head to show it off.
Thomas lifted Edward off his shoulders and sat him down next to Jenny. He leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“We did it, my darling. Now nothing will hold us back. We are bound to be the most notable stable in Great Britain.”
“I am so proud of you. It makes me want to bake you a celebration cake when we get home.”
Thomas laughed. “Is that what you want?”
“Well, what I want is to make one of our rooms into a trophy room. Can you just see this cup sitting on a shelf surrounded by all our other cups and ribbons?”
Lord Comerford came forward from the back of the box and took Thomas’s and George’s hands. “Congratulations on such a wonderful success. You both deserve it.” Then he leaned down and kissed his daughter. “Are you happy, my dear?”
“I will be a lot happier when this child is finally born.”
Other notables were coming over to the Pemberton box to offer congratulations. Mr. Hargrove was happy to see Florabell place and even the Ladies Alderman stopped by to say hello and thank them for their fine work on their behalf.
Finally, George turned to Thomas and said, “You stay with the well-wishers, I think I should go check on Robert and see to the horses. And I think Robert deserves a generous bonus.”
“I agree,” Thomas said. “Tell him how proud we are of him and, yes, tell him there will be a bonus.”
It took several days for the Pemberton crowd to return home. The horses had to be rested and readied for transport. There were interviews by the press for Thomas and George. But poor Helena felt ready to burst and went directly home in her father’s carriage before the rest of the Pemberton household was ready to leave. However, that made George very nervous, as he wanted to be with his wife when she went into labor.
But eventually everyone was home safe.
Edward demanded that the gold cup be in his room—at least until the trophy room was prepared. And his father could not refuse him, having ridden the victory lap atop the first-place winner.
Thomas and George had been approached by many prospective clients at Ascot and would have their hands full sorting out the offers and how to handle all the new business. It might even require adding new staff and constructing additional stables and training rings. There was even talk of taking on a full-time veterinarian to care for all the animals.
And it was soon announced that George and Helena had a new baby girl—Samantha.
One afternoon Wilcox appeared at his mother’s chambers.
“Mother, might we talk?”
Augusta looked up from her desk. “Of course, Wilcox. Have you come to discuss what we talked about before Ascot?”
Augusta got up from her desk and went over, taking her son’s hand and leading him to her seating area. Wilcox had aged greatly since his arrest, trial, and imprisonment. He had lost weight and his hair was turning rapidly grey. He no longer had the swagger or bravado that he used to exhibit, and he was introspective and quiet.
Wilcox did not speak up immediately but seemed to study his hands in his lap.
Finally, Augusta asked, “What decision have you come to, my dear? Are you to stay at Pemberton?”
“No, Mother, I think I need to make a new life for myself. A life where I will not infect those around me with my horrible past. I know you and Thomas are both reminded constantly of my horrible deeds. And I know it is unlikely that I will ever be able to pay the two of you back for the money I stole from you.”
“And how are you to do this, Wilcox? Where will you go? How will you support yourself?
“I have given it a lot of thought, and there is a religious order of Anglican friars in Wiltshire that I have contacted, and they have accepted me to join them. I know it seems a reach, considering my past, but they know about my many transgressions and have accepted me in any case.”
It took a moment for Augusta to adjust to what he had just told her. “Are you certain this is what you want? It is such a departure from your past life.”
“It is. And that is exactly why I chose it. I need to find some peace. I need to repent and come to terms with what I have done.”
“Well, you know I have forgiven you.”
“I do. And Thomas too. He has also given me a small living.” He chuckled. “Not enough to get into any trouble but enough to sustain me.”
“Yes, he told me about that. Will you be able to come and visit from time to time?”
“I hope so. If you will have me.”
Edward was in the playroom with Jenny and Nanny. He was constructing a castle from blocks that Nanny used to teach him the alphabet. It was not a very grand structure as he only had six and twenty letters and ten numbers, but in the mind of a two-year-old, it was going to be a magnificent castle.
Jenny was sorting through the books in the nursery. Many were scattered about the room and she gathered them up and arranged them neatly on the bookshelf.
“Mommy, will you play with me?” Edward asked.
“Of course, sweet pea.” And she sat down on the floor next to her son and asked, “What would you like me to do?”
“Make more blocks, please,” he said.
She laughed. “I am afraid, that is not something I can do. But we might find a way to build a better castle if that is what you want.”
At that moment, Thomas came into the room and got down on the floor next to his family.
“What are we making today?” he asked, taking hold of his wife’s hand.
“Castles in the air,” she said, leaning over and kissing her husband’s cheek. “But it seems we only have enough blocks to construct one tower.”
“How about we build a castle in a tree?” he asked.
Edward’s face lit up and he squealed, “Oh, yes. Will it have soldiers with bow and arrows?”
“No, you will have to supply those yourself,” Thomas said.
“But I do not have any soldiers,” Edward said sadly.”
Jenny said, “We need to find him some playmates. It is time he starts to meet other children.”
“We could certainly do that. But I have an even better idea.”
“Oh, and what is that?” Jenny asked.
“Well, we could start by giving him a new brother or sister.”
Jenny lowered her eyes and answered. “I think that is a wonderful idea.”
Ah, before you go...
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