He had held her.   For ever he had held her.
She sobbed.   She begged.
“I have to.”  
Chapter Eleven
A time finished
[Adjust type to preference     Ctrl + for larger     Ctrl - for smaller  ]
oint-to-point is about to begin.   Six horses and two ponies racing.   Eight riders have assembled by the wall of the church.  Jess Lanton from Atherton is seated on Kite, a small dapple-grey Percheron.
Frank Siegby brought an Arabian that has seen better days.  Joe Elliot from Weatherby rides a Clydesdale. Mona the mare he uses for hauling is as docile as they come.
Jimmy Briggs has brought his mare Curly.  James Briggs his father intended to breed, but the mare stopped her growing.  With curly fetlocks and mane she looks more like a large pony.
Steven Cox from the Cox farm, a bull when it comes to rugby, his horse is a reddish bay Morgan, very stylish. The telling however among the betters is that she is not too fast.
Steven Manning from down Biddiford way has the large Shire, very muscular, that might make a showing.
A boy about an inch taller than Tom Hopkins has an Exmoor pony.  A new fellow at Thringstone’s farm from all accounts.  Luke Danner his name.  The Exmoor has a smooth stride and Tom thinks, pretty sure-footed.
Tom is riding ‘Em, a Dartmoor and pretty fast.  Tom hasn’t given the two-year-old pony any dressage for a race of this type.  Tom mostly relies on sweet-nothings he whispers in her ear for guidance.  She’s pretty good at listening.
Waiting at the start line Tom wishes he’d done more with her regarding the hedge and obstacle jumps.  Spending more time with Luce, and the manor work and the farm mucking, it nowhere bin done.
“You all follow the rules!” Thomas Davie, the village Alderman stomps his stick.  “You start when I fire pistol. Any barricade missed or downed block you do over. Anyone unseated gets up and continues.  Those in front no holding to the one’s behind.  No pushing or fighting!”
“Hrrrmmmmmph,” he glares at the faces champing to be off.  “Route is you turn into Atherton lane, through hamlet spring over barricades, farm track back to church here.” Tom Davie picks up the winning post, holds it up. “We’ll be waiting.  First past this, wins.”
“No swearing out there, boys!  Be gentleman!”   Jimmy Briggs laughs, Tom Hopkins joining and then all of them.
“Ready!”  the Alderman calls.
The pistol fired, Tom plans not to push ‘Em.  She can do her limit later.  Galloping along, Tom smiles across at Jimmy, who shouts, “Beelzebub, you can’t get ‘er faster than that!”
“Just cruising, Bead-bones.”
‘Em and Curly make the Atherton turn almost together. Curly takes the lead down the narrow trade lane.  It’s two miles by the south lane to the barricades to be jumped, one and three quarter miles back by the upper farm track.
Every year Atherton’s pub drinkers roll out a collection of beer barrels of varied size.  Hedgerow clumps and sticks placed around the wood barrels.  On top of the barrels hænep matting with grass. The sight can be daunting to a horse or pony not familiar.
Passing over Zouch stream wood bridge, the first houses come into view.  Tom tries to reckon where he is in the race.  When they turned, three horses were behind him and Jimmy.  Frank Siegby he just passed.  The old Arabian might have caught a stone.
That leaves in front of him, Steven Manning, Jimmy, and Luke Danner.
‘Em racing into Atherton, Tom sees Jimmy and Curly at the far end of the hurdles.  ‘Em’s good over brush, will jump streams, fences and stone walls but these strange looking barriers, he’s wondering how she’ll counter them.
Stogg patrons are out watching.  If ‘Em refuses to do any of the six jumps Tom has to go back give it a second try.
Ahead, Curly, is about to do her final jump.  She made it.
‘Good Christian Elf, am I jumpy,’ Tom leans over ‘Em, whispers as they approach the first of the barrels.  “Note’ to ‘er, girl.  Tain’t to be scared on.”
For the slightest moment ‘Em seems to shy, but then she jumps.
“Good ‘Em!”  One down!  Tom crosses himself. Over she goes as they reach the second jump.  Tom pats her neck as they approach the third platform.  ‘Em clears it easily.
Tom dripping with sweat takes her over the fourth jump. Rising before them is the largest barrel.  Leaves and branches all heaped up over the matting.  The pony slows, then stalls some distance in front of it.
“You can d’t ‘er,” Tom yells, not knowing quite what to do.
Stopped.  Shaking.  ‘Em is definitely not going over it. A sudden inspiration: “Look girl, I can do it!”  Tom jumps off the frightened pony, runs towards the barrel. Head first he hurdles over it.
Running back, he jumps back on.  “Go girl,” he leans down, kisses her on the top of her head.  “Let’s do it, girl. Let’s do it.”
Slowly ‘Em takes a step, then more steps, then as she begins her run, she takes the leap. She’s up!  She’s over!
How Tom yells!
A huge cheer from the watching crowd, and they are racing onwards.
As the wind whistles around them, ‘Em makes a sudden spurt forward.
“Now you’ agoin’, girl!”  Tom cries excitedly. Passing Redbrooke farm, he’s sure his darling wants to win as much as he does.
The Manning fellow is ahead with his Shire, but now ‘Em is flying with incredible speed and the Shire is passed.
Now they’re on.  Now it is serious. Stonehouse they just flew by with it’s acres of trees.
Jimmy ahead.  Jimmy and the Danner boy, neck and neck. It’s the three of them now.
Mr. Hews standing in a field raises his walking stick straight up in the air.  “Go, get them,” he yells.
Charging down the farmer’s track, still a two-tree length behind the two, they turn into Oath Highway. Weatherby cottages ahead, Tom sees his Mom one side road, his Dad t’other, both shouting, waving! Through the crowd they rush: Curly, the Exmoor, and now ‘Em
‘Em is almost beside them now. Then Tom spies Lucy, wide-eyed. “Come on girl,”Tom leans, shouts into his darling’s ear. “Let’s do it.  Let’s do it, girl.”
Yes!  She is moving that little bit faster.
How the wind rushes.
How the sweetheart flies!
Cheers become deafening.
Church is ahead.  Tom can see the post.
“Last chance to get er ‘Em,” Tom whoops, holding on to the pony for all his life.  The joy in his voice does its job.
Another quick spurt and she’s even.
It’s thunderous the sound as Jimmy’s small horse and the two ponies whiz past the finishing marker.
How hard she’s breathing, how Tom kisses her when he jumps off.
Lucy is running towards him.  “Oh!  Tom!  I think it’s you who won.”
She pulls him into her arms, wraps her body around him. Holding him and squeezing him, he can’t believe how she’s holding him.
A cough, and then another cough, Mr Davie clearing his throat. “Young Mr.  Hopkins!”
Lucy at last letting go, they both stare at the Alderman. “A race we haven’t seen the likes.  Not a hair between you.”  Tom Davie smiles.  “Mrs. Coulter said she couldn’t have the purse divided, so she’s added six sovereigns to combine the winnings of first second and third to fifteen sovereigns.  Five for each of you.”
Without any more ado, the Alderman hands Tom five very shiny gold pieces, gives a glance at Lucy, then strolls off.
“Oh Tom!”
‘Em one side of him, Luce t’other, hugging him so tight, pressing him into the warm body of his ‘Em.  Before he knows another big kiss from Lucy planted on him.
. . .
Trade on the village green is brisk.  Cider bottles, cider poured out of barrels if you bring your own mug.  The longest queue is at the fish and potatoes stall.  Your own plate, and browned delicious potatoes fried in dripping will be heaped.  Upon those, two good-size pieces of white fish meat.
Bella as she passes hurries on.  Lawrence should be here. She’s been through all the tents.  Nowhere can she see him. She decides to try the inn.
“Take this, Miss!”  The young man, seated at a table near the door, offers the dazed lady his chair.
“Thank you,” Bella attempts a smile.
“Would you like me to get something from the bar, Miss?”  the young man asks hopefully.
“I’m waiting for someone.”
“Yes, Miss.  Crowded today is The Gun.”  Disappointed, the young man moves away.
People passing through the inn door stare at this beauty seated by herself.  The men disturbed by her loveliness, the women pushing their men away.
Bella sits, waits, her finger doing a little dance, moving themselves up and down her tightly clasped hand.
“Can I get you something, Madam?”
“Can you get me something?”
“Yes, Madam.  Something to refresh from the dust.”
“Thank you.  A gin.”
The innkeeper stands there watches her.
“I am seeking a gentleman.  Perhaps he might be in a private room?”
“All the private rooms are taken, Madam.  Reserved this Mayday for the festivities.”
“Have any been reserved from the Mandalmane estate?”
The portly innkeeper smiles.  “Most of them, madam?”
“Is there a gentleman with that party?  Not the young Mr. Coulter, but another gentleman, a young gentleman with Mr. Coulter?”
“Another young gentleman?  Why yes?  There is a young gentleman given a private room with Mr. Coulter on the second floor.  Shall I send someone to tell the gentleman with Mr. Coulter that a lady is waiting downstairs?”
“No!  That will not be necessary.”
Understanding best not to question further.  “I’ll go and get that gin, Madame.”
More time goes by, more stares.  The innkeeper returns, the filled glass placed on the table.  Bella reaches in her bag for a coin, hands a crown piece to him.
The innkeeper, curious, watches her.
Taking a sip of the clear liquid, Bella looks up.  “My friend will likely be passing through the room.”
“He might, Madam, or he might choose to go out the back, being as it is busy.”
Lawrence wouldn’t wait in an upstairs room if there was gambling.  “Innkeeper!”
“Yes, Madame?”
“Are there wagering rooms, here?”
“There is one room.  Shall I have a look to see if the young gentleman is inside?”
“I would appreciate that.”
“Then I will.  I will return with an answer and with the change from your crown.”
Bella waits.  She finishes the gin.
The innkeeper with her change informs her that neither Mr. Coulter nor his friend are in the wagering room.  A side ally he mentions where tables will be for wagering.
In the crowded street, Bella wanders with deepening despair to one side alley, then to another.
At last she sees him at a table.  She recognises no one with him.  He turns looks at her.
Waiting while he finishes his play, he picks up his money, she turns, begins to walk.
From the alley one direction is to the crowded green, but opposite in the far distance are trees.  She doesn’t look back.  The crowds of people thin.  He has caught up with her.  She smells his smoke.
A pathway winds inside the trees.  Stepping beneath the leaf covering she begins to hear the splashing ripple of a stream.
“Stay?”  he calls.
She faces him.  People are walking towards them along the path.
He takes her hand into a smaller trail.  Leaves reaching down, bushes so thick, suddenly the narrow trail opens into a soft, shadowy grove where light piecing through the tree canopy is a play of sparkling shards of sunlight. What sudden joy of having him with her!
He gropes for words: “I have to tell you something.”
Bella feels the dread reach through her.
“I have to leave you.”
Not wanting to hear it.  Not able to endure it, “Leave me! You cannot leave me.  I’ve come to the village to see you.”
“You must let me go.”
“I’ve seen something,” she whispers.  “I have seen your mother.”
“My mother?”
“I’d fallen over something.  I asked her name.  She said, Caroline.”
Something about him seems timid now, as if he doesn’t want more.
“She is just a young girl.  She gives me a message.  I don’t know what it means.  ‘Tell him!  Tell him!  Tell him,’ your mother said.”
Lawrence white, frightened, holds a complexity she has no match. “I am not coming back to London.”
“They will kill me.”  
He had held her.  For ever he had held her.
She sobbed.  She begged.
“I have to.”
At the entrance to the grove, he stops, blows her a kiss.
She’d run to him now if she could.
As the tears flow, in her dream a young couple she sees walking among the trees.
It is she, Bella, and Lawrence is with her.
A young couple holding hands.
© Kewe   All rights reserved.