Bolt, p.1Dick Francis
Books by Dick Francis
THE SPORT OF QUEENS (autobiography)
IN THE FRAME
LESTER: The Official Biography
COME TO GRIEF
TO THE HILT
FIELD OF THIRTEEN
THE DICK FRANCIS LIBRARY
MICHAEL JOSEPH LTD
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4Y 3B2
Penguin Books India (P) Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park,
New Delhi – 110 017, India
Penguin Books (NZ) Ltd, Cnr Rosedale and Airborne Roads,
Albany, Auckland, New Zealand
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue.
Rosebank 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in Great Britain September 1986
Second impression November 1986
Third impression February 1987
Fourth impression September 1991
Fifth impression March 2000
Sixth impression January 2002
Copyright © Dick Francis, 1986
The moral right of the author has been asserted
All rights reserved.
Without limiting the rights under copyright eserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical,photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
DANIELLE and HOLLY
both born since
Bitter February, within and without. Mood to match the weather; raw and overcast, near to freezing. I walked from the weighing room to the parade ring at Newbury races trying not to search for the face that wouldn’t be there, the intimately known face of Danielle de Brescou, to whom I was formally engaged, diamond ring and all.
Winning the lady, back in November, had been unexpected, an awakening, deeply exciting … happy. Keeping her, in the frosts before spring, was proving the merry devil. My much loved dark haired young woman seemed frighteningly to be switching her gaze from a steeplechase jockey (myself) to an older richer sophisticate of superior lineage (he was a prince) who hadn’t even the decency to be bad looking.
Unmoved as I might try to appear on the surface, I was finding the frustration erupting instead in the races themselves, sending me hurtling over the fences without prudence, recklessly embracing peril like a drug to blot out rejection. It might not be sensible to do a risky job with a mind two hundred miles from one’s fingertips, but tranquillisers could come in many forms.
Princess Casilia, unaccompanied by Danielle, her husband’s niece, was waiting as usual in the parade ring, watching her runner, Cascade, walk round. I went across to her, shook the offered hand, made the small bow, acknowledging her rank.
‘A cold day,’ she said in greeting, the consonants faintly thick, vowels pure and clear, the accent only distantly reminiscent of her European homeland.
‘Yes. Cold,’ I said.
Danielle hadn’t come. Of course she hadn’t. Stupid of me to hope. She’d said cheerfully on the telephone that she wouldn’t be coming to stay this weekend, she would be going to a fabulous Florentine gathering in a hotel in the Lake District with the prince and some of his friends, where they would listen to lectures on the Italian Renaissance given by the Keeper of the Italian paintings in the Louvre, and various other things of that sort. It was such a great and unique opportunity, she was sure I’d understand.
It would be the third weekend in a row she’d been sure I would understand.
The princess looked distinguished as always, middle-aged, slender, intensely feminine, warm inside a supple sable coat swinging from narrow shoulders. Normally bareheaded, dark smooth hair piled high, she wore on that day a tall Russian-type fur hat with a huge up-turning fur brim, and I thought fleetingly that few could have carried it with more style. I had ridden her string of twenty or so horses for more than ten years and I tended to know her racegoing clothes well. The hat was new.
She noted the direction of my glance and the admiration that went with it, but said merely, ‘Too cold for Cascade, do you think?’
‘He won’t mind it,’ I said. ‘He’ll loosen up going down to the start.’
She wouldn’t mention Danielle’s absence, if I didn’t. Always reticent, sheltering her thoughts behind long eyelashes, the princess clung to civilised manners as if to a shield against the world’s worst onslaughts, and I’d been in her company enough not to undervalue her chosen social façades. She could calm tempests with politeness, defuse lightning with steadfast chitchat and disarm the most pugnacious adversaries by expecting them to behave well. I knew she would prefer me to keep my woes to myself, and would feel awkward if I didn’t.
She did, on the other hand, understand my present predicament perfectly well. Not only was Danielle her husband’s niece, but Litsi, the prince currently diverting Danielle to a fifteenth-century junket, was her own nephew.
Litsi, her nephew, and Danielle, her husband’s niece, were both currently guests under her Eaton Square roof, meeting from breakfast to dinner … and from dinner to breakfast, for all I really knew.
‘What are our chances?’ the princess asked neutrally.
‘Pretty good,’ I said.
She nodded in agreement, full of pleasant hope, the prospect of winning real enough.
Cascade, despite an absence of brains, was a prolific winner of two-mile ’chases who had shown his heels in the past to every opponent in that day’s field. Given luck he would do it again; but nothing’s certain, ever, in racing … or in life.
Prince Litsi, whose whole name was about a yard long and to my mind unpronounceable, was cosmopolitan, cultured, impressive and friendly. He spoke perfect idiomatic English with none of his aunt’s thickened consonants, which was hardly surprising as he’d been born after his royal grandparents had been chased off their throne, and had spent much of his childhood in England.
He lived now in France, but I’d met him a few times over the years when he’d visited his aunt and escorted her to the races, and I’d liked him in a vague way, never knowing him well. When I’d heard he was comi
‘Kit,’ the princess said.
I retrieved my attention from the Lake District and focused on the calmness in her face.
‘Well,’ I said, ‘some races are easier than others.’
‘Do your best.’
Our pre-race meetings over the years had developed into short comfortable interludes in which little was said but much understood. Most owners went into parade rings accompanied by their trainers, but Wykeham Harlow, trainer of the princess’s horses, had altogether stopped going to the races. Wykeham, growing old, couldn’t stand the incessant winter journeys. Wykeham, shaky in the memory and jerky in the knees, nevertheless still generated the empathy with horses that had put him straight into the top rank from the beginning. He continued to send out streams of winners from his eighty-strong stable, and I, most thankfully, rode them.
The princess went indomitably to the races in all weathers, delighting in the prowess of her surrogate children, planning their futures, recalling their pasts, filling her days with an unflagging interest. Over many years, she and I had arrived at a relationship that was both formal and deep, sharing intensities of success and moments of grief, understanding each other in easy accord at race meetings, parting to unconnected lives at the gate.
Unconnected, that is to say, until the previous November when Danielle had arrived from America to take up her London posting and ended in my bed. Since then, although the princess had undoubtedly accepted me as a future member of her family and had invited me often to her house, her manner to me, as mine to her, had remained virtually unchanged, especially on racecourses. The pattern had been too long set, and felt right, it seemed, to us both.
‘Good luck,’ she said lightly, when the time came for mounting, and Cascade and I went down to the start with him presumably warming up from the canter but as usual sending no telepathic messages about his feelings. With some horses, a two-way mental traffic could be almost as explicit as speech, but dark, thin, nippy Cascade was habitually and unhelpfully silent.
The race turned out to be much harder than expected, as one of the other runners seemed to have found an extra gear since I’d beaten him last. He jumped stride for stride with Cascade down the far side and clung like glue round the bend into the straight. Shaping up to the last four fences and the run-in he was still close by Cascade’s side, his jockey keeping him there aggressively although there was the whole wide track to accommodate him. It was a demoralising tactic which that jockey often used against horses he thought frightenable, but I was in no mood to be overcrowded by him or by anybody, and I was conscious, as too often recently, of ruthlessness and rage inside and of repressed desperation bursting out.
I kicked Cascade hard into the final jumps and drove him unmercifully along the run-in, and if he hated it, at least he wasn’t telling me. He stretched out his neck and his dark head towards the winning post and under relentless pressure persevered to the end.
We won by a matter of inches and Cascade slowed to a walk in a few uneven strides, absolutely exhausted. I felt faintly ashamed of myself and took little joy in the victory, and on the long path back to the unsaddling enclosure felt not a cathartic release from tension but an increasing fear that my mount would drop dead from an over-strained heart.
He walked with trembling legs into the winner’s place to applause he certainly deserved, and the princess came to greet him with slightly anxious eyes. The result of the photo-finish had already been announced, confirming Cascade’s win, and it appeared that the princess wasn’t worried about whether she had won, but how.
‘Weren’t you hard on him?’ she asked doubtfully, as I slid to the ground. ‘Too hard, perhaps, Kit?’
I patted Cascade’s steaming neck, feeling the sweat under my fingers. A lot of horses would have crumbled under so much pressure, but he hadn’t.
‘He’s brave,’ I said. ‘He gives all he’s got.’
She watched me unbuckle the girths and slide my saddle off onto my arm. Her horse stood without moving, drooping with fatigue, while Dusty, the travelling head-lad, covered the brown dripping body with a sweat-sheet to keep him warm.
‘You have nothing to prove, Kit,’ the princess said clearly. ‘Not to me. Not to anyone.’
I paused in looping the girths round the saddle and looked at her in surprise. She almost never said anything of so personal a nature, nor with her meaning so plain. I suppose I looked as disconcerted as I felt.
I more slowly finished looping the girths.
‘I’d better go and weigh in,’ I said, hesitating.
‘Thank you,’ I said.
She nodded again and patted my arm, a small familiar gesture which always managed to convey both understanding and dismissal. I turned away to go into the weighing room and saw one of the Stewards hurrying purposefully towards Cascade, peering at him intently. Stewards always tended to look like that when inspecting hard-driven horses for ill-treatment, but in this particular Steward’s case there was far more to his present zeal than a simple love of animals.
I paused in mid-stride in dismay, and the princess turned her head to follow my gaze, looking back at once to my face. I met her blue eyes and saw there her flash of comprehension.
‘Go on,’ she said. ‘Weigh in.’
I went on gratefully, and left her to face the man who wanted, possibly more than anything else on earth, to see me lose my jockey’s licence.
Or, better still, my life.
Maynard Allardeck, acting as a Steward for the Newbury meeting (a fact I had temporarily forgotten) had both bad and good reasons to detest me, Kit Fielding.
The bad reasons were inherited and irrational and therefore the hardest to deal with. They stemmed from a feud between families that had endured for more than three centuries and had sown a violent mutual history thick with malevolent deeds. In the past, Fieldings had murdered Allardecks, and Allardecks, Fieldings. I had myself, along with my twin sister Holly, been taught from birth by our grandfather that all Allardecks were dishonest, cowardly, spiteful and treacherous, and so we would probably have gone on believing all our lives had Holly not, in a Capulet–Montague gesture, fallen in love with and married an Allardeck.
Bobby Allardeck, her husband, was demonstrably not dishonest, cowardly, spiteful and treacherous, but on the contrary a pleasant well-meaning fellow training horses in Newmarket. Bobby and I, through his marriage, had finally in our own generation, in our own selves, laid the ancient feud to rest, but Bobby’s father, Maynard Allardeck, was still locked in the past.
Maynard had never forgiven Bobby for what he saw as treason, and far from trying for reconciliation had intensified his indoctrinated belief that all Fieldings, Holly and I above all included, were thieving, conniving, perfidious and cruel. My serene sister Holly was demonstrably none of these things, but Maynard saw all Fieldings through distorted pathways.
Holly had told me that when Bobby informed his father (all of them standing in Bobby and Holly’s kitchen) that Holly was pregnant, and that like it or not his grandchild would bear both Allardeck and Fielding blood and genes, she’d thought for an instant that Maynard was actually going to strangle her. Instead, with his hands literally stretching towards her throat, he’d whirled suddenly away and vomited into the sink. She’d been very shaken, telling me, and Bobby had sworn never to let his father into the house again.
Maynard Allardeck was a member of the Jockey Club, racing’s ruling body, where he was busy climbing with his monumental public charm into every power position he could reach. Maynard Allardeck, acting as Steward already at several big meetings, was aiming for the triumvirate, the three Stewards of the Jockey Club, from among whom the Senior Steward was triannually elected.
For a Fielding who was a jockey, the prospect of an Allardeck in a pos
If, however, he could prove I had truly ill-treated Cascade, he would get me a fine and a suspension with alacrity and joy. In the heat of the race, in the upsurge of my own uncontrollable feelings, I hadn’t given a thought to him watching on the stands.
I went into the weighing room and sat on the scales, and then returned to just inside the door to see what was going on outside. From the shadows, I watched Maynard talking to the princess who was wearing her blandest and most pleasant expression, both of them circling the quivering Cascade, who was steaming all over in the freezing air as Maynard had commanded Dusty to remove the net-like sweat-sheet.
Maynard as always looked uncreased, opulent and trustworthy, an outer image which served him very well both in business deals, where he had made fortunes at others’ expense, and in social circles, where he gave largely to charity and patted himself on the back for good works. Only the comparative few who had seen the mean, rough, ruthless reality inside remained cynically unimpressed.
He had removed his hat in deference to the princess and held it clasped to his chest, his greying fair hair brushed tidily into uncontroversial shape. He was almost squirming with the desire to ingratiate himself with the princess while at the same time denigrating her jockey, and I wasn’t certain that he couldn’t cajole her into agreeing that yes, perhaps, on this one occasion, Kit Fielding had been too hard on her horse.
Well … they would find no weals on Cascade because I’d barely touched him with the whip. The other horse had been so close that when I’d raised my arm I found I couldn’t bring my whip down without hitting him instead of Cascade. Maynard no doubt had seen my raised arm, but it was legs, feet, wrists and fury that had done the job. There might be whip marks in Cascade’s soul, if he had one, but they wouldn’t show on his hide.
Bolt by Dick Francis / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes