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Jane Badger Books

Caroline Akrill: Ticket to Ride (paperback)

Caroline Akrill: Ticket to Ride (paperback)

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“You do realise,” said the chief, “that eventing is a very expensive sport?”

Elaine has a place on an eventing course for the country’s most gifted young riders. She and Legend will, at last, leave the Fanes and the chaos of Havers Hall behind them.

Of course, when it comes to the Fanes, nothing is as simple as Elaine thinks. The course itself throws up its own problems, and try as she might, Elaine finds the siren call of Havers Hall and its eccentric occupants impossible to ignore.

This is a reprint of the 1980s original, when hunting was legal.

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It was certainly Nigella’s fault. By her reasoning, if every horse lasted a further week before being shod, and the blacksmith came every nine weeks instead of every eight, the resulting five visits a year instead of six would mean an annual saving of one hundred and sixty pounds.
This, then, was the result of it. Standing on the edge of a greasy bank, exposed to the vilest of East Anglian weather, lashed by rain, buffeted by winds; hands, thighs and face aching with cold; feet totally numb, the frostbitten toes probably snapping off one by one even as I stood.

“How far is the horsebox?” I asked.

Henrietta looked at me. Her cheeks burned red. Her hair, escaped from its coil, plastered the shoulders of her sodden habit. Her eyes, raised from the front hoof of the black horse, from the thin, twisted shoe which, despite manful efforts, she had failed to remove, were overflowing with vexation.

“How far is the box?” she repeated in a distracted voice. She dropped the hoof abruptly and took the black horse by the rein. He, after a few uneasy seconds spent pawing the air in order to ascertain that his leg was still attached to him, hopped anxiously at her side, his eyes rolling and the steam rising from his shoulders, as Henrietta set off along the ridge of the bank stretching endlessly into the miserable, mud-filled horizon.

I took hold of Nelson, who had stood like a rock throughout the emergency, his one good eye straining after hounds, the water dribbling off his chin, and his saddle black like old washleather, and squelched after them. At least, I told myself, this is the last time, the very last time. I am leaving tomorrow.

We walked, it seemed, for ever, but finally we reached a lane, and at the end of the lane, a pub. Henrietta handed me the black horse and vanished inside. After a goodly interval she reappeared bearing two small glasses. The contents of one of them almost blew my head off. The landlord of the pub, in a green apron, watched from the doorway with some anxiety.

“I haven’t paid him,” Henrietta gasped. “I don’t seem to have any cash.”

I searched my pockets without much hope and to my relief came across a pound note, folded small, and tucked away in more affluent times for such an occasion as this. I handed it to Henrietta who, without a word of acknowledgement, handed it to the landlord. This is the last five pound note, I told myself, that I will ever hand to Henrietta; but it might have been that anyway, since it was the last five pound note I had.

A hammer was produced, and a pair of pliers, and with the help of these we managed to remove what remained of the black horse’s impoverished shoe. Bar cloths were offered, saddles were rubbed, we remounted and rode on in discomfort, clopping along the flooded lanes, through villages where the thatches poured and the guttering overflowed and every passing vehicle sent up a further douche of icy water.

There will be no more of this, I told myself, I am done with hunting. I felt myself done with many things, the Fanes included. But even now, as I looked through the slanting rain at Henrietta riding ahead, at the long and beautiful hair matted to the good blue habit, cut a little tighter in the waist and fuller in the skirt than was quite proper today, I wondered if my resolution would hold when the time came and if I would be able to leave quite so easily. Yet, I must leave, I said to myself, there is no future for me with the Fanes.

Every joint in my body had set into a frozen ache by the time I realized, by the welter of orchestration as what shoes our horses retained rattled, clinked, and scraped on the concrete, that we had reached the sugar beet collection point where we had left the horsebox.
I struggled out of the saddle, my knees buckling under me as I hit the ground, and fumbled, agonized and blue-fingered, with straps and keepers and bandages.

We drove home with the heater on full and the windscreen pouring with condensation, to be received by a totally unrepentant Nigella who blamed the wet, the clay, and the sticky plough for our misfortune, and actually intimated that we had done her a personal disservice by managing to lose a shoe.

“I don’t suppose you thought to bring it back with you?” she enquired, as if it might have been possible to wrench out the nails, hammer it flat, and reattach it to the black horse’s foot.

By calling upon reserves of self-control I didn’t know I had, I managed to endure all this without comment. It doesn’t matter, I consoled myself, even though I had told Nigella it was a needless indulgence to take the horses out when there were no clients to escort; even though I had gone reluctantly, for Henrietta’s sake. It really doesn’t matter at all, because this is the last time I will have to put up with Nigella’s misguided economies and her capricious penny-pinching. From tomorrow, it will be goodbye to all that.

Henrietta and I squelched through the kitchen. There was no need to remove our boots because the Fane residence boasted no carpets to speak of. In the icy vastness of the hall, the ornate plaster ceiling was mottled and patched with damp and the cavernous stone fireplaces were heaped with the same dead ash that had lain there eighteen months ago when I had first arrived as a hopeful young stable employee.

Now I trailed after Henrietta up the dusty, bare staircase and opened the door of my cheerless bedroom. My suitcase, already half-packed, lay on the faded tapestry bedcover. Outside the tall, ill-fitting windows, the rain continued to pour down and the countryside was relentlessly grey. The room, with its monstrous carved wardrobe and coffin chest, was freezing, and its single decoration, a yellowing canvas of an angry Elizabethan lady clutching an orb to her flattened chest, her bald-lidded eyes following my every movement with venomous distrust, made it even less welcoming.
In the antiquated bathroom I fought the geyser and was rewarded with three inches of tepid water in which to soak my aching bones. I sat disconsolately in the stained bathtub trying to work up a lather with a hopeless sliver of soap and I thought about my future.

Tomorrow I would be leaving the Fanes to take up my place on an all-expenses-paid eventing scholarship and in comparison with the discomforts I had endured at Havers Hall, I would be living in the lap of luxury. I imagined myself housed in a centrally-heated chalet, wallowing in a bath whose shining taps gave forth an endless supply of hot water, taking my place in a dining hall to be served with regular, properly presented meals. The thought of it momentarily banished any qualms I had about leaving the Fanes to cope with their financially precarious livery business, and as I rubbed myself dry on a balding towel, I told myself that all I had to do before I left was to wring six months’ unpaid wages out of them at supper. In the light of past experience, I knew this would not be easy.

Page length: 222

Original publication date: 1983

Who's in the book?

Humans: Elaine, Henrietta and Nigella Fane, Lady Jennifer, Nick Forster, The Chief, Viv, Mandy, Annemarie, Selina Gibbons, Alice, Phillip
Horses: Legend, Balthazar, The Talisman

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