Pris and Albert quite saw his point; he'd curbed his driving desire and done everything their father had asked of him for seven years, and now felt he was owed a chance to live the life he yearned to live. Words had been exchanged, things said, wounds dealt on both sides. Pushed beyond bearing, Rus had stormed out of Dalloway Hall in a wild fury.
He'd taken nothing more than what he could cram in his saddlebags, and ridden away. Seven days later, just over three weeks ago, Pris had received a letter to say he'd found work at Lord Cromarty's stables, one of the major racing establishments in neighboring County Wexford. The schism between her father and brother was now deeper than it had ever been.
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Pris was determined to repair the rupture in her family, but the wounds would take time to heal. She accepted that.
But with Rus gone, out of her world, for the first time in her life she felt truly alone, truly bereft as if some part of her had been excised, cut away. The feeling was much more intense than when her mother had died; then she'd had Rus beside her. She'd gone looking for Paddy seeking reassurance, something to soothe her growing uneasiness over Rus's safety. Instead, she'd learned Rus was in a situation where his life might come under threat. Pulling a sheet of paper from the drawer, she laid it on the blotter.
Eugenia held out the missive. It was delivered with the post after lunch. When he couldn't find you, Bradley gave it to me rather than leave it on the salver in the hall. Where their father might see it. Bradley was their butler; like most of the household, his sympathies lay with Rus. Rising, Pris took the letter. Returning to the desk, she broke her brother's seal, then, sinking onto the chair, unfolded the sheets, smoothed them, and read.
The only sounds in the room were the repetitive clack of Eugenia's needles, counterpointed by the tick of the mantelpiece clock. Adelaide's agitated questions snapped Pris back to the present. Glancing at Adelaide, then at Eugenia, taking in their worried expressions, she realized her own must reflect her mounting horror. He overheard Harkness explaining to the head lad - Rus says he's a villainous sort - about how the illicit undertaking worked, and that it involves some register.
He, Rus, didn't hear enough to understand the scheme, but he thinks the register Harkness was referring to is the register of all horses entitled by their breeding to race on English tracks.
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She flipped over a page, scanned, then reported, "Rus says he knows nothing of the details in the register, but if he's ever going to become a breeder of racehorses, he should obviously learn more about it regardless, and he'll be able to follow it up as that register is kept at the Jockey Club in Newmarket. She turned the last page, then made a disgusted sound.
Her aunt studied her, then nodded, and calmly folded her tatting. I see no alternative. Much as I love Rus, we cannot leave him to deal with whatever this is alone, and if there is some illicit scheme being hatched, you cannot, to my mind, risk even a letter to warn him, in case it falls into the wrong hands. You will need to speak with him.
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Folding her hands on the pile of tatting in her lap, Eugenia looked inquiringly at Pris. Scanning the conveyances thronging the High Street, Dillon was forced to smile and acknowledge two matrons, each with beaming daughters. Tapping Barnaby's arm, he started strolling.
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Chuckling, Barnaby fell in beside him. To us, even the Little Season is an unwanted reminder of that which we fervently wish to avoid.
An excellent excuse to be elsewhere, doing other things. Seeing a matron instructing her coachman to draw her landau to the kerb ten paces further on, Dillon swore beneath his breath. Her ladyship, a local high stickler, beckoned imperiously. There was no help for it; Dillon strolled on to her now stationary carriage. He exchanged greetings with her ladyship and her daughter, Margot, then introduced Barnaby.
They stood chatting for five minutes. From the corner of his eye, Dillon noted how many arrested glances they drew, how many other matrons were now jockeying for position further along the kerb. Glancing at Barnaby, doing his best to live up to Miss Kershaw's expectations, Dillon inwardly grimaced. He could imagine the picture they made, he with his dark, dramatic looks most commonly described as Byronic, with Barnaby, a golden Adonis with curly hair and bright blue eyes, by his side, the perfect foil.
They were both tall, well-set-up, and elegantly and fashionably turned out. In the restricted society of Newmarket, it was no wonder the ladies were lining up to accost them. Unfortunately, their destination - the Jockey Club - lay some hundred yards distant; they had to run the gauntlet. They proceeded to do so with the glib assurance that came from untold hours spent in ton ballrooms.
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Despite his preference for the buccolic, courtesy of his cousin Flick - Felicity Cynster - over the last decade Dillon had spent his fair share of time in the whirl of the ton, in London and elsewhere, as Flick put it, keeping in practise. In practise for what was a question to which he was no longer sure he knew the answer. Before his fall from grace and the scandal that had shaken his life, he'd always assumed he would marry, have a family, and all the rest.
Yet while spending the last decade putting his life to rights, repaying his debts of social and moral obligation, and re-establishing himself, his honor, in the eyes of all those who mattered to him, he'd grown accustomed to his solitary existence, to the life of an unencumbered gentleman.
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Smiling at Lady Kennedy, the third matron to detain them, he extricated himself and Barnaby and strolled on, casting his eye along the line of waiting carriages and their fair burdens. Not one stirred the remotest interest in him. Not one sweet face even moved him to curiosity. Unfortunately, becoming known as a gentleman with a hardened heart, one unsusceptible to feminine enticements, had piled additional fuel on the bonfire of the ladies' aspirations.
Too many now viewed him as a challenge, a recalcitrant male they were determined to bring to heel. As for their mothers, with every year that passed he was forced to exercise greater care, to keep his eyes ever open for social snares, those traps certain matrons set for the unwary. Even those select ladies with whom he occasionally dallied discreetly in the capital weren't above hatching schemes. His last inamorata had tried to convince him of the manifold benefits that would accrue to him should he marry her niece. Said benefits had, of course, included her fair self. He was beyond being outraged, beyond even being surprised; he was close to turning his back on the entire subject of marriage.
Cartwell, a pleasure to see you, ma'am. Cartwell, then stepped back and introduced Barnaby. Always interested in people, Barnaby exchanged platitudes with the lovely Miss Cartwell; cravenly grateful, Dillon stood back and let him have the stage. Cartwell was monitoring the exchange between her daughter and Barnaby, the third son of an earl and every bit as eligible as Dillon himself, with absolute concentration.
They'd chosen the quieter shop catering to the genteel element rather than the club coffee house favored by the racing fraternity for the simple reason that the subject of their discussion would set ears flapping and tongues wagging among the racing set. This time, he wasn't engaged on the wrong side of the ledger; this time, he'd been recruited by the angels, to wit the all-powerful Committee of the Jockey Club, to investigate the rumors of race fixing that had started to circulate after the recent spring racing season.
That request was a deliberate and meaningful vote of confidence-a declaration that the Committee viewed his youthful indiscretion as fully paid for, the slate wiped clean. More, it was a clear statement that the Committee had complete faith in his integrity, and his discretion, in his devotion to the breeding and racing industry that the Committee oversaw, and that he and his father before him had for so long served. His father, General Caxton, was long retired, and Dillon was now the Keeper of the Breeding Register and the Stud Book, the two official tomes that together ruled the breeding and racing of horses in England.
It was in that capacity that he'd been asked to look into the rumors. Rumors being rumors, and in this case issuing from London, he'd recruited the Honorable Barnaby Adair, a good friend of Gerrard Debbington, to help. Dillon knew Gerrard well, had for years, through their connections to the powerful Cynster family; Barnaby had recently assisted Gerrard in solving a troublesome matter of murder.
When Dillon had mentioned the possibility of a racing swindle, Barnaby's eyes had lit. That had been in late July. Barnaby had duly investigated, and in August had reported that while the rumors were there, all were vague, very much of the strain that horses people had expected to win had instead lost. Hardly a novel happening in the racing game.