SLAUGHTER COUNTY COURSE: SATURDAY RACES,
LAST RACE, ONE-HALF MILE
HE WAS GOING to lose. He didn’t want to lose, dammit,
particularly to Jessie Warfield, that obnoxious brat. He could
feel Rialto just behind him: hooves pounding firm and
steady on the black dirt, head stretched long, muscles hard
and bunched. He looked over his left shoulder. Rialto was
coming on faster than a man escaping from a woman’s bedchamber
before her husband come through the door, and the
damned five-year-old had more endurance than an energetic
man with four demanding wives.
James stretched as far as he could and pressed his face
as close as he could to Tinpin’s ear. He always talked to his
horses before and during a race to gauge their moods. Goodnatured
Tinpin was always open to James. Tinpin, like most
of his racehorses, was a fierce competitor; he had great
heart. The horse wanted to win as much as James did. The
only time he was distracted from victory was when a jockey
had slammed his riding crop on his side, sending him into
a rage. He’d nearly killed that damned jockey and lost the
race in the process.
James felt old Tinpin’s labored breathing beneath him.
The horse was more a quarter-mile sprinter than a half-miler
so Rialto had the advantage there, in both ability and ex-
perience. This was only Tinpin’s second half-mile race.
James kicked his sides, telling Tinpin over and over that he
could do it, that he could keep the lead over that miserable
little chestnut, that he could kick Rialtonamed after a silly
Venetian bridgein the dirt. He had to make his move now
or it would be too late. James promised Tinpin an extra
bucket of oats, a dollop of champagne in his water. The
horse gave a final burst of speed, but it wasn’t enough.
He lostby only a length. Tinpin’s sides were heaving.
He was blowing hard, his neck lathered. James walked him
around, listening to the groans and cheers of the crowd. He
stroked Tinpin’s wet neck, telling him he was a brave
fighter, that he would have won if James hadn’t been riding
him. And he probably would have won, dammit, despite
James’s reputed magic with his horses. Some claimed that
James as good as carried some to his horses over the finish
line himself. Well, he hadn’t carried any horse anywhere
Actually he hadn’t even come in second after Rialto. He’d
placed third, behind another chestnut thoroughbred from the
Warfield Stables, a four-year-old named Pearl Diver who
had nosed past Tinpin at the last moment, his tail flicking
over James’s leg.
Tinpin didn’t have much bottom, but then again this
hadn’t been a four-mile flat race, it had just been a half-mile
and bottom shouldn’t have mattered. What had mattered had
been James’s extra weight. With a lighter rider on his back,
Tinpin would have won. James cursed, slapping his riding
crop against his boot.
‘‘Hey, James, you lost me ten dollars. Curse you!’’
James was leading Tinpin back to his stable lad, his head
down. He sloughed off his depression and smiled toward his
brother-in-law, Gifford Poppleton, striding toward him like
a civilized bullshort, powerful, but not an ounce of fat on
him. He liked Giff and had approved his marriage to his
sister, Ursula, the year before. ‘‘You can well afford it,
Giff,’’ he shouted back.
‘‘I can, but that’s not the point.’’ Gifford dropped into a
long, lazy stride beside him. ‘‘You tried, James, but you’re
just too damned big to be a jockey. Those other jockeys
weigh four stone less than you do. Fifty-something extra
pounds make a lot of difference.’’
‘‘Bloody damn, Giff, you’re brilliant,’’ James said, striking
a pose. ‘‘I wish I’d known. And here I thought only the
experts knew that.’’
‘‘Well, I know a lot of things,’’ Giff said, striking a pose.
‘‘I wish I’d known. And here I thought only the experts
‘‘The brat weighs even less,’’ James said.
‘‘The brat? Oh, Jessie Warfield. That she does. Too bad
about poor Redcoat breaking his leg in the second race. Now
there’s a jockey. You trained him well. What does he
weigh? One hundred pounds?’’
‘‘Ninety pounds on a sunny day. Do you know how he
broke his leg? Another jockey ran him into a tree.’’
‘‘It hurt me to see it. You know, James, someone needs
to make some rules about racing. All this mayhem is ridiculous.
I read about a race in Virginia where the favored
horse was poisoned the night before the race.’’
‘‘It might be ridiculous,’’ James said, ‘‘and it might be
occasionally dangerous, but it’s fun, Giff. Leave things be.
Just be careful whom you bet with.’’
‘‘As if you cared. Hey, Oslow, how are you doing?’’
Oslow Penny was the head of James’s breeding farm. On
race days, though, he was the head stable lad who oversaw
the handling of all the horses to race at the meet. He was a
walking oral history, at least that’s what James called him.
The Maryland Jockey Club was beginning to agree. Oslow
knew the direct line back, or the tail-male, of every horse
that ran from South Carolina to New York. He also knew
every current sire and every dam and every get from every
racehorse in America and Britain.
Oslow approached them, muttering under his breath, and
gently removed Tinpin’s reins from James’s hand. He was
bowlegged, scrawny-looking, and had the most powerful
hands James had ever seen. His face was weathered and
seamed, his brown eyes as powerful with intelligence as his
hands were with strength.
He squinted through the bright afternoon sun up at Gifford’s
face. ‘‘Good afternoon, sir. I’m doing as fine as Lilly
Lou did at the Virginia High Ebb races just last week. Better
than Mr. James, that’s for sure. Aye, and how are you doin’,
boy? Winded, are you? Well, you did your best, did better
than Dour Keg, that knock-kneed creature old Wiggins still
persists in racing. Hell, I don’t even remember who his sire
was, that’s how bad he is.’’
‘‘Did you bet on Mr. James, Oslow?’’
‘‘Not I, Mr. Poppleton,’’ Oslow said, stroking a gnarled,
veiny hand over Tinpin’s neck. ‘‘I would have if Redcoat
had ridden him, poor lad, but not Mr. James. Mr. James has
just growed too big, just like Little Nell, who ate her head
off four years ago and couldn’t barely shuffle over the finish
line at the Dickey races in North Carolina, clean in last
Gifford laughed. ‘‘You think I could have done better
than Mr. James?’’
Oslow spat just beyond Tinpin’s shoulder. ‘‘Not with that
pair of hands you got, Mr. Poppleton. Sorry, sir, but you’ve
got ham-hands, not like Mr. James, who has magic running
out the ends of his fingers into the horses.’’
‘‘Thank you, Oslow, for something,’’ James said. ‘‘Now,
Gifford, let’s go see Ursula. I don’t suppose you brought
Catherine Coulter 450
our mother with you?’’ He patted Tinpin’s neck as he
‘‘No, thank God. She tried to talk Ursula out of coming
to this godless place.’’
James laughed. He was still grinning when he saw the
Warfield brat striding toward him, looking just like a boy,
still wearing a riding hat with her violent red hair shoved
up under it. Her face was red from the hot sun. A line of
freckles bloomed across her nose.
He didn’t want to stop, but he did. It was hard. He’d just
as soon ignore her for the rest of his days, but he was a
‘‘Congratulations,’’ he said, trying to unclench his teeth.
She’d beaten him often since she was knock-kneed kid of
fourteen, but he still hated it. He never got used to it.
Jessie Warfield paid no attention to Gifford Poppleton,
president of the Union Bank of Baltimore, as she came toeto-
toe with James and said, ‘‘You tried to shove me into
that ditch on the second lap.’’
A dark blond eyebrow went up. ‘‘Did I now?’’
She came up onto her tiptoes, her nose an inch from his.
‘‘You know you did. Don’t even consider lying, James. It
was close. If I weren’t such a bloody good rider, I would
have gone over the edge. But I didn’t. I came back and beat
youbeat you but good.’’
‘‘You certainly did,’’ he said easily, wanting to smack
her. Some sportsmanship. She was a female. If she were a
male, she’d know it wasn’t right to rub the loser’s nose in
his defeat. Although, he thought, when he next beat her, he
was going to rub her entire face in the dirt.
‘‘Do you know your lips are chapped? Do you know I
can count your freckles from this distance?’’ he said, then
‘‘one, two, threegoodness, there are so damned many of
them it would take me a week.’’
She backed up fast. ‘‘Don’t try it again, or I’ll take my
riding crop to you.’’ She licked her chapped lips, shook the
crop in his face, nodded to Giff, and strode off.
Gifford said, ‘‘It looked to me like you did nudge Tinpin
into her horse, James.’’
‘‘Yes, but not hard enough. I just wanted to get her attention.
It was nothing compared to what she did to me last
year at the June races in Hacklesford.’’
‘‘Well, what did she do, this fearsome girl?’’
‘‘I was crowding her just a bit, just to teach her a lesson.
She knows every dirty maneuver there is. Anyway, she
pulled her horse away just enough so she could kick out at
me. She got me directly on the leg and sent me sprawling.’’
Gifford laughed, thinking that James sure made the War-
field girl bristle something fierce. He asked even as he
watched Jessie Warfield striding away from them, her riding
crop flicking up and down, up and down, ‘‘Did she win the
‘‘No, she came in last place. She lost her own balance
when she kicked me and reeled into another horse. The two
of them went off in a tangle. It would have been funny if I
hadn’t been rolled into a ball on the ground, trying to protect
my head from running horses.
‘‘Just look at her, Giff. She’s taller than any woman I
know, she looks men straight in the eye, and I wouldn’t
know she was a female watching her walk.’’
Giff wasn’t so sure about that, but he could understand
James’s ire. He said mildly, ‘‘She rides very well.’’
‘‘To give the brat her due, she does, dammit.’’
‘‘Who’s that with Ursula?’’
‘‘It’s another Warfield daughter. There are three in all.
The eldest and the youngest are neither one a thing like the
brat. Both of them are beautiful, stylish, and ladies, well,
perhaps not entirely, but close enough for descriptive purposes.
That’s Nelda, the eldest. She’s married to Bramen
Carlysle, the shipping baron. Come along, you can meet her.
I guess you haven’t met her because both daughters were in
Philadelphia with an aunt until just two months ago. Hell,
you were in Boston until last fall until the end of the January.’’
‘‘Bramen Carlysle? Good God, James, Carlysle’s older
than Fort McHenry. He fought in the Revolution. He was
present at Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown. He’s older
than dust. How old is this Nelda?’’
Gifford just snorted.
Ursula wasn’t happy. She sent a look toward her husband
that offered substantial marital rewards if he would get rid
of Nelda Carlysle.
Gifford, with all the aplomb of a rich banker, which he
was, gallantly swept his hat from his head. ‘‘Mrs. Carlysle,
it’s a pleasure, ma’am, to finally meet you.’’
‘‘And you, Mr. Poppleton. Ah, James. I’m so sorry about
that last race. Jessie won but she didn’t deserve to, all the
ladies around me agreed. She’s an abomination. I’m sure
Father will speak to her about it. So unladylike of her, so
embarrassing for the rest of us.’’
‘‘I’m sure your father will speak to her, Nelda. He’ll
probably toast her with his best champagne. Ah, don’t be
embarrassed, she’s damned good. You should be singing her
praises.’’ God, he was a perverse bastard.
‘‘Surely not.’’ Nelda sighed, looking down at the toes of
her slippers. ‘‘She shouldn’t be good at such a manly pursuit.
A jockey!’’ She actually shuddered. ‘‘I vow I can’t go
to a ladies’ tea without’’
James, who privately thought Jessie should be flogged,
said, even more perversely, ‘‘She’s an excellent horsewoman.
Surely you can be a bit more tolerant, Nelda. She’s
just different, that’s all.’’
‘‘Perhaps,’’ Nelda said, lightly touching her gloved fingers
to his forearm. ‘‘You did well in the race.’’
‘‘Not as well as two of your father’s other racehorses.’’
‘‘It’s just because you’re such a big man, James. You
haven’t come to visit me. Now that I’m an old married lady,
I am perhaps freer than I was when I wasn’t married.’’
Ursula cleared her throat. ‘‘Well, Nelda, do say hello to
Bramen. We must return home ourselves now. My mother
is staying with us until Monday.’’
His mother-in-law. Gifford would have preferred to remain
out until midnight. His mother-in-law, Wilhelmina,
knew no equal. James, in deference to his own sanity, had
moved his mother out of his house at Marathon and into a
charming redbrick town house in German Square near the
center of Baltimore some two years before. She visited Ursula
and Gifford at their home not a mile away in the elegant
four-story terrace on St. Paul Street, claiming that her own
tiny dwelling depressed her spirits from time to time. However,
she complained every minute she was in her daughter’s
Nelda showed no signs of moving on. She edged closer
to James. ‘‘Surely dear Wilhelmina can wait for just a bit
longer. James, my dear husband tells me you’re going to
stay in Baltimore forever now.’’
‘‘I have no plans to return to England anytime this year,’’
James said. ‘‘Candlethorpe, my stud farm in Yorkshire, is
in good hands. Marathon, on the other hand, needs a lot of
work and attention.’’
‘‘I named my stud farm in honor of that ancient Greek
who ran his heart out getting to Athens to tell of their victory
Catherine Coulter 454
at Marathon against the Persians. If he’d only had one of
my horses, he wouldn’t have fallen down dead after he’d
given his news.’’
‘‘Oh,’’ Nelda said. ‘‘You should pick another name,
James, perhaps something more stately, more easily recognized.
Marathon sounds foreign.’’
‘‘It is foreign,’’ Ursula said. ‘‘Perhaps even nasty.’’
‘‘Oh,’’ Nelda said suddenly, waving. ‘‘There’re Alice and
Allen Belmonde. Over here, Alice!’’
James stiffened. He looked at Giff, who winked at him,
saying, ‘‘Good day, Alice. You’re looking lovely. Belmonde,’’
he added, nodding to the man who had married
Alice for her money and was now trying to spend as much
of it as Alice’s father would release, which, thankfully,
wasn’t all that much a year. He wanted to make money
racing, something, James knew, that was just about as tough
as marrying a rich girl, which he had managed to do. He’d
had one horse race today. The thoroughbred had come in
sixth out of a field of ten. He looked up when Allen Belmonde
said to him, ‘‘I want Sober John to cover one of my
mares, Sweet Susie. Your price is stiff, Wyndham, but perhaps
it’s worth it.’’
‘‘p to you,’’ James said easily, then said to Alice, ‘‘I
like your bonnet. Pink becomes you.’’
She flushed, something that she managed to do as if on
command. It quite amazed him. But he wanted to tell her it
wasn’t all that effective, at least on him. But he liked Alice,
had known her since she was born. So he just smiled when
she said, ‘‘You’re so nice to me, James, and I’m sorry you
lost, but I’m glad Jessie won. Isn’t she wonderful? I was
just telling Nelda how very much I admire Jessie. She does
exactly what she wants without being bound by all the endless
‘‘Rules are to keep ladies protected,’’ Allen Belmonde
said as he patted his wife’s shoulder. It wasn’t all that gentle
a pat, James saw when Alice winced. ‘‘Ladies shouldn’t
complain about rules.’’
‘‘Yes, well, Jessie will do as she pleases,’’ Ursula said.
‘‘Come along, James, we really must be leaving now. Nelda,
our regards to your husband. Alice, you and Allen enjoy the
rest of the day. We will see you in church tomorrow.’’
James grinned down at Nelda, who’d taken a step closer
to him. ‘‘I smell like a horse, so you’d best keep your distance.
If you see your father, tell him I’ll be at his stables
tonight with a bottle of his favorite claret, though I’m sure
he’s already counting on it. He can gloat all he wants.’’
‘‘You and my father still drink together?’’
‘‘Whenever I beat him, he rides to Marathon, bringing
‘‘Why then,’’ Alice said, ‘‘you should bring the claret to
Jessie. She’s the one who beat you, not her father.’’
‘‘It’s his stable,’’ James said, wishing the brat were here
so he could count her freckles again. That got her mouth
shut quickly enough.
‘‘I’ll tell my mother,’’ Nelda said. ‘‘I don’t often see Father
anymore. As for Jessie, well, why would I want to see
her? She’s so very odd, you know. I do disagree with Alice,
but she doesn’t mind that I do. Ladies need rules. It makes
civilization, well, more civilized. We do need you charming
gentlemen to protect us, to guide us, to tell us how to go
‘‘That’s really enough of a list,’’ Ursula said, squeezing
her husband’s arm in impatience.
James, who thought Jessie that most unnatural of females,
said quickly, ‘‘She’s not at all odd, Nelda. And she’s your
sister.’’ He turned to Giff. ‘‘I’ll see both of you tomorrow.’’
‘‘You’ll see Mother, too,’’ Ursula said, her voice as grave
as a nun’s, her eyes as wicked as a sinner’s.
‘‘There is that,’’ James said, then gave them all a cocky
smile, and strode off through the dwindling crowd.
‘‘Well,’’ Nelda Carlysle said, all bright as the afternoon
sun overhead, ‘‘I’ll be off, then. Ursula, I do hope to see
you again soon now that we’re both married ladies. Perhaps
I can visit you in town? I’ve finally convinced Mr. Carlysle
that a nice town house on George Street would be ever so
convenient. That’s quite near to you, isn’t it?’’
‘‘Quite near,’’ Ursula said, and thought, I’ll move to Fells
Point if you come to town, Nelda. You could also be a bit
more delicate about your overtures to my poor brother. Oh
dear, that would certainly be a brangle if Nelda managed
to get her hooks into James. No, my brother would never
poach on a husband’s preserves.
Ursula and Giff watched Nelda lean down to speak to
Alice, who was just a little bit of a thing, hand on her sleeve,
then give her a brief nod. She smiled up at Allen Belmonde,
nodding pleasantly, though to Ursula’s knowledge, Nelda
couldn’t stand him.
‘‘What are you thinking, Urs?’’
‘‘What? Oh, just that Fells Point is a lovely spot.’’
‘‘Have you been there lately?’’
‘‘No, but it doesn’t matter, just believe me.’’