He shook his head.

' England is too small. Send a farmer's son to walk a horse round the parade ring at the races, and what he was doing would soon be no secret. Too many people would recognize him, and ask questions.'

'A farm worker's son, then, with a high IQ.'

'Do we hold an exam?' he said sourly.

There was a pause, and he looked up from his glass. His face was solemn, almost severe.

'Well?' he said.

I meant to say 'No', firmly. What I actually said was again ' I don't know. '

'What can I say to persuade you?'

'Nothing,' I said.

'I'll think about it. I'll let you know tomorrow.'

'Very well.' He stood up, declined my offer of a meal, and went away as he had come, the strength of his personality flowing out of him like heat. The house felt empty when I went back from seeing him off.

The full moon blazed in the black sky, and through a gap in the hills behind me Mount Kosciusko distantly stretched its blunt snow-capped summit into the light. I sat on a rock high up on the mountain, looking down on my home.

There lay the lagoon, the big pasture paddocks stretching away to the bush, the tidy white-railed small paddocks near the house, the silvery roof of the foaling boxes, the solid bulk of the stable block, the bunkhouse, the long low graceful shape of the dwelling house with a glitter of moonlight in the big window at the end.

There lay my prison.

It hadn't been bad at first. There were no relations to take care of us, and I had found it satisfying to disappoint the people who said I couldn't earn enough to keep three small children, Belinda and Helen and Philip, with me. I liked horses, I always had, and from the beginning the business went fairly well. We all ate, anyway, and I even convinced myself that the law was not really my vocation after all.

My parents had planned to send Belinda and Helen to Frensham, and when the time came, they went. I

dare say I could have found a cheaper school, but I had to try to give them what I had had. and that was why Philip was away at Geelong.

The business had grown progressively, but so had the school fees and the men's wages and the maintenance costs. I was caught in a sort of upward spiral, and too much depended on my being able to keep on going. The leg I had broken in a steeplechase when I was twenty-two had caused the worst financial crisis of the whole nine years: and I had had no choice but to give up doing anything so risky.

I didn't grudge the unending labour. I was very fond of my sisters and brother. I had no regrets at all that I had done what I had. But the feeling that I had built a prosperous trap for myself had slowly eaten away the earlier contentment I had found in providing for them.

In another eight or ten years they would all be grown, educated, and married, and my job would be done. In another ten years I would be thirty-seven. Perhaps I too would be married by then, and have some children of my own, and send them to Frensham and Geelong. For more than four years I had done my best to stifle a longing to escape. It was easier when they were at home in the holidays, with the house ringing with their noise and Philip's carpentry all over the place and the girls' frillies hanging to dry in the bathroom. In the summer we rode or swam in the lagoon (the lake, as my English parents called it) and in the winter we skied in the mountains. They were very good company and never took anything they had for granted. Nor, now that they were growing up, did they seem to be suffering from any form of teenage rebellions. They were, in fact, thoroughly rewarding.

It usually hit me about a week after they had gone back to school, this fierce aching desperation to be free. Free for a good long while:

to go farther than the round of horse sales, farther than the occasional quick trip to Sidney or Melbourne or Cooma.

To have something else to remember but the procession of profitable days, something else to see besides the beauty with which I was surrounded. I had been so busy stuffing worms down my fellow nestlings' throats that I had never stretched my wings.

Telling myself that these thoughts were useless, that they were self-pity, that my unhappiness was unreasonable, did no good at all. I continued at night to sink into head-holding miseries of depression, and kept these moods out of my days and my balance sheets only by working to my limit.

When Lord October came the children had been back at school for eleven days, and I was sleeping badly. That may be why I was sitting on a mountainside at four o'clock in the morning trying to decide whether or not to take a peculiar job as a stable lad on the other side of the world. The door of the cage had been opened for me, all right. But the tit-bit that had been dangled to tempt me out seemed suspiciously large.

Twenty thousand English pounds. A great deal of money. But then he couldn't know of my restless state of mind, and he might think that a smaller sum would make no impression. (What, I wondered, had he been prepared to pay Arthur?) On the other hand, there was the racing journalist who had died in a car crash. If October or his colleagues had the slightest doubt it was an accident, that too would explain the size of his offer, as conscience money. Throughout my youth, owing to my father's profession, I had learned a good deal about crime and criminals, and I knew too much to dismiss the idea of an organized accident as fantastic nonsense.

I had inherited my father's bent for orderliness and truth and had grown up appreciating the logic of his mind, though I had often thought him too ruthless with innocent witnesses in court. My own view had always been that justice should be done and that my father did the world no good by getting the guilty acquitted. I would never make a barrister, he said, if I thought like that. I'd better be a policeman, instead.

England, I thought. Twenty thousand pounds. Detection. To be honest, the urgency with which October viewed the situation had not infected me. English racing was on the other side of the world. I knew no one engaged in it. I cared frankly little whether it had a good or a bad reputation. If I went it would be no altruistic crusade: I would be going only because the adventure appealed to me, because it looked amusing and a challenge, because it beckoned me like a siren to fling responsibility to the wind and cut the self-imposed shackles off my wilting spirit.

Common sense said that the whole idea was crazy, that the Earl of October was an irresponsible nut, that I hadn't any right to leave my family to fend for themselves while I went gallivanting round the world, and that the only possible course open to me was to stay where I was, and learn to be content.

Common sense lost.


Nine days later I flew to England in a Boeing 707.

I slept soundly for most of the thirty-six hours from Sydney to Darwin, from Darwin to Singapore, Rangoon, and Calcutta, from Calcutta to Karachi and Damascus, and from Damascus to Dusseldorf and London Airport.

Behind me I left a crowded week into which I had packed months of paper-work and a host of practical arrangements. Part of the difficulty was that I didn't know how long I would be away, but I reckoned that if I hadn't done the job in six months I wouldn't be able to do it at all, and made that a basis for my plans.

The head stud-groom was to have full charge of the training and sale of the horses already on the place, but not to buy or breed any more.

A firm of contractors agreed to see to the general maintenance of the land and buildings. The woman currently cooking for the lads who lived in the bunk-house assured me that she would look after the family when they came back for the long Christmas summer holiday from December to February.

I arranged with the bank manager that I should send post-dated cheques for the next term's school fees and for the fodder and tack for the horses, and I wrote a pile for the head groom to cash one at a time for the men's food, and wages. October assured me that 'my fee' would be transferred to my account without delay.

'If I don't succeed, you shall have your money back, less what it has cost me to be away,' I told him.

He shook his head, but I insisted; and in the end we compromised. I was to have ten thousand outright, and the other half if my mission were successful.

I took October to my solicitors and had the rather unusual appointment shaped into a dryly-worded legal contract, to which, with a wry smile, he put his signature alongside mine.

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