Authors: Jilly Cooper
Then prowling Titus Andronicus, a black brute who descended on mares like the Heavy Brigade, and who so terrified the stable lads, he was sometimes dispatched down a tunnel of cages to the covering shed.
‘One day he’ll have you against the wall, another he’ll be sweet as pie. I hope his foals don’t inherit his temperament,’ said Rupert.
They had reached the box of Hamlet’s Ghost, who only fancied greys.
‘The only way to get him to mount a mare of any other colour,’ Rupert told Valent, ‘is to put a white sheet over her.’
Enobarbus’s box was empty. He was spending a season in France and not enjoying it, because he couldn’t get a grip on the quarters of those slim French mares.
Valent shook his head. ‘They’re all different.’
‘And here’s Mrs Wilkinson’s sire, Peppy Koala,’ went on Rupert as a wild-eyed chestnut darted out his head and took a nip at Rupert’s sleeve. ‘Winner of the Derby and the St Leger, contender for Leading Sire. Stud fee even higher than Love Rat’s.
‘And talk of the angel, here is Mrs Wilkinson’s husband Love Rat,’ he added fondly, as they reached the last box. Valent admired the big grey with a long blond mane and tail, who nickered at Rupert and rubbed a whiskery soft pink nose against his face.
‘He’s the gentlest horse in the yard; any child would be safe in his box, always offering to babysit. His only problem,’ Rupert scratched Love Rat behind the ears, ‘is laziness. Unless he really fancies a mare, he’s a bit inclined to leave it in and let it soak. He’s got a waiting list of five hundred, but we limit him to ninety of the very best a season. If he’s going to make Leading Sire, we can’t have him wasting his somewhat selective libido on any riff-raff.’
Rupert consulted his iPhone. ‘He’s not covering anything this evening,’ he said.
‘That’ll please Mrs Wilkinson,’ said Valent.
‘Look behind you.’ Rupert nudged Valent. Valent did and burst out laughing. Big, one-eared Safety Car had picked up
the handle of a large brush with his teeth and was attempting to sweep the yard.
‘He can’t bear attention on any other horse. He’ll play football for hours with Cuthbert and Gilchrist.’
‘I ought to get back,’ said Valent.
‘Come and watch a covering. Thane of Fife’s doing the honours.’
In a huge barn, with padded walls and a carpet of shredded black rubber – laughingly known as ‘shagpile’ – a lovely chestnut mare was being led in with a tiny grey foal trotting beside her.
‘That’s Cindy Bolton’s mare, Wages of Cindy, known as Katie,’ murmured Rupert. ‘Amazingly, she’s won a lot of races.’ And there up in the viewing platform, giggling and waving, was Cindy Bolton herself, a very blonde, world-famous porn star, who lived in Valent’s village of Willowwood. Accompanied by her dreadful, self-important, billionaire porn-merchant husband, Lester, she was now shrieking at the prospect of Rupert and sexual activity.
‘Hello, Valent, hello, Rupert – come and join us up here. Surely Foalie oughtn’t to see Mummy making babies,’ she squealed. ‘Someone ought to put their hands over his eyes.’
‘Some mares get inordinately upset if they’re separated from their foals,’ Rupert called up to her, preferring to lean against the wall with Valent. ‘And for Christ’s sake, keep your voice down.’
‘Isn’t he macho?’ sighed Cindy.
‘What are those two doing here?’ muttered Valent in horror.
‘If breeders are forking out a hundred grand for a shag, or in Fifey’s case twenty-five grand, they want to check it’s happened – and with the right mare.’
Wages of Cindy was now having protective boots put on her feet by a girl stud hand dressed in a hard hat and protective clothing.
‘Coverings can be very dangerous, and catastrophic for a stallion if a mare kicks out behind,’ said Rupert, nipping out of the barn to take a call.
Another stud hand led the grey foal away from the action but to a place where he could still see his mother. The ‘teaser’, whose job it was to arouse the mare, was led in. A sweet little bay pony called Gloucester, the teaser was a smooth operator with a shaggy black mane and tail, who proceeded to sniff and lick Wages of Cindy, nipping her gently on the neck, then moving down her body, getting her ready until the mare lifted her tail, parted her back legs and let out a stream of urine. Whereupon the poor teaser was whipped away and a huge grey stallion thundered in, blond mane and tail tossing even more than Cindy Bolton’s and giving great reverberating bellows.
Surely that’s Love Rat, not Thane of Fife, thought Valent.
But an army of stud hands, all in safety helmets, were concentrating too hard to notice. One was hanging on grimly to the stallion’s bridle, another was holding the mare’s tail out of the way, another was poised to guide in the penis, another to hold the base of the shaft to see if ejaculation had taken place, and yet another to wind a twitch of rope round Wages of Cindy’s nose and tighten it if she started playing up.
‘Poor girlie,’ wailed her mistress. ‘Don’t hurt her poor nosey. Goodness, what a winkle!’ Her voice rose to a shriek again, as the stallion flashed the most enormous penis, nearly two foot long, grey, and circled halfway down by a smart pink band.
‘Shut up,’ hissed a returning Rupert. Some stallions could be distracted by a sparrow flying up into the roof. Then he gave a howl of rage. ‘It’s the wrong fucking stallion! It should be Fifey, not Love Rat.’ Sprinting across the yard, hurling himself with huge courage at Love Rat’s bridle, he tried to haul him away. But it was too late. Love Rat, feeling randy for once, had plunged his mighty Tower of Pisa into the excited mare – ten massive thrusts and it was all over.
The stud hands glanced at each other in trepidation.
‘OK, he’s ejaculated,’ said one, feeling a shudder at the base of the shaft.
‘Who the fuck is responsible for this?’ said Rupert furiously. ‘Where’s Gavin?’
‘Couldn’t make it – wife trouble,’ muttered the penis-guider.
‘I don’t want to snitch, but Gav definitely said Love Rat,’ whispered the girl stud hand, releasing the twitch on the mare’s nose.
Valent was distracted by a moan from the gallery. Glancing up, he saw Cindy Bolton slumped on the rail, a glazed expression on her flushed face. Behind her, Lester was smoothing his comb-over and zipping up his trousers.
As Love Rat was led back to his box, to be washed down with lukewarm water, Wages of Cindy was united with her foal and led off to the box where she would board for a week to see if she was pregnant.
By some superhuman effort, Rupert managed not to erupt in rage. As the error was on Penscombe’s side, would he be able to sting Lester, as tight with money as Wages of Cindy’s twitch, for a further £75,000 to make up Love Rat’s fee? Would it be better, in fact, to abort the foal, who would only be the size of a fingernail, rather than have Love Rat’s name on its passport – and try again later with Fifey? Bloody, bloody Gav.
Straightening her clothes, Cindy came down from the viewing platform to pat her departing mare.
‘Good girlie, hope that didn’t hurt you so soon after having Foalie. I’ve brought my latest for your dad.’ She handed Rupert a DVD entitled
. ‘I hope you’ll have a little look.’
‘Thanks,’ said Rupert tersely as he pocketed it.
‘Thanks,’ echoed the girl stud hand, who’d taken off her hard hat, unleashing a cascade of shiny red hair, and who now accepted a leer and a £100 tip from Lester. ‘You’re welcome at Penscombe any time, Mr Bolton.’
‘I do hope you’ll train Foalie for us, Rupert,’ simpered Cindy. ‘And now I expect you’re going to offer us a nice glass of bubbly.’
‘I’m busy,’ snapped Rupert, relieved for once to hear cries of, ‘Cindy, Cindy,’ as his dotty old father Eddie wandered into the stud with his flies undone, crying, ‘Where’s my lovely boy, Love Rat? Come and see him, Cindy.’
Old Eddie adored Love Rat and drove Rupert crackers, hanging around the boxes or the stallion paddocks, plying him with Polos and often leaving his gate or stable door undone.
Rather ashamed at how aroused he’d been by the whole covering, and sensing that Rupert was about to explode, Valent told him he’d better get back to Etta and that he’d firm things up over Mrs Wilkinson’s foal in a few days.
As Valent drove to Willowwood, its thousands of willows swayed like pale-gold fountains in the setting sun. Reaching Badger’s Court, he could hear strains of Bruckner’s Seventh, and breathed in the heady mingling smells of his new wife’s favourite scent, 24 Faubourg, of white philadelphus in a big emerald-green bowl on the kitchen table and garlic and parsley as Etta roasted a leg of lamb in happy memory of the first supper he had ever cooked for her.
Etta looked so adorable in a sky-blue dress he’d bought her in Paris and gave such a cry of joy as she ran to hug him, turning her face slightly away to hide the fact she’d just popped a piece of ripe Brie into her mouth.
‘I missed you,’ she said.
‘And I missed you. How did Wilkie get on, opening her supermarket?’
‘Brilliantly, loved every minute. Huge crowds and traffic at a standstill,’ Etta said, squeaking with laughter. ‘Chisolm ate the ribbon before anyone had time to cut it. Let me get you a drink.’
‘I’ll get you one.’
Both were still apprehensive of so much happiness. Both having been badly burned before, Valent couldn’t believe Etta could be so loving and unpicky, unlike his previous trophy girlfriend, nor Etta that Valent was so kind and
approving, unlike her powerful, bullying late husband.
Both were amazed the other was so easy to live with. At first, toothpaste consumption had rocketed and Etta had kept running upstairs to wash between her legs – such bliss to have a bidet – in case Valent wanted to make love to her. She also washed her ears every night instead of twice a week, and with five loos in the house, she was no longer embarrassed at leaving a smell in one of them.
As Priceless the black greyhound pattered downstairs, flashing his teeth in a smile and rubbed himself against Valent, and Gwenny appeared mewing at the window, it was so lovely that he loved her animals too. He didn’t even mind Priceless taking over the spare room’s bed and all the sofas, nor a thunderously purring Gwenny landing on his ribs in the middle of the night.
As he helped himself to another beer and poured Etta a glass of Sauvignon, he noticed she had been simultaneously reading a Bill Le Grice rose catalogue,
and a book called
Equine Stud Management
by Melanie Bailey.
‘It’s awfully good the vet’s coming to see Wilkie tomorrow. How was Rupert?’
‘Obviously gutted about Billy Lloyd-Foxe, and he went ballistic because some drunken stud hand screwed up and Love Rat covered the wrong mare.’
‘Golly, what did he say about Wilkie? I hope he doesn’t think
the wrong mare.’
‘Not at all. Would you mind being in partnership with him, both share her foal and he’ll train it for nothing?’
Etta took a great slug of Sauvignon and choked.
‘D’you think he’d be kind to the foal? Wilkie loathed being at Penscombe before.’
‘I think so.’ Valent sat down on a big, dark-red button-back sofa which had come from Etta’s house and made his kitchen much more cosy. ‘He’s obviously devoted to Love Rat and there was a grand horse called Safety Car wandering loose round the yard like a big dog. Evidently Love Rat’s a sprinter with a fantastic turn of foot and Mrs Wilkinson is both fast and a stayer, so the combination should be dynamite.’
Valent shuffled forward, as Priceless the greyhound edged on to the sofa behind him.
‘As Wilkie won’t be racing any more, he wants us to ditch her syndicate. Thank God they only own ten per cent.’
‘We can’t,’ gasped Etta, ‘they so want to be part of Wilkie’s foal. We can’t ditch Dora or Painswick or Woody or the vicar or my own son-in-law, or darling Alban,’ she added in distress.
‘At least we can dump the Major, and Shagger and Phoebe and Seth Bainton,’ said Valent craftily.
Etta shuddered. ‘Yes! We definitely don’t want Seth any more.’
Seth was the handsome, dissolute actor in his late forties who had impregnated Etta’s teenage granddaughter Trixie, whose baby was due in September.
‘Better to drop the lot of them,’ urged Valent, who very much wanted Rupert’s co-operation in pulling off a deal with China. ‘Clean break’s best – I’ll give them £5,000 each. They wouldn’t enjoy being lumbered with Love Rat’s £100,000 stud fees. They can still come and see Wilkie and her foal.’
Having put the lamb in the Aga and leaving the potatoes to brown, Etta started vigorously chopping parsley for the broad beans. Noticing how her body wiggled, Valent couldn’t resist coming up behind her, kissing her scented neck, feeling for her breasts which fitted so sweetly into his big, goalkeeper’s hands.
‘Oh Etta, d’you think dinner could wait half an hour?’
As they took their plates outside later, neither minded that the lamb was overcooked or that they had to cut the burnt bottoms off the roast potatoes.
They sat very close on a lichened bench looking down at a stream hurtling between banks of hostas and white and mauve irises, then reaching the fields between buttercups and greening cow parsley. Valent amused Etta with the antics of Cindy and Lester, then told her about the Stubbs, the spitting image of Rupert and just as ‘stunning’.
‘No one’s more stunning than you,’ she said loyally.
‘Must lose ten pounds.’ Valent patted his gut. ‘I bumped into your son in the village shop, and the cheeky monkey told me I ought to join W.O.O.’ This stood for War on Obesity, one of the charities for which Martin raised funds.
‘How dare he?’ stormed Etta. ‘I love you all hunky.’
‘Martin wants us to open the garden to raise money for W.O.O.’
‘It’s in no fit state,’ said Etta crossly, then as Valent slid a warm hand between her thighs, ‘I’m far too busy (oh, how lovely) opening my legs to open any garden.’
Meanwhile, back at Penscombe, Rupert had immediately gone on the warpath.
‘Where’s Gav, Celeste?’ he asked the minxy red-head as she settled Wages of Cindy and her foal back in their box.
‘He’s been drinking all day. I don’t want to drop him in it, but he caught his wife Bethany having it off with Brute Barraclough last night. They’d just parked up in the woods, a hundred yards from his house.’