May 1969

Bill Regan whistled as he used a soft brush to put the finishing touches on Jupiter’s gleaming black coat.  Jupe’s owner, Matthew Wheeler, had called the Claremont Riding Academy to say he was coming with his daughter for a ride on this pleasant Saturday in early May.  The Wheelers’ gentle mare, Lady, had already been groomed, and she stood patiently in her stall, waiting to be saddled.  Jupiter fidgeted, pawing the floor of his stall and snorting, as if he knew his master was coming.  His long tail flicked with a life of its own.

“All right, buddy, you’re going to get a good workout today,” Regan assured him.  “Won’t be much longer now.”  Jupe’s ears pricked up and he nipped at one of his groom’s back pockets.   Regan laughed.  “All right, buddy,” he repeated, patting the gelding’s shoulder.  “No need to paw.  You’ve been pretty patient today.”  He set his brush down and pulled a carrot from his pocket, allowing Jupiter to take it from him.  Next, he lifted Jupe’s front left hoof in one hand and began to pick out the bits of dirt, mud, and rocks lodged in the groove of its frog.  He resumed his cheerful whistling as he moved from one hoof to the next.  When all four feet had been cleaned, he stepped back and grinned at the beautiful animal.  “You’re a champion, all right.  Every inch!” 

While Jupiter continued to paw the floor and nudge the stall door, Regan worked quickly to sweep the stall of debris, whistling as he worked.  The big horse was used to his routine and didn’t try to kick out as he worked his way around to the rear of the enclosure.  Just as he finished up, the telephone located in the central passageway began to ring.  Regan let himself out and trotted to the phone.

“Regan here,” he said as he grabbed the receiver.

“Mr. Wheeler and his daughter are here.”  It was Mr. Newburg, owner of the Claremont.  “Are their horses ready?”

“Just need to saddle up,” Regan replied.  “Didn’t want them to get sweaty while they waited.  I’ll have Lady down in five minutes, and then come back for Jupe.”  He hung up the phone and collected Lady’s tack.  Minutes later, she was saddled and he had slipped a bridle over her face.  After fastening the buckles, he clucked as he took up her lead rope and opened her stall door. As he led the gentle mare down the ramp connecting the second-floor stable level to the ground floor, Regan spoke softly to her.  “You’re in for a treat today, beautiful Lady!  It’s been quite a while since Miss Honey has been here.”

Emerging from the relative dimness of the building into a bright, sunny morning, he blinked as his eyes adjusted to the light.   He squinted and spotted Matthew Wheeler’s tall, commanding form.  But who was the thin, pale woman next to him?  Mrs. Wheeler occasionally rode with her husband, but today it was supposed to have been Honey.  Regan kept walking, murmuring softly to Lady.  As he neared the couple, it became clear that the woman was indeed Honey.  Regan’s brows drew together in a frown.  What had happened to the vibrant young girl he’d given lessons to during the previous summer?  With an effort, he smoothed the worried frown from his face and smiled as he greeted the pair.

“Good morning, Mr. Wheeler, Miss Honey.  It’s a beautiful day for a ride, isn’t it?”  Without waiting for an answer, he started again.  “It’s been too long since we’ve seen you here at Claremont, Miss Honey.  I hope you’ve been well.”

Securing Lady’s lead line to the hitching post, he stood aside while Honey greeted Lady and offered her a single lump of sugar.  “Well, I was away at school but I’ve been ill and had to leave,” she said.  “I’m doing much better now.” She turned to face him with a bright smile, which Regan thought only accentuated her frailty.  But she stepped up on the mounting block and placed her foot in the near stirrup, swinging herself up onto the saddle without help.  “It’s good to see you, Regan, and thank you for asking.”

Mr. Wheeler hadn’t said anything while Honey was mounting.  Now he moved to stand close to his daughter and Lady, stroking the mare’s neck and keeping a hand on her halter.  “I’ll have Jupe out here in a couple of shakes,” Regan assured him, and jogged back up the cleated ramp into the building.   

As Jupiter walked down the ramp a few minutes later, he was obviously restless, trying to prance and switching his tail again.  Regan kept a firm hold on his halter and spoke soothingly to him.  “You’ll get a good ride today, old boy,” he said.  “Just what you need.  But you want to behave yourself around Miss Honey, now, sir.  I don’t think she’s up for any jumping or galloping, so you see to it that you keep a nice gentlemanly pace.  Don’t get that Lady riled up, now.”   Approaching the mounting block, he raised his voice a little and addressed Mr. Wheeler.  “Here you go, sir.  Jupe’s all ready for you.  He’s looking forward to a ride today.”  He busied himself securing Jupiter’s lead line to the hitching post.

“Thank you, Regan.”  Instead of immediately mounting his horse as Regan expected, Mr. Wheeler cleared his throat.  “Do you have a couple of minutes?  There’s something I wanted to speak to you about.”

“Yes, sir.  Of course, sir.”  Regan pulled off the flat cap he wore.  What could Mr. Wheeler mean?  He searched his memory to see if there was any way he could have been disrespectful, or anything he might have done with the horses that might have offended the wealthy owner.  But he came up with nothing.  Mr. Wheeler was speaking again.

“Here’s the deal.  I’ve bought some property upstate—out in the country around a little village called Sleepyside.  I plan to move my family out there, and we want to bring the horses, even buy another horse for Honey’s own use.”  He paused.  Jupiter was tossing his head, snorting, and pawing the pavement, obviously impatient.  Mr. Wheeler reached up to slap his shoulder.  “Hold on, boy.  We’ll go in a minute.”  He turned his attention back to Regan.  “Anyway, I’m having a stable built but I’ll need a groom on-site.  My daughter likes you, and I think you’ve got enough horse sense and enough energy to handle the job.  If you’re interested, call my office to set up an interview, and make sure you have a couple of references.  We’ll talk more at the interview.”  He pressed a business card into Regan’s hand and swung himself easily into the saddle.  Automatically, Regan released the lead lines and watched as the two horses started off at a brisk rhythmic walk, headed through the busy street to the trails of Central Park.   He stared unseeingly after the two riders, Mr. Wheeler’s words echoing in his ears.

A cushy job at a country estate, he mused.   Oh, it would be work, no doubt about it.  Exercising and grooming three horses, mucking out the stable and maintaining the tack and fencing would certainly keep him busy.  But he could be outdoors most of the time, away from the traffic and noise of the city.  And rich people like the Wheelers would surely have more spacious, comfortable quarters for him than his room at the YMCA offered.  Certainly something to think about.  He glanced at the business card, rubbing his thumb over the raised lettering.  Wheeler Enterprises, Matthew H. Wheeler, President.  He recognized the address as a high-priced location.  Slowly, he slid the card into his wallet.  

Ten days later, Regan dressed in his only suit and took the subway over to the offices of Wheeler Enterprises.   He’d managed to contact his commanding officer from his stint in the Army after several telephone calls.  Both the Captain and his boss at Claremont had promised him good references, and he hoped Mr. Wheeler had received them.  Still, he carried a folded slip of paper in his pocket with contact information, just in case.

Thank God I don’t have to use Carl Stinson as a reference, he told himself.  It was just as well I was only seventeen when all that happened; no one will think it’s unusual for me to have no work history for those two years.  Emerging from the underground terminal, he glanced around to find the street signs that would tell him what block he had reached.  Hurrying people brushed past him, on their way to work, shopping, or whatever kinds of errands people did on Thursday mornings.

It took only a moment to orient himself to his location and the direction he should take, and he set off at a brisk pace, ignoring the sweat that dampened his palms and trickled down under his shirt.  Why should I be nervous, he asked himself very reasonably.  I’ve got a perfectly good job now, and will still have it if Wheeler turns me down today.  Still, bright visions of a serene green countryside and a pleasant job caring for only three horses danced before his vision.  If he didn’t get the job, it would be disappointing.  His time with the Worthington operation had given him a taste of that sweet country life, and he was hungry for more of it.     

Six blocks and ten minutes later, he stopped in front of the building that housed Wheeler Enterprises.  Naturally, it was a high-rise.  Naturally, there was a doorman who required identification before he was allowed to enter.  Naturally, the lobby was imposing, with gleaming tile, floor-to-ceiling windows, planter boxes filled with luxuriant foliage, and sleek modern leather-upholstered chairs.  A wide strip of gray carpet in a diamond pattern led straight ahead to a glassed-in reception cubicle, where a young woman with smoothly coiffed, platinum-blonde hair sat behind a dark walnut desk.  Elevators with walnut-paneled doors flanked the reception area.

Swallowing to relieve his suddenly dry mouth, he walked up to the glassed-in cubicle.  The receptionist was speaking on the telephone, and he stood there, shifting from one foot to the other and wondering if he should actually step back so as not to appear to be eavesdropping.  If he did step back, though... someone else might take his spot.  He decided to stay where he was.  The call seemed to take forever, but finally, she replaced the receiver on the phone’s base.  “May I help you, sir?” she asked with a bright smile.

“I...ah...have an appointment with Matthew Wheeler,” he managed to say.   “At ten o’clock.”  He tried to look as confident as she did.

“Certainly.  I’ll notify his office that you’re here.”  She lifted the telephone again, and again he stood there, trying to act as if all this was normal and natural for him.  After a few words, she replaced the receiver and smiled at him.  “Please step to your left and take the elevator to the twelfth floor.  You’ll see the Wheeler suite when you get off, and a receptionist will escort you.”

“Thank you.”  He followed her instructions and reached the elevator just as the door opened with a barely audible whoosh.  As the small enclosure ascended he wished for the dry mouth he’d had when he entered the building.  Now he had to swallow several times to prevent his mouth from filling with saliva.  Small, enclosed spaces were not his favorites.  He wiped sweaty palms on his trousers.  People don’t like a wet handshake, he thought.  What will I do if Mr. Wheeler wants to shake hands?  As the elevator stopped with a slight shudder, he tried to remind himself Mr. Wheeler had invited him to come and interview.  He wouldn’t have done that if he thought it would be a waste of time to talk to Regan.  Cool it, he told himself.  You know you can do the job.  All of this is something he does to impress clients and promote his image as a successful businessman.  He stepped out of the elevator, holding his head high.

Another attractive young woman stepped out from behind a semicircular desk in an alcove directly across from the elevator.  “Good morning, Mr. Regan,” she said pleasantly.  “Mr. Wheeler will be ready for you in just a few minutes.  Please take a seat.”  She indicated a group of sleek leather-upholstered chairs in front of a window wall that overlooked a stunning view of the city.  He took the chair that would give him the most space between himself and the window.   His eye was caught by a copy of Horse and Rider on the adjacent table, and he picked it up to distract himself from worrying about his interview.   Several articles caught his attention, but he was unable to concentrate on reading and gave up, flipping through the pages and reading captions of photographs.   When his name was called, he jumped and nearly dropped the magazine.

“Mr. Regan, please follow me.”  The blonde woman beckoned him as she held a door open.  He followed, thankful his wait was over. 

Walking through the quiet corridor in the receptionist’s wake, Regan noted the rich wood paneling on its walls, as well as the subdued lighting from wall fixtures.  Through an open door, he saw an attractive middle-aged woman working at a typewriter in a small office with a sunny window.  The corridor ended in a wall of smoked glass with bright brass lettering that read “Matthew H. Wheeler”.  The blonde pressed a hidden button and a glass panel slid noiselessly aside.  Matthew Wheeler sat at an imposing desk, staring out the floor-to-ceiling double corner window at a panoramic view of the city.  Two comfortable swivel armchairs faced the desk and a portable bar was set up in the opposite corner.  Regan wondered if he’d even be able to find his voice.  If he’s trying to intimidate me, it’s working, he decided.  Then his redheaded stubbornness rose to the forefront.  No, he won’t!

“Mr. Bill Regan is here,” announced the receptionist, melting back into the outer office area.  Matthew Wheeler swung around to face the newcomer, rising from his chair.  Walking around the desk, he extended his hand and shook Regan’s with a firm, dry grip.

“Have a seat,” he invited with a gesture toward the two armchairs.  Regan sat, waiting to learn what would come next.  Mr. Wheeler poured two glasses of something from the bar—water? Handing one to Regan, he returned to his seat.  “Thanks for coming here today,” he said.  “If you’re really interested in this job, we need to go over some things.”  He took a sip of his drink, and Regan followed suit.  It was water.

“Yes, sir,” he replied.  “I’d like to know more about the job you’re offering before I can know if I could accept it.”

“First off, I’ll tell you that I received your references from your commanding officer as well as your boss at Claremont.  Both were impressed with your sense of responsibility and attention to detail.  In addition, they commented that you’re able to get along with other people and work as part of a team.  Those qualities are important to me.”

“Yes, sir.  Thank you, sir.”  Regan took another sip of water and began to feel more relaxed.

“I don’t see any educational information in your resume.”  Mr. Wheeler waved a single sheet of paper.  “You’ll be responsible for ordering feed, bedding, and other supplies to keep the horses and stable in top shape.  I’ll expect to review your accounts on a quarterly basis.  Can you handle that?”

“I never graduated from high school, it’s true.”  This was something he’d thought about and planned for.  “I did earn my GED during my stint in the Army, and I’ve always been good with numbers.  I’m sure I can handle what you’re talking about.”

“All right.  Your CO also mentioned the GED.  I’ll give you the chance at that.  Now, you need to know my daughter was very ill last winter.  She’s recovered her health, but still tires easily and her doctor felt it would help her to move to the country and have a more active life.  I want her to ride, swim, and spend time outdoors but she needs to learn also to take care of her horse after riding and to take care of her tack as well.”  He cleared his throat.  “In my book, good horsemanship is about taking care of the horse as well as riding.  You might need to teach her a few things and remind her, but I want her and any friends who she may ride with to do that work, not to leave it all to you.  Got it?”

“Yes, sir.”  Regan liked that no-nonsense attitude from the wealthy businessman.  It made Matt Wheeler seem more human, somehow.

“Another thing:  Mrs. Wheeler and I travel a lot for business.  Honey will spend a lot of time knocking around in that big house by herself.  Miss Trask, her governess, will be there.  But I hope Honey will make friends and have other kids over.  I’ll expect you to keep an eye out for Honey and her friends.  Not only about the horses but also just general security of the place.  If you think a kid is a potential troublemaker, you have the right to ask him or her to leave.”

Regan started to feel a little uncomfortable.  That sounded like a lot of responsibility, and he wasn’t that old.  Would teenagers even listen to him?  He might need to act a little more hardcore than he really was.

“Yes, sir,” he agreed, mentally wavering but still wanting to try that quiet country life.  “Sir, what kind of living quarters would I have?” he asked, in order to change the subject.

“There’s an apartment above the garage.  It’s about halfway between the house and the stables.  The apartment has two bedrooms and a kitchenette.  You may be asked to share with another employee later, but for now it’s all yours.  It’s being fully overhauled and modernized.” 

“Sounds fair enough.  And what about the stables?”

“Six stalls, but we only intend to keep three horses.  Jupe and Lady will be there, and we mean to buy a good-tempered gelding or mare for Honey.  In fact, I’d like for you—if you decide to take the job—to help choose the new horse.  There’s a tack room and a small office, as well as some limited storage for feed and bedding straw.  The stable is completely new; we had to demolish an old rickety barn that was already on the property.  A good paddock and fenced pasture is under construction now, and there’s a stream where the animals can drink.”

Regan took in all of this information.  The more he heard about the place, the better it sounded.  “Sir, I’m definitely interested.  But I think I’d like to see the place before making a final decision.”

“Of course.  I’ll get you a train ticket and you can come up on your next day off, if that’s convenient.  I’d like to settle this as soon as possible.”

“That would be great, Mr. Wheeler.”  He wondered if it would be good or bad to ask about salary at this point.  He didn’t have long to wonder.

“I’m prepared to pay what I think is a fair salary,” Matt Wheeler continued.  He named a salary that had Regan clenching his jaw to keep his mouth from dropping open at its largesse.  “Since we're already used to dealing with the company's benefit program, it was a simple matter to set up a benefit plan for our household staff, so you'll have medical insurance.  You're young and you look pretty healthy, but it’s a nice little perk,” he went on.  “You’ll have a regular day off and be eligible for a paid vacation every year after the first year of service.”  

Regan wanted this job with every fiber of his being.  It was all he could do to keep from saying so—without even seeing the place.  He reminded himself there was no point in jumping blind.  See the place, maybe meet this Miss Trask.

“You’ll have some big responsibilities, and not just with the horses,” Mr. Wheeler said.  “Think about it and be sure to make that visit.  I want you to know what you’re getting into, because I don’t want to have a revolving door for a stable master.  I’m a fair employer and I want employees who are willing to work. ”

“Yes, sir.”

“Let me know the day you mean to visit.  I’ll meet you at the Manor House.  Here’s a card.  Leave your message with my secretary; she’ll be sure I get it.” 

“Yes, sir.  I’ll do that.”  His head was spinning as he accepted the business card.

Mr. Wheeler came around his desk and extended his hand again.  “Thanks for coming by today.  I hope we’ll both be happy we had this meeting.”  Regan accepted the handclasp and realized the interview was ended.

“Thank you, sir.  I hope so, too.”  Mr. Wheeler opened the office door and the blonde receptionist appeared to escort Regan back to the elevator.

Late in the week, Regan boarded the commuter train that served Tarrytown, Sleepyside, and Croton.  The early-morning rush hour was past, and not many people were heading away from the city at this hour.  His car was nearly empty.  Today he was dressed less formally and more comfortably for walking outdoors and poking about in a stable.  Dungarees, boots, and a chambray shirt helped him to feel like what he was—a horseman.  He stretched out his long legs and prepared to enjoy the hour-long ride.  The city’s congestion and noise faded and stretches of green countryside took its place; he could look out the left-side windows and see the Hudson below.  The smaller towns and villages along the line were quaint and picturesque to a city boy, reminding him of the area around Saratoga.  Occasionally he glimpsed horses in fenced pastures to the right of the train; other properties were bordered with low stone walls.  He was excited but apprehensive at the same time at the prospect of seeing Matthew Wheeler’s country estate.  Could he really be so lucky—and was it really good luck, or just exchanging a routine job for one that had burdensome responsibilities?

The Tarrytown stop was behind them and Sleepyside was next.  The train slowed, its brakes screeching as it approached the Sleepyside station.   Regan felt his body tense as he prepared to disembark.  Mr. Wheeler’s secretary had told him he’d be met at the station, and he wondered who would meet him.  Mr. Wheeler had indicated no one was living at the property yet, since the Wheelers were having some renovations done.   As he descended the train steps into the station, he glanced around and saw a middle-aged woman with short, crisp gray hair walking briskly toward him.

“Mr. Regan?” she asked with a smile.  Her bright blue eyes twinkled. 

“That’s right,” he agreed.

“Welcome to Sleepyside.  I’m Margery Trask, and I’ll drive you out to the Manor House.  Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler are both here today, overseeing some work for a few hours.  Once I’ve delivered you, I’ll be taking some notes for Mrs. Wheeler, so I probably won’t see you again until it’s time for you to catch the train back.”

He followed her to a dark green estate wagon and climbed into the passenger seat.  She methodically checked the mirrors, just as if she hadn’t been the last one to drive the car.  Regan hid a smile.  He was no driver, but he did think she was overly cautious.  She continued her careful driving as they moved out onto the highway, frequently glancing in to the rearview and side mirrors and using the turn signals far ahead of the turns.

“You’re a very careful driver,” he said, to make some conversation.

“Yes, I am,” she agreed.  “I’ve been living in the city for quite awhile, so I don’t really drive much, and I’m probably over-cautious.  But this car doesn’t belong to me, and once we move out here I’ll also be responsible for driving Honey from time to time.  So I want to be as careful as I can.”  

He nodded.  What she had said made sense.  And at any rate, her sedate pace allowed him to take in the quaint business district, followed by tree-lined streets and Victorian houses set back from the wide sidewalks.  As they headed out of the village and turned onto Glen Road, the countryside was serene and green.   A couple of miles outside town, anyone would have thought they were deep in the country.  Mailboxes mounted on posts signaled the existence of people living along the road, but homes were set far back from the road behind more trees.  Regan could feel himself relaxing.  Although he’d lived as a city boy for most of his life, he’d always been most at home in the country.

Miss Trask started her turn signal, and after a few seconds, he saw a set of wrought-iron gates between two large stone piers.  She braked to a stop before the gate and he was about to jump out and open the gates when they started to open all by themselves.  His jaw dropped and he jerked his head around to stare at Miss Trask.  She laughed.

“Remote control.  The gate has a receiver and this car is outfitted with a transmitter.  When I press a button, the gate opens automatically.  I close it after I drive through.”

“Wow!   I’ve heard of those, but haven’t seen one in operation.”

“It’s a security measure.   We’ll drive on up to the house and garage, so you can see the apartment and the stables.”

He nodded.  “That’s why I’m here.”

The blacktopped driveway ascended the sloping ground gradually, by curving across the terrain.  Regan wondered how much extra money it had cost to route the drive like this, rather than going straight up, but he supposed it would make things easier when snow and ice covered the ground.  Off to the car’s right, some distance from the gate, he caught a glimpse of a ramshackle building nearly covered in wisteria and flanked by a couple of large spruce trees.  He wondered what purpose it had once served.   The property showed signs of recent cultivation; it was mowed and as they continued up the driveway he saw a couple of men working in flowerbeds.  The house itself nearly took his breath away.  

It was a massive white house with a two-story full-width porch, large windows and neatly trimmed shrubbery.  Wide brick steps swept down to a semicircular drive.  Mature trees accentuated its imposing presence.  He could see that an extension of the house formed a huge enclosed porch or maybe even a ballroom, and the roof was high enough to allow living space on a third floor, although no windows faced the front on that level.

“Impressive, isn’t it?”  Miss Trask laughed, a little self-consciously, he thought.  “The Wheelers’ apartment in the city is large, but of course it doesn’t have the outdoor space that sets off this property.” 

“It’s something else,” he agreed.  “So, what about the garage?  Mr. Wheeler said there’s an apartment over the garage.”

“Yes,” she agreed.  “It’s a little way past the house.  I’m to show you around the garage apartment and then Mr. Wheeler will go through the stable with you and discuss his plans for the horses.”   She put the car in gear again and pulled away from the house, heading beyond it and to the left.  Soon he could see a white structure with three bays on the lower level and several windows evenly spaced around the second floor.  An outside staircase led up to the apartment level.

He followed Miss Trask up the stairs and into a bright but cozy apartment where the sharp aromas of new lumber and paint lingered. 

“This is the living room, obviously.”  A comfortable-looking sofa and two side chairs flanked a low coffee table; floor lamps on either side of the sofa would provide plenty of illumination at night.  On the opposite wall, a portable television perched on a low table between two smallish bookcases.  She waved to encompass the space and opened a door.  “Here’s a closet for coats and boots.”  He nodded.  Already the place was twice the size of his room.  Miss Trask led the way across the room to an adjoining space that held a table with two chairs, a small refrigerator and compact stove, as well as a short bank of upper and lower cabinets, with a sink in the center, under a window that overlooked green space with woods beyond the yard.  “The kitchen is basic, but you’ll probably eat most of your meals at the house,” she apologized.

“I’m not much of a cook,” he admitted.  “But if I wanted to fry an egg or fix a pot of coffee, I could do it.  This’ll be fine.”

She pointed out a wall-mounted telephone.  “You’ll have your own number, but will be able to call the house directly as well.”

A small but fully equipped bathroom with a shower separated two bedrooms, each outfitted with an extra-long twin bed and dresser, and each with a window.  “This room looks out to the stables,” Miss Trask said.  “I thought you’d like to have it.”

“Sure,” he agreed.  “That would be great.”  He drank in the green grass, the darker trees, and the blue sky framed by the open window.  A stable, brand-new like the garage, was receiving a coat of whitewash.  Two men were erecting a four-board wooden fence and he could hear them talking to each other as they worked.   A pleasant breeze circulated through the apartment.  Regan smiled.  He could get used to this.

“Mrs. Wheeler is ordering bedding and towels for the apartment,” his guide told him. “And she asked me to choose some basic kitchen things—utensils, a few saucepans, a spider and coffeepot.  We should have everything set up by the move-in date.  You won’t have to bring anything but your clothing and shaving kit.”  She blushed as those last words left her lips.  “Oh, no!  That was a little too personal!”

Regan laughed.  “Well, it’s the truth!  If Mr. Wheeler doesn’t want to employ some wild mountain men, we’d better bring a shaving kit.  I do hope the sheets and towels won’t have flowers on them.”

“Mrs. Wheeler may be a society lady, but she has wonderful taste.  In fact, she chose the furniture that’s here now.  I’m sure you’ll like whatever she chooses.” 

“Oh, everything looks great.”  Now it was his turn to blush.  He didn’t want Miss Trask to get the impression he was criticizing his boss’ wife.  “I’m sure everything will be fine.”

“We’ll go on down to the house now, and I’ll hand you over to Mr. Wheeler.” 

Regan followed the governess through the tall, wide entry doorway, and had to stop himself from gasping out loud.  The front hallway was unlike anything he’d ever seen.  A generous foyer extended from the front door about twenty feet, with wide, arched openings on either side that led into huge rooms facing the front of the house.  The rooms were bare now, as workmen on scaffolding painted the walls.  The hallway was wide—ten feet or more from one side to the other, with a curving staircase ascending to the second floor on the right side, a little distance past the twin arched openings.  He was so overcome that it took him a minute to notice that Miss Trask had continued on into the left-hand room.   He trailed after her.

Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler stood in front of a grand fireplace mantel.  She was gesturing and pointing to the wall space above.  He was nodding.  Miss Trask coughed.

“Mr and Mrs. Wheeler, Mr. Regan is here.  I’ve shown him around the garage apartment.”

“Great!”  Matthew Wheeler turned and smiled at Regan and then faced his wife again.  “My dear, excuse me while I show our potential groom around the stables and paddock.  And please, do whatever you wish in this room.  I would never question your taste in decorating.”  He brushed her cheek with a kiss and strode to where Regan and Miss Trask waited.  “Thank you, Miss Trask.  You’ve been a tremendous help, and I know my wife would appreciate it if you helped her make some notes on her ideas.”

Mrs. Wheeler also turned to the newcomers.  “I’m so glad you could come out today, Mr. Regan,” she said in a low, breathy voice that seemed designed to make the listener feel there was no one she’d rather talk to.  “I do hope you’ll like the stables.  Miss Trask, I need to jot down some ideas and a shopping list.  Can you believe we’ll be moving out here in just three weeks?  At least, that’s when everything is supposed to be ready.”  To Regan’s surprise, she held up two crossed fingers.

Mr. Wheeler reached out to shake hands with the younger man.  “Glad you could make it.  Come on with me; it’s a little bit of a hike to the stables, but I think they’re coming along really well.  It’ll be a nice spot for the horses.”

“We could see the stables and some fencing from the apartment,” Regan told him as they walked toward the rear of the house.  “It’s looking good.”

“I hope you can tell me if there’s anything different we need to do with the fence and paddock.  I’ve always owned horses—my family belongs to a hunt club in Connecticut—but I‘ve never built a place for them.  My wife and I have lived in the city since our marriage, and it was much easier access to the horses if we boarded them at Claremont.”

“I’ll see about it.” Regan wasn’t about to make any suggestions until he’d had the chance to really look at the accommodations for the horses.  “What are your plans for the horses and the property here?  Will they be for pleasure riding only?  Do you plan to hunt or to start a breeding operation?”

“Hell, no!”  Mr. Wheeler threw back his head and laughed.  “A breeding operation is more of a gamble than I want to take on.  I would like it if you’d work with Jupe, see about getting him ready for a hunt.  He used to be a champion quality hunter, but I haven’t had time to work with him in the past few years.  Lady’s no hunter, and my wife doesn’t like hunting.  My daughter isn’t ready for that level of jumping.”

They left out the back door onto a wide veranda and Mr. Wheeler led the way back toward the garage and beyond on a newly graveled road toward the stables that were partially hidden behind a stand of beech trees.  The dappled sunlight moved with the slight breeze, and Regan felt a calming peace descend on his spirit.  “So basically, pleasure riding is the plan, except for hunt training for Jupiter.  Do you have any jumps, water features, and so forth to work him?”

“We’re looking at those.  We’ve got a lake here and I’m hoping we can set up a jump station near the creek.  The hunt master from my club is coming to consult with me on that.  Unless maybe you have expertise with setting up jump stations?”  Matthew Wheeler glanced at him, cocking an eyebrow.

“Not really.  I jump, and I’ve taught jumping, but really haven’t worked with hunters much at all.  I’ll do my best, but don’t want to give you false hopes.”  He hated to admit that, and hoped the job offer didn’t depend on his hunting expertise.

“That’s OK,” the older man said.  “I need to work him myself anyway, if I’m going to ride him.  But if you can get him to do some jumping, it would be a help.”

They had reached the building housing the stables.  The men whitewashing the outside had moved around to the back.  Another painter was adding dark green paint to the cross braces on the double doors.  “It’s looking good,” Mr. Wheeler said in a satisfied voice.  “Come on inside and look at the stalls, office, and tack room.”

Regan thought the stalls were spacious and admired the layout inside.  He counted six stalls, and decided to get one thing clear right now.  “Do you expect to buy more horses?  Or will guests be bringing their own?”

“That’s what I was thinking,” the older man answered.  “I’m planning to buy up some more property and develop a game preserve with riding trails.  Hunting parties—deer hunts, not foxhunts—and trail rides would be good business perks for colleagues and potential clients.  If those come about, I’ll need to think about extra parking for trailers.”  He frowned.  “I don’t want the place looking like a horse-show venue all the time, though.  It’s early to get bogged down in details like that, but we need to make some decisions.”

Regan nodded.  “I see what you mean.  You want guests to be comfortable and make it convenient for them, but you don’t want to become a commercial establishment here.”  They had reached the office, which held a sturdy desk and chair, and a tall filing cabinet.   

“One thing I’m noticing is that I’m not seeing a lot of storage for feed and bedding,” he offered.  “But it looks like there’s some space in the loft for straw; what would you think about using one of the empty stalls to store feed in covered metal bins?”

“I haven’t quite decided what will be the best system for that,” Mr. Wheeler acknowledged.  “I hope the hunt master will be able to give me an idea of how much feed and bedding straw we’ll need, and then I’ll have a better idea of how much storage we should have.” 

“I could calculate those figures for you.  The choices would be to take delivery once a week or every couple of weeks, unless we have capacity for larger quantities on-site.  Or you could grow it on the property, maybe.”  He shrugged.  “I don’t know anything about farming, though.  You’d have to get someone else’s advice about that.”  

“If you’d keep track of the figures for feed and bedding every week for a quarter, we’ll have a better basis for a decision.  It might even have a bearing on whether I’d consider leasing out a field to grow some of what we’d need.”  Mr. Wheeler turned to leave the office and Regan followed him out the door into the fenced-in paddock under construction.  From the paddock, a larger grassy pasture area was defined by posts.  The boards were piled in neat stacks nearby. 

As he looked over the generous area, something struck Regan and he spoke up.  “Your pastures need to have the corners cut off.  Horses don’t like corners and they’ll get skittish around them.  See the creek down there at the end?”  He pointed to the flowing water.  “Natural water is normally fenced off so that the horses can’t get to it.  Injuries, flooding, and water contamination by the horses and to them are all hazards you’ll prevent,” he explained.  “Horses prefer to drink still water anyway, and a seventy-five gallon trough along the fence near the stable will hold a good supply for your horses.  Finally, aside from your riding paddock, you want to have some trees or other shelter from the sun and wind.”

“Good points, Regan.  I’ll speak to the fencing people about the corners, get a water line run from the garage to the stable, and see about arranging more shelter in the pasture.  Excuse me.”  Mr. Wheeler walked over to the men putting up the fence, and spoke to one of them for several minutes before returning to where Regan waited.

“Well, are you ready to give me an answer about the job?” The older redhead smiled, but Regan knew he was serious.  He wanted to settle the question and have his groom on-site before the family moved into their new home.

“Sir, you’ve been very generous to bring me out here, and I appreciate it.  I can tell you want what’s best for your horses, and that’s important to me.  I’d like to accept the job, but I’ll need to give notice at Claremont.  I can’t leave them in the lurch.” 

“That’s not a problem.  I appreciate the fact that you’re giving notice and not just walking away.”  Mr. Wheeler extended his hand and the two men shook on the deal.

“I suppose I’d better get back to the city and speak to my boss,” Regan said as they walked back toward the house.  “Say, where’s your daughter today?  I thought she might have come along with you and her mom today.”

“She’s spending a few days with her aunt on Long Island,” Mr. Wheeler told him.  “We’ve been tied up with all of this—”  He waved his arm to indicate the estate.  “And Miss Trask has been helping my wife.  I want to surprise Honey with her new home in the country.”  He smiled again, obviously eager to see his daughter’s reaction.  Then he stopped still.  “By the way, just to clear the air, I expect you to maintain a professional relationship with my daughter and any friends she may invite here.  No flirting, no funny business.  Are we clear?”  He stared hard at Regan, who stared back.

“Of course.  Your daughter is a child, and I don’t have any interest in dating children,” he replied, an edge of anger in his voice.

“Good.  Glad we understand each other.  I have a contract ready for you to sign.”  Mr. Wheeler acted like he hadn’t noticed anything hostile in Regan’s tone. 

If that was how he wanted to play it, Regan was willing to go along.  And he’d only told the truth.  Honey Wheeler was a child and he was not interested in getting mixed up with any female right now, anyway.

The next day, Regan went to his boss at Claremont.  He cleared his throat before speaking. 

“Yes, Regan?”  Do you need to see me?” Mr. Newburg put down the pencil he was using to calculate some entries in a big ledger.

“Y-yes.”  Suddenly his mouth and throat were dry and scratchy.  Although he’d made up his mind that it was the right decision to leave the riding academy, now that he was face to face with the man who’d given him a chance two years ago the words were sticking in his throat.

“Sit down.”  Mr. Newburg waved at the extra chair in his cluttered office.  Regan sat.  “I know you’ve been considering that job with the Wheelers,” his boss said.  “Are you taking it?”

“Y-yes,” Regan said again.  “This has been a great job, and I want you to know I appreciate it.  But this offer...well, it’s everything I ever dreamed of.”

“So, you’re leaving the city for life among the daisy-cutters.”  He put down his pencil.  “Son, I wish you well.” 

“Daisy-cutters?” he repeated.

“It’s an old expression for a hunter with such a smooth stride he could cut the flowers off a field of daisies with his hooves.”    The older man grinned suddenly, and Regan felt more at ease. 

He chuckled in response.  “Never heard that one before,” he admitted.  “It sounded like sitting around watching a gardener cut flower bouquets.”

“Nope.  It’ll be a lot of work, especially if he wants you to work with Jupiter to prepare him for a couple of hunts.  I promise you, three horses will keep you pretty busy from morning to night.”

“I’m not afraid of work, sir.”  Regan was a little offended.

“I didn’t mean that.  I know you’re not afraid of work.  But it’ll be different.  Will you be responsible for budget?”  He peered sharply at Regan.

“Yes, he told me I’d have three months to get familiar with regular expenses and then we’ll meet every quarter to go over costs and such.”

“He’s not planning to use the horses as income, is he?  Riding lessons, competition, that kind of thing?”

“No, just pleasure riding,” Regan said.  “He knows it’ll cost money to keep the horses supplied with feed, water, and shelter—I mean, he’s been paying board for them here.  But he doesn’t want to waste money overpaying for those things.  I can handle that.”

“That’s reasonable.”  Mr. Newburg nodded.  “I wish you good luck.  You’ll have a big job, but it sounds like a good opportunity.  When do you start?”

“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you.  I told Mr. Wheeler I’d have to give two weeks’ notice.”

 “I appreciate that.”  The Claremont owner rubbed his chin reflectively.  “I might be able to let you go earlier if I can hire a new man who can do the job.  Let’s say two weeks at the outside, less if we can replace you before that.”

Regan nodded.  “I can do that.”  Relief flooded his mind at completing the difficult task of giving his notice.

It was his last day at Claremont, and Regan started the morning performing his duties with a sense of detachment, almost as if he was watching someone else work.  Now that the day was here, he felt a little unsettled, his stomach roiling.  What had he signed on to do?  Jupiter soon brought him back to the here-and-now, nipping at his pockets and shying when he thoughtlessly slapped at a fly buzzing around his head.

“Keep your head in the game for one more day, boyo!” shouted the young man working in the next stall.  He was called Larry, although that wasn’t his actual name.  “You coming to Murphy’s tonight?” his coworker continued.

“Sure.  It’s Friday, isn’t it?”  Regan said with a chuckle.  The Claremont guys were part of a loose group that met up at the neighborhood watering hole every Friday after work.

“Yup.  The guys thought we’d grab a bite and then have a few rounds, throw some darts.”

“Natch, what else would we do?”  Regan wondered what was up.  That was the same thing they did every week.  He turned his attention to inspecting Jupe’s hooves.

“Well, we just didn’t know if you’d want to go straight home and pack,” Larry retorted.

“Nah.”  He snorted.  “I’ll have time to pack my duds even if I roll out of bed a half hour before I need to catch the train.”

Nothing more was said, and each man concentrated on getting his horses groomed and cleaning the stalls for the day. 

After the day’s work was completed, horses fed and the two night workers took over, Regan and the other dayshift stable hands cleaned their boots and washed up in the restroom before heading down the block to Murphy’s.  The other regular Friday night patrons generally drifted into the bar straight from construction or other outdoor work; no one would mind the rather pungent stable smells that clung to Regan and his friends.  Hungry after a day of working with the horses, the Claremont group lined up for some of the hearty sandwiches for which the pub was known.  Then they pushed two tables together so they could talk while they washed their sandwiches down with cold beer.

“Here’s to Regan!”  Larry raised his glass as the busboy cleared the now-empty plates from the table.

“Regan!  Off to the country and the cushy life,” added Curly, a wizened and balding man who had once been a jockey.

Regan raised his own glass and tried to keep his expression modest.  “To the country!” he agreed.

“To life among the daisy-cutters!” Misha exclaimed with a wry grin.   The Russian immigrant had worked for a while at the Fairfield County Hunt Club barns in Connecticut. 

A chorus of “Yeah!” and “Daisy-cutter Heaven” was the enthusiastic response as the men thumped the table and downed their drinks.  Regan was ready to move the focus away from himself, so he stood up and issued a challenge.  “Who’s ready for the weekly darts championship game?”  he asked.

The men gathered near the dartboard at the back of the bar, and the usual ribbing commenced as teams were chosen.  Each round saw the pot grow by a dollar per player, with the proceeds to be split between the winning team members at the end of the night.

Regan was pretty good at darts, but not nearly as good as Misha or Larry.  After drawing Curly as a teammate, he prepared to sacrifice the contents of his wallet.  Curly was partially blind in one eye as the result of an injury during his riding days, and it affected his aim.

“We’re gonna show these two hotdogs tonight,” Curly assured him.  The bald man’s aim wasn’t much better than usual, but Misha and Larry were truly pitiful.

“Just how much did you two drink before you came here?” Regan demanded.  “And how did you have time after work?”

“You’d better not be sandbaggin’ us,” warned Curly, after he and Regan had won the first two rounds.

“Sandbagging?”  Misha acted like he didn’t know the American slang.  “Why would we need sand?”

“Just wait,” Larry promised, practicing his arm motion.  “That Wise Dan jerked my arm today when the fire truck went by.  It’s a little stiff but I still got what it takes.  We’re gonna be the best at the end of the night.  Make it three out of five rounds.”    

But the two more skilled players never did capture the majority of the rounds.  To Regan’s surprise, after seven rounds, he and Curly had won four.  As he counted out the dollar bills and prepared to split the pot, Curly pulled an envelope from his shirt pocket.

“You keep the pot tonight, boy,” he said.  “And here’s a little something from Mr. Newburg himself.”

“I can’t do that,” Regan protested.  “You did half the work.  And I still think these guys were sandbagging.”  He pointed at Larry and Misha.

“Don’t you be running us down, boy!“ Larry glared at him.  “We just wanted to give you a little cushion—not that you’ll need it out there in the clover.  You come back here on your day off and we’ll take it back.”  He guffawed and slapped Regan on the back.

“Larry’s right,” Curly added with a grin.  “And if you do come back, he’ll do his damnedest to take it away from you again.”   

“That paradise might have a few serpents in it,” Misha told him.  “You put back some money so you can be free to choose.”

Regan threw up his hands as he conceded defeat.  “Thanks, guys.  I don’t know what else to say.  You’ve all helped me and I appreciate it.”  He fingered the envelope, unsure whether to open it there or wait until he got home.  “Mr. Newburg’s been great, too.  I couldn’t have asked for a better boss.”

“Go on, open it,” urged Curly.  “He wouldn’t have given it to me if he didn’t want us to know.”

“Okay, you convinced me.”  Regan ripped open the envelope and extracted a folded piece of paper enclosing a fifty-dollar bill.  He sat down, shocked at the generous sum.  The paper had some writing on it, and he read it silently.  Thanks for your good work.  This is your annual bonus, it said.  Good luck.  Paul Newburg.

He read the note out loud then, and the guys all clapped.

“Last call,” shouted the bartender.

“I’m buying,” Regan said, waving a handful of bills.  “A last round and then we’ll be off.”

“Damn straight, son.  The winner always buys the last round,” agreed Larry.

Regan glanced around the small room he had called home for the past two years.  Ugly light green painted walls, a window that looked out onto another building less than ten feet away, a battered chest of drawers and a narrow iron bed. It was clean and neat, because in the Army he’d become careful to keep his belongings tidy.  But there was nothing personal about it.  He had no pictures, no books, no souvenirs of his life.  The bathroom and a telephone were down the hall, shared with a couple of dozen people.  Tomorrow he would say goodbye to the YMCA and carry a footlocker to the train, filled with his scant wardrobe.

Would he miss it?  No.  He would miss the guys at the riding academy and the group that hung out at Murphy’s corner pub.  He hoped he’d make some new friends at the Manor House and Sleepyside; that was his only regret over taking the new job.  Everyone he’d met at the Wheeler estate was female, except Matthew Wheeler himself. 

Tomorrow, he’d meet the train and travel to Sleepyside with his belongings.  The following day, he’d return to the city and supervise while Jupiter and Lady were loaded into a trailer for the trip to their new home.  During the next week, he was supposed to check out a nearby horse farm for a mount for Honey, while at the same time getting Jupe and Lady acclimated to their new home.  Within two weeks, the Wheelers were to move in to the Manor House.  Yes, the next two weeks promised to be busy.  Regan wouldn’t have a lot of time to miss his buddies.

The next day...

He drank in the passing countryside as he left the city behind him and approached his new life in the country, an hour upstate as the crow flies, but a world away from his experiences of the past two years.  He was going to a new job—a gravy job—on a large estate, caring for three horses, with a spacious apartment above the estate’s garage. 

Quiet.  Birds singing.  No pollution.  No traffic.   Heaven.

July, 1969

The first day of the Wheelers’ occupation of the Manor House was crammed with activity from sunup to suppertime and by the end of the day, Regan was bone-tired.  Bringing the horses out, taking them back in, giving a riding lesson to the little firecracker girl from next door—and then entertaining the girl’s little brother while she went off with Honey!  That boy would wear anyone out!  He couldn’t help grinning at the thought of cherubic little Bobby Belden, though.  The kid was like a sponge, absorbing everything he heard.  Life in the country should be interesting.

As he walked toward the service entrance of the Manor House before supper, he saw Miss Trask approaching him.  “Hi, Regan,” she said with a friendly smile.  “How was your first day with the family here?”

“Busy.”  He stopped to speak and gave her an answering smile.  “I have a feeling Honey’s new friend is going to be a breath of fresh air for her.”

“I agree.”  Miss Trask didn’t seem inclined to start walking again, and he wondered what was up.  “You probably haven’t heard, but Trixie’s little brother was bitten by a copperhead this afternoon.”

Regan’s mouth dropped open.  “What?” he asked.  “Is he… is he all right?”

“Trixie was very quick-thinking, and she’d had some first aid training,” the governess said.  “She did everything she should have done, and stayed calm while she sucked out the venom.”  She took his arm.  “Honey was there nearly the whole time.  She said Trixie was just amazing, and the doctor told her Trixie saved her brother’s life with her quick actions.”

“Jiminy cricket!” Regan exclaimed.  “Thank goodness she was able to do that.  Most people wouldn’t have.”

“He is a lucky little boy.  The real reason I wanted to intercept you is to see if you agree with me that we should encourage Honey to spend as much time with Trixie as possible.  A down-to-earth, sensible girl who can take action when it’s needed is just the kind of friend our Honey needs.”  Miss Trask started walking toward the house.  “Although I hesitate to form a final judgment after one day of knowing the child.”

“I see what you mean,” he agreed.  “But I think you’re right.”  He fell into step with the governess.  “And I’m going to make it my business to learn more about copperheads and see if there’s anything we can do to keep them away from the house and grounds.”

Regan was exercising Jupiter in the paddock adjoining the stable the next morning when he saw Honey approaching with her new friend.  Strawberry and Lady were saddled and tied up while they refreshed themselves at the drinking trough and waited for the two girls.  It was mid-morning, later than he’d planned to start a riding lesson, but Miss Trask had told him about Bobby’s mishap right before supper the previous evening.  Trixie’s quick thinking and action had roused his admiration for the spunky neighbor girl.

“Ready to learn to post a trot today, Trixie?”  Regan greeted her.  “How’s Bobby this morning?”

“Yes, I’m ready!”  Trixie bounced in excitement.  “And Bobby’s doing really well—Dr. Ferris said he’s going to be fine.  He just needs to rest and keep quiet for the next few days.”

He dismounted and handed Jupiter’s reins to Honey.  “Up you go,” he said as he boosted Trixie into the saddle on Lady.  “And, unless I don’t know a natural-born rider when I see one, you’ll learn how to post a trot this very morning.”

Mounting Jupiter again, he started the gelding off in a walk, explaining to Trixie how to grip with her knees and meet Lady’s rhythm as she increased her pace to a trot.  The young girl listened and followed his directions with a look of intense concentration on her face.  After a few minutes of rough jostling, and nearly losing her stirrups, she began to rise up to meet Lady’s gait almost as well as Honey could.

“You’re doing wonderfully, Trixie!” Honey was following behind them on Strawberry, and her enthusiastic voice floated ahead to them.  Trixie’s expression relaxed, and a delighted smile stretched across her face and crinkled her blue eyes in delight.  Regan smiled too, with the sense of accomplishment he always felt when a riding lesson clicked.   But as he looked ahead, he saw Miss Trask approaching the paddock.  He flicked the big gelding’s reins to redirect him to the fence.

“Regan!” Miss Trask called as he neared her.  “Can you come to the telephone?  Mr. Tomlin needs to talk to you about some deliveries.”

“Sure, I’ll be right in.”  He pulled Jupiter up and dismounted, waiting for the girls to stop, too.  When they reached him, he handed the black gelding’s reins to Honey.  “You two just walk the horses until I get back,” he told them.

Honey nodded her agreement.  Trixie still looked ecstatic over her success at trotting, but she nodded as well.

By the time Regan jogged to the house, took the phone call, and jogged back to the paddock, fifteen minutes had passed.  Lady was tied up at the fence, but the two girls were out of sight.  Worried, he peered ahead, shading his eyes with his hand.  He started to run.  Maybe they were at the far end of the paddock.  Finally, he caught sight of Honey, near the unfinished end of the paddock, where the rounded-off corners had not yet been finished.  Neither Trixie nor Jupiter was to be seen. 

“Honey Wheeler!” he shouted, running faster.  “Where’s Jupiter?  And where’s Trixie?”

Honey turned around, her face white.  She pointed ahead to the trail leading toward Ten Acres.  By this time, Regan had nearly reached her.  He could hear Jupe’s out-of-control gallop as he crashed along the trail.

Regan’s blood ran cold as he imagined the valuable animal stepping into a hole and breaking a leg.  Trixie would never be able to keep her seat, and she would probably be killed as well. 

“The little fool!”  He took Strawberry’s reins.  “Get down and let me go after them,” he commanded.  Honey slid off immediately and he took her place, his heart in his throat.  In the next few seconds, his mind moved past the fates of Jupiter and Trixie, to the realization that he would be responsible for them.  His job would be history and he’d be lucky to escape some kind of criminal charge. 

Strawberry responded to his agitation and started to plunge ahead, but Regan forced himself to calm down and control his mount.  Jupe was heading straight toward the thick hedge at the Ten Acres property line.  He’d have to either plunge through, try to jump it, or swerve down the path to Crabapple Farm, a rough and rocky path that the agitated animal would never travel without injury.  

The trail wasn’t straight, and Regan lost sight of Jupiter as he galloped around a bend.  Trixie hadn’t fallen off yet, but he knew better than to think she could stay on if the black gelding started downhill.

When he rounded the same bend, Regan saw Jupiter, riderless and sweating, his reins held by a husky young redheaded boy.  Trixie was brushing twigs and leaves from her hair and clothing.  It looked like she was talking to the boy, and then he handed her the reins and melted into the underbrush.  By the time he reached Trixie and Jupiter, the boy was nowhere to be seen.

Relief flooded him as he took in the sight of his employer’s horse and the girl.  Although Jupe was lathered and blowing, and Trixie, pale as a ghost, was still brushing debris from her hair, both seemed unharmed.   Relief was quickly replaced by a crashing wave of fury as he recalled her disobedience of his express instructions, and the fate she and the gelding had narrowly escaped.  The mystery boy was forgotten.  He pulled Strawberry up and dismounted, snatching Jupe’s reins from Trixie.  Honey, mounted on Lady, had caught up to him.  Afraid to trust himself to speak, he turned to lead Jupiter back to the Manor House.  Honey would have to deal with her friend and the two gentler animals, but he knew she could handle them.

By the time he’d reached the stable again, his fury had dissipated.  Trixie had disobeyed him, but he’d known she wanted to ride Jupe, and the temptation had been too great for her.  Honey should never have agreed to help the novice rider mount Jupiter, but she’d been swayed by a desire to please her new friend.  He could understand both girls’ reactions.  As he groomed the spirited gelding and checked his hooves, he meditated on the best way to respond to the event.  Trixie had probably learned her lesson, and Honey had seen the consequences of not following his rules.  He’d see how they acted when they brought the other two horses back.

Trixie came to the door of his office, where he was trying to calculate the likely costs of feed and bedding straw for the first month.  She stood at the open door, rubbing the toe of her moccasin into the floorboards.

“Yes, Trixie?”  He didn’t quite smile, but couldn’t feel angry as he took in the sight of her woebegone face.

“I’m so sorry, Regan,” she apologized.  “I should have known better; I never should have tried to ride Jupiter when I’ve only had two lessons, especially after you told me I wasn’t ready.”  She paused.  “Jupiter could have hurt himself badly, and I could have been killed.  I’ll never forget this lesson, I promise.”

“I know you won’t, Trixie,” he said.  “You keep your word, and we’ll say no more about it.  The thing is, I’m responsible for the safety of these horses—and of you kids while you’re riding.  It’s my job to ensure you have the experience and judgment to ride safely.  Don’t disappoint me.”

“I won’t, Regan.”  Tears welled in her eyes.  “I promise I won’t.”

He believed her.  “You’re a sensible girl, Trixie.  Most people couldn’t have reacted so quickly and calmly as you did yesterday to help your brother.  Miss Trask and I both think you’ll be a good influence on Honey.  But you have to be willing to follow the rules.  Do you understand me?”

“Yes.”  She nodded.  “Thank you, Regan.”

He smiled at her.  “You’re welcome, Trixie.”  She scampered off to rejoin Honey.

Regan tidied up the stable, sweeping the office floor after ensuring all of the tack was properly cleaned and hung up.  Not that he didn’t trust Honey and her new friend to do it properly—but he wanted to get off on the right foot with this job, and double-checking their work couldn’t hurt.  The three horses were quiet in their own individual stalls, snuffling a little as they settled for the night after taking their evening ration.

Satisfied, he switched off the office light and locked its door.  After a final look-in on each of the animals, he closed the stable doors and latched them against any intruders before starting back to the garage apartment.   Another eventful day… I don’t know if I can take this easy life, he mused with a rueful grin.  Just keeping a step ahead of Trixie Belden was likely to keep him on his toes.  He recalled the mysterious redheaded boy, whose identity was a puzzle waiting to be solved.

He started to whistle as he walked toward his new home, feeling energy flowing back into his body as he settled into a rhythmic stride.  Once at the garage, he took the steps two at a time and headed for the bathroom to shower before going to the Manor House for his dinner.  Mr. Wheeler had told him he could take his meals at the house, after all.  Although it was nearly dark, he hoped to at least be able to grab a couple of sandwiches.

Twenty minutes later, he sat in the kitchen with the cook, who was fixing him a thick roast beef sandwich with mayonnaise and a few slices of the first tomatoes of the season.  His mouth watered.

“Here you go, Mr. Regan,” the older woman said with satisfaction.  She added a generous handful of potato chips and a pickle spear.  “How do you like it here?”

His mouth was full of the juicy sandwich and it was a minute before he could answer.  Wiping his lips on the large napkin she pressed on him, he was finally able to reply.  “I like it fine so far.  Fresh air, my own apartment with a bathroom, being able to work with these horses in a nice setup.  Mr. Wheeler seems like a fair boss and Miss Honey is as sweet as her name.  Mrs. Wheeler’s nice, too—don’t get me wrong.  But I don’t expect I’ll be seeing as much of her as her husband and daughter.”

“Yes, I know what you mean,” the cook replied.  “She interviewed me and gave me some general ideas about meals and her husband’s favorite foods, but acted like I’d be taking most of my orders from Miss Trask.  And she called me Rachel.”

“I thought your name was Bertha,” he replied with a puzzled frown.

“It is.”  The cook clucked her tongue.  “Mrs. Wheeler said she’d once had four cooks leave in a year’s time, and she couldn’t keep track of their names.  Miss Trask assured me that if I stay for six months, she’ll manage to get Mrs. Wheeler to call me by the right name.”

“Miss Trask doesn’t miss a trick,” Regan agreed.  “I guess it’s from all those years as a teacher.”  He stopped talking in order to savor more of the food.

“Oh, my!  I never gave you anything to drink!”  The woman poured him a tall glass of cold buttermilk.  “I hope you like buttermilk,” she apologized.  “My late husband always said there was nothing so refreshing when you’ve been working all day.”

“I like it, too.”  He drained the glass and wiped his mouth again, uncomfortably aware of his milk mustache.  “I have a feeling the little girl next door is going to keep us all hopping.”

“She and her little brother.”  The cook chuckled.  “They’re a pair.  I’m glad the little fellow is going to be all right.  He certainly appreciated my cookies yesterday.”

September, 1969

“Dag-nab-it!”  Regan ground out the syllables as if they were the foulest expletive as his pencil point snapped.  He shot the writing instrument across the office as if it was a dart.  Running his fingers through his already-unruly red hair until it stood on end, he stared at the smudged ledger.  The numbers just weren’t making any sense.  He was trying to prepare for his meeting with Matthew Wheeler on stable expenses for the past quarter, and had no idea what he was going to report.

Adding the two new horses—the little mare, Susie, and the big gentle gelding, Starlight—had been an expense in itself, but the continuing costs of feed and bedding had almost doubled.  Although the inside storage—two large galvanized bins with locking lids, now crammed into the only remaining empty stall—held a good amount of grain, he now needed a new bin outside to store flakes of hay, especially over the winter.   He’d already arranged to have a bin delivered, but was unsure of how much hay, grain, and bedding straw he’d need each week or month, especially as colder weather set in and the horses couldn’t graze in the fields.  Regularly scheduled deliveries would save some money compared to waiting until his supplies dwindled.  His own salary had received a generous boost to compensate for the added work, and while Mr. Wheeler could afford whatever it might cost, Regan was aware that wealthy people stayed wealthy by watching costs and not wasting money unnecessarily.   He needed to perform at a higher level and if he couldn’t handle it, there would be people lined up to take his job.

He was keeping an ear cocked for the horses.  All five of them were grazing in the pasture adjacent to the riding paddock.  Getting up, he stretched and decided to go outside and look at them, in the hope that the fresh air might clear his mind.

The animals were all clustered down at the far end of the pasture, under one of the few shade trees in the pasture area.  Susie, Lady, and Strawberry were grazing, while the ever-curious Starlight gazed at the wooded area just a few hundred feet away.  Jupiter pawed the ground restlessly, sniffing a clump of grass and then turning away to another.  Regan felt sure the spirited gelding knew it was almost time for Jim and Honey to be home from school.   He’d become used to twice-daily rides from his new young master, and was thriving under Jim’s firm but affectionate hands.  For his part, Jim poured his gratitude for his new home into his routine with Jupe.  The big horse had moped around for the past two weeks since school had started.  Although Jim wasn’t in the habit of riding in the heat of the day, he visited the stable often in order to give Jupiter extra attention and grooming.  Regan wondered if Jim drew comfort from the big horse that helped to heal some of the pain and bad memories of his life with his stepfather.  The Wheelers had been nothing but kind and loving to him—even reserved Mrs. Wheeler spent as much time with him as she did with her daughter.  But he could tell Jim still felt like a fish out of water occasionally. 

“Don’t worry, old boy!” he called, raising his voice.  “Jim will be here soon.”

Jupe’s ears pricked up and he trotted over to the fence closest to Regan.  In turn, Regan crossed the paddock and met him with a carrot.  Immediately, the other horses trotted over as well, nudging each other to get closer to him.

Luckily, he had stuck enough carrots into his pocket that he had a treat for each of the five horses.  They crowded together, stretching their necks to nudge at him.

Even as he reached for the carrots, his mind returned to his bookkeeping struggles.  New saddles and tack would depreciate at a certain rate, he knew.  Exactly what that rate was, he had no idea.  And what about the old gear?  What was the depreciation on it?

And what about regular preventive maintenance to the stable itself?  Regan realized he had no idea at all what it would take to keep the Wheeler stable in the condition its owner would expect.  It might not be Calumet Farm or even Worthington Farm, but the wealthy businessman would expect all of his property to reflect his status and create a good impression on guests as well as to be a safe and fun environment for his children.   Regan had never been responsible for such a property and such a budget in his life.

“Don’t be so impatient, Starlight,” he chided the big bay gelding.  “Ladies first.”  Lady heard her name and gave a soft whicker.   She actually shouldered her way past the larger animal and whinnied as she extended her head toward his hand.  One by one, he offered each animal a carrot.  Gradually, he began to feel calmer about the budgeting.  He’d been on his own and survived for the past seven years, and he would find a way to do it now.

“Hi, Regan!”  He turned around to see five teenagers heading toward him.  As usual, impatient Trixie led the way, her curls bouncing.  Honey was close behind, her once-pale cheeks flushed with health and her face glowing.  Mart seemed torn between hurrying ahead with the girls or hanging back with Jim and Brian, who were engrossed in conversation as they walked.  Both of the older boys seemed older than their ages, and Regan wondered if that might be their way of compensating for being the youngest ones in their class.   He waved a welcome but waited until they approached nearer before speaking up.

“Hi, kids!”  He grinned a welcome.  “Are you all ready to give these animals a workout?  I don’t think it’s too hot to go out now, and they’ve been lazing around here since early this morning.”

“Yes!  Oh, yes!”  Trixie actually jumped up and down.  ”Hello, Susie!  Ready to go for a ride?” she crooned. 

The little mare whinnied and tossed her head as Trixie stroked her face.  “Let’s get them back inside so you all can saddle up,” Regan suggested.  He followed up by opening the paddock gate.  As the horses moved toward the opening, each teen grabbed the halter of a favored mount and they jogged into the stable.

He deliberately stayed out of his office, watching the teens but trying to be subtle about it while the horses received a quick brushing and hoof check.  The Bob-Whites were conscientious and followed the procedures he’d taught them over the past couple of months.  Anyone who saw them would have thought Jim and the Beldens had been riding for several years.  Honey, of course, had been riding for years, but until moving to the Manor House she’d had very limited responsibilities for horse care.  He smiled, feeling he’d accomplished something here, whether he could balance the ledger or not.

Honey gave a final check to Lady’s girth cinch—the mare hadn’t stopped her habit of blowing herself up after being saddled—and patted Lady’s haunches in approval as she passed inspection.  She mounted her favorite ride and Jim vaulted up onto Jupiter’s back after watching to make sure his sister was up safely.

“We’ll be back in about an hour, Regan,” the tall redhead promised.  “We’ll probably go back into the woods a bit and follow one of the trails.”  He flicked Jupe’s reins and the group set off.

Regan stood at the stable door and watched as the five horses disappeared down a bend in the trail.  Then, with a sigh, he stalked back to his office.  Unfortunately, even after re-sharpening his pencil, the smudged ledger and confusing numbers made no more sense than they had before.  After carefully refiguring his calculations—twice—and coming up with different answers each time, he threw up his hands.  How can I get this to make sense?  I don’t want to mess up this job.

He left the office again and locked the door.  Next, he walked back up to the garage, deciding he would get cleaned up for supper.  But Tom Delanoy was outside, washing the large luxury sedan he used to drive Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler to the train station, the airport, or the city.  The chauffeur turned off the hose as Regan approached.  “Hey, why so glum, chum?” he asked.

Regan hadn’t even thought about whether he looked happy or unhappy.  He stopped as he considered whether to say what was bothering him.  “Sorry, I didn’t think it showed that much,” he apologized.  He pressed the toe of his boot in to the gravel surface of the pathway between the garage and stable, nudging a few rocks around.

“Don’t take up poker,” Tom advised him.  “The kids haven’t been leaving the stable a mess, have they?”

“No, nothing like that!” he protested.  “They’re all great kids and pretty responsible.  The horses are all doing okay, too.  I was worried at first about adding two new ones to the mix, but they get along and are both good-natured, to boot.”  He felt the frown returning and shoved his hands in his pockets.  Tom was an all-right guy, not like that sleazy crook, Dick the Dip.  Maybe he’d have a suggestion.

“What it is, is the stable accounts,” he blurted out.  “Mr. Wheeler said I would need to manage the stable and keep the books, and he’ll review it with me once a quarter.  I was barely managing to keep up with the ledger when I was only taking care of three horses.  Now that there are five, I’m worried about things like depreciation, planning a delivery schedule for feed and bedding this winter, and making sure I don’t overpay for stuff.  I’ve never even balanced a checkbook before.”

“Did you tell him that when you interviewed?” Tom asked.

“No.  I should have, but I’ve always been good with numbers.  I thought I could handle it.”  He fisted his hands, still in his pockets.  “I don’t know anything about depreciation, and haven’t got a clue about how much of my budget to keep in reserve for regular maintenance, let alone repairs.”

“You don’t think he’d let you have extra money if you need it?”  Tom’s forehead creased.  “Sorry, I need to rinse the car before the detergent dries.”  He turned on the hose and started spraying the car from the roof down.

Regan raised his voice a little, so Tom could hear him over the water spray.  “Yeah, I think he would, but I want to really manage the stable.  He gave me three months to figure out what a reasonable budget would be, and in the long run, it’ll be better if I don’t have to run to him for money every time something extra comes up.”  He laughed then.  “And besides, I’ve already noticed he’s gone a lot.  I want to be able to take action if needed, without having to wait to contact him if I need something for the horses.  At the same time, I need to be able to show him how I’m spending his money.”

“You bit off a lot, buddy.”  Tom had finished rinsing the car.  He turned off the hose and pulled a chamois from his pocket.  Regan watched as he wiped the vehicle down.

“Yeah, but for three horses I think it was pretty manageable.  Adding the two new ones... I’ll have to ask for more money to keep them up, and it feels like a fortune.  That’s what makes me nervous.”

“Have you considered asking Miss Trask for help?”  Tom wiped the last bit of chrome with his chamois, and tossed it into his bucket of carwash supplies.  He pulled out a can of Turtle Wax and started rubbing it over the car’s roof with a sponge.

“Miss Trask?  No, I haven’t.”  Regan was puzzled.  “She’s a smart lady and I know she was Honey’s teacher, but how can she help me?”

“Earth to Regan!”  Tom curled the fingers of one hand into a pretend megaphone.  “She’s a math teacher!  She should know something about bookkeeping.”  He started on the car’s hood with the wax.  “If she doesn’t, I’m sure she’d know someone else you can ask.  With Honey and Jim in school all day, she probably has a little extra time on her hands.”

Regan mulled over the idea as Tom moved onto the passenger side panels of the car.  “What’s the worst she could say—no?” he asked with a rather forced chuckle.

“I don’t think she’ll say no.”  Tom looked up at him.  “Try it and see.”

“I think maybe I will.”  He turned toward the steps leading up to his apartment.  “Thanks, buddy.  Appreciate the tip.”

“No problem.  Good luck!”  The chauffeur grinned at him and dipped his sponge into the wax again.  “Tell Cook I’ll be there in about twenty minutes.  She doesn’t need to wait for me, though.”

After a shower and a change of clothes, Regan whistled as he descended the steps two at a time.  Miss Trask had always been friendly, although completely professional.  His stomach churned a little every time he thought about asking her—and revealing his ignorance.  But better to do that than to lose his job because he couldn’t handle the management part of it.

Regan joined the cook and Celia, the petite blonde upstairs maid, in the kitchen.  The other staff was gone for the day and Tom would be coming as soon as he was cleaned up.  Dinner for the staff took place as soon as the family had eaten.  Usually, there was a lot of joking around and laughter at the staff dinner table, but Regan couldn’t get involved in the banter tonight.  He was too busy running over his upcoming conversation with Miss Trask to pay attention to the others.  Even when Tom came in and greeted everyone, he barely responded.

“Earth to Regan!”  Celia’s higher-pitched voice did get his attention, as he was accosted for the second time in two hours with the phrase.

“Sorry!  My mind‘s been a million miles away,” he apologized.

“That’s okay,” Tom said.  “Celia was just asking if you wanted to join the rest of us for a show at the Cameo, as soon as KP duty is done.”  He laughed.  Any time the staff wanted to see a movie, they all worked together to do the kitchen cleanup after eating.

“I’ll be glad to do my share of KP,” Regan told them.  “But I need to do some stuff here—in the apartment, that is.  I’ll pass on the movie this time.”

Celia started to protest, but Tom cut her off.  “Leave the guy alone, babe.  He can come next time.”  He winked at Regan over Celia’s head as he pulled her to him for a quick hug.

“Now watch out, Mr. Tom,” the cook chided with a smile.  “You’re not married yet!”

“Well, I hope that day isn’t too far off.”  Tom grinned again as Celia blushed.

Thirty minutes later, the kitchen was shipshape and Regan had waved good-bye to his coworkers.  He wandered from the kitchen to the large room that led out to the veranda, where a television and a couple of game tables were set up.  Bookshelves and a group of comfortable armchairs made a cozy spot where Miss Trask often read in the evenings while Honey and Jim did homework.  She wasn’t there, and neither were the two teens.  They must have gone up to their rooms to work tonight.  He stood there uncertainly for a few minutes, trying to decide what to do next.  Going upstairs to her suite might be a little too much familiarity.  Should he just try to call her?  She had her own extension in her suite.  Still, this conversation was going to be hard enough.  He didn’t want to do it over the phone.  He decided to go out to the veranda while he thought of what to do.

The veranda was large and parts of it were in the shade, so at this time of evening were completely dark.  He walked out to the edge, where a low railing allowed a view of the closer end of the lake, and stared out over the grounds that sloped down to the water’s edge.  The moon had not yet risen, but when it did, he knew it would be reflected in the water.  He tried to allow the peaceful scene to calm his worries.

“Regan!  What are you doing out here?  I thought all of the staff went to the Cameo.”  He jumped before he realized It was Miss Trask, not ten feet away.  She reclined in one of the lounge chairs around the veranda. 

“I didn’t go with them.”  He walked over and sat down on another lounge chair.  “As a matter of fact, there’s something I wanted to ask you about.”  He cleared his throat.

“What is it?  I’m happy to help, if I can.”  He could see her pleasant smile in the twilight gloom.

“It’s about the stable accounts.  I...I told Mr. Wheeler I could handle them.  And now… especially since we’ve acquired the two new horses… well, it’s just way beyond anything I’ve ever done.  I can do this job, Miss Trask.  But I need help with the bookkeeping part of it... to learn the bookkeeping part.  Tom said maybe you could help me, being a math teacher and all.”  He stopped, a little afraid to look at her again.  What if she said no, she didn’t have time? 

She didn’t reply at first.  In the silence, he fidgeted, tempted to say, “I take it all back—never mind.”

“I have to tell you, I’ve never actually taught bookkeeping,” she finally said.  “But I’ve taken bookkeeping classes and I’ve even done a little bookkeeping on the side before taking this job.  I think I can help you.”

He hadn’t even realized he’d been holding his breath.  Now it whooshed out in a sigh of relief.  “Thank you!  I promise, I’ll work hard and learn.  I’ve always been good with numbers, but never had to manage anyone else’s money.  I don’t want Mr. Wheeler to regret hiring me.” 

“I’m sure he won’t.”  She leaned forward and swung her legs around so that her feet were on the flagstone surface of the veranda.  Reaching out to place a hand on his shoulder, she continued.  “I must write some letters tonight, but I’ll go into the village in the morning after Honey and Jim leave for school.  I’ll see if I can find some books at the library that can help, and let’s plan to get together after lunch—if that’s a good time for you.”

“Sure, that will be fine.”  He couldn’t believe how much lighter he felt already.  “I sure do appreciate this, Miss Trask.”

“I’m happy to do it.”  She stood up.  “Let’s shake hands on it.  You’ll be a quick learner, I can tell.”

He stood, too, and put out his hand.  “It’s a deal.  You won’t regret it, I promise.”

They shook hands and he walked her back into the house before heading back to his apartment.  Before going up the steps, he checked in on the horses; all of them were quiet.  He whistled as he took the steps, two at a time.  Life among the daisy-cutters wasn’t exactly the way he’d imagined it would be.  But it wasn’t boring.

He never heard Tom let himself inside when he returned from the movie.  He was busy taking Jupiter over one fence after another as a shower of daisy-heads whirled around them.

Author’s Notes

14,698 original words

In July, 2014, our good friend and former Jix author, Amy Kalinski, lost her battle with cancer.  To honor her memory, the Jix CWE team created a special Circle Writing Event to raise funds for cancer research with a compilation of stories from Jix members.  This story was specifically written as a part of that effort.  Those of you who are reading it now have helped to find cures for future cancer-fighters by making donations to causes related to either cancer research or the Erie County Humane Society, a cause dear to Amy’s heart.  Thank you for your generosity!

I did some research while writing this story, since I am no equestrian expert.  Some of the sources I consulted:

History of the Claremont Riding Academy

Fairfield County Hunt Club, Connecticut

Ox Ridge Hunt Club—Connecticut

Thank you to BonnieH, who was extremely helpful with horse-related information.  Thank you also to my faithful editors, Ronda, Ryl, and TrishB.   Each of them had great insights as well as catching my mistakes.  Any remaining errors are mine, not theirs.

Text that appears in green is taken directly from the text of Secret of the Mansion. Those 35 words have been deducted from the total word count.

One clarification:  In the story, Regan recalls his life at Worthington Farm several times.  With my “fabulous” equestrian knowledge background of the Black Stallion series (read 45 years ago!) and after reading Mystery at Saratoga twice, I had the idea that when a Thoroughbred race horse wasn’t racing, he/she/it spent some rest time back at the owner’s farm until their next meet.  Bonnie kindly informed me it doesn’t work this way in Real Life.  I didn’t want Regan to have only a trackside history, though.  So I decided Regan first went to work at Worthington Farm and after several months, was tapped to help with the Worthington stable at the Saratoga track when Carl Stinson needed a couple of new workers.  Unsure if this is totally realistic and could not find a way to work it into the narrative, but that’s how it happened in my universe, anyway!  

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. All other material on these pages copyright 2012 by MaryN/Dianafan. Images from Microsoft Clip art and and manipulated by Mary N in Photoshop. Graphics copyright by Mary N 2015.

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional