by Emery Lee
To those who have my read my novels to date, my love (read obsession) with the Georgian era is clearly evident. For those of you who have not, I invite you to open the pages and immerse yourself in a fascinating paradox that is nowhere better represented than in the lives of Georgian aristocrats - many of whom adopted an outward veneer to hide the sin within.
In my first novel, THE HIGHEST STAKES, I delved deeply into the obsessive world of horseracing and arranged marriages, where nothing was sacred and an individual’s happiness (particularly if one happened to be female) was easily laid aside to advance a family’s political or social agenda.
In FORTUNE’S SON I further explore the gaming world and it often served as more than a mere diversion, but as a last resort for those with reduced circumstances whose social position did not allow any manner of gaining a more honest income. Compelled to wager, many faced financial devastation and social ruin, while occasionally (and incomprehensibly), Fortune seemed to smile on particular individuals for no particular reason. One such colorful example (whom I delighted in bringing to life as a secondary character in FORTUNE’S SON) was William Douglas - third Earl March and Ruglen, later the Fourth Duke of Queensbury, nicknamed “Old Q”.
Although many young, aristocrats lacking more worthy pursuits, squandered their days at race tracks, cockpits, or over the green baize tables, Lord March’s exploits and love of a wager are legendary even for the gaming Georgians. His most infamous wager has come to be known over the ages as Lord March’s “race against time” and plays a significant role in FORTUNE’S SON.
(Excerpt from FORTUNE’S SON chapter 39)
March signaled a lackey for a new pack of cards to replace those he’d swept off the table to join the mounds scattered about the floor. “One can do very well on credit,” said March. “By way of example, I have no fewer than three carriage makers, and four cartwrights, currently engineering a contraption for my upcoming wager with Taaffe and Sprowle.”
“Are you still about that madness, March?” George Selwyn asked.
“What madness is this?” Philip inquired, laying down fifty guineas, and hoping his careless manner belied the near-emptiness of his pockets. March and Selwyn matched his stakes, and he absently dealt the first two cards, face-up to his immediate left.
“A bloody chariot race,” said George. “As a fellow turf man, you’ll doubtless find the fellow’s scheme most diverting.”
“I daresay Hastings has had his fill of racing wagers.” Lord March’s jibe at Philip’s recent loss hit home.
“Not at all, my lord,” Philip replied coolly. “When one plays, one must expect eventually to pay.”
Lord March regarded Philip speculatively. “I never begrudge a man who wins from me fairly.”
“Then I remind you ’tis now past noon, and our friend Hastings is alive, hale, and in present company,” said George, referring to their earlier wager.
Lord March carelessly unfolded a fifty-pound bank note from a wad of bills in his pocket, and handed it to George, whilst continuing his narrative. “The chariot wager was made some six-month past when Count Taaffe, that damnable upstart Irishman, boasted of having the fastest chaise and four in the country. When challenged to prove the claim, he asserted he’d clocked them at twelve miles in an hour. ‘Twelve miles?’ says I. ‘Why I’ll lay you a thousand guineas, I can produce a chaise and team half again as fast.’ Believing me out of my head, Taaffe readily accepted my wage.”
Philip replied with a chuckle, “You out of your head, March! Eighteen miles in an hour? An impossible feat. The fastest coach pulled by a team of six doesn’t exceed ten miles per hour.”
March broke into a slow, sly smile. “A carriage is quite an ambiguous thing is it not?” March said. “Since the terms of the wager did not specify a body be fitted to the carriage, our passenger will be slung on leather straps between the two hind wheels. While united the back carriage to the fore in the usual manner, to reduce weight, we used cords and springs, and the pole and bars are of thin wood reinforced with supporting wire. As to the harness, an optimal lightness was achieved by constructing the traces from silk, and the breechings, of whalebone.”
“Silk and whalebone? Do you wish to harness your horses or to corset them?” Philip chuckled. “And you think to drive this deathtrap at eighteen miles per hour?”
“A ridiculous notion, Hastings! You think I’d take such a risk when I employ any number of competent grooms to drive the contraption?”
“Dare I ask how many have perished in the trials?”
“Why none have suffered worse than a few broken limbs,” March replied indignantly, but then confessed that he had lost half a dozen horses, explaining, “They were only second-rate runners. For the true trials I require nothing less than four plate winners.”
Philip was astounded. “You would risk four plate-winning horses for a thousand guineas? Mayhap your mind is disordered after all.”
Lord March answered heatedly. “It’s the principle of the thing, Hastings! Besides, the odds are posted at four to one against me, which means I stand to gain a huge sum in secondary wagers, but the money has become inconsequential. Hell, I’m seven hundred pounds invested already and as like to treble that amount before all is said and done. But I’ll see it through, by God.”
“That would answer,” Philip replied. “My hat is off to you, March. You are truly one calculating devil. But if you lose any more horses in the training runs, how do you propose to win?”
“I only need four to race, Hastings. I propose to retain a stable of plate winners as a contingency. I’m saving the best of the lot for last, and won’t set the date until I deem the equipage fit, and the horses fitter.” March’s lips curved up at the corners. “After all, I race only to win.” - ( End of excerpt)
LORD MARCH’S FAMOUS RACING CHAISE
True to form until the very end, gambling, horses, and women continued to be Old Q’s life passions until his death at the ripe old age of eighty five.
Emery Lee is a true romantic and self-professed “Georgian Junkie.” She is also the moderator for Goodreads Romantic Historical Fiction Lovers.