The last time I wandered alone into the countryside near the English city of Bidwel-on-the-Thames, I caught a brief glimpse of Adelaide galloping by on one of her many Arabian stallions. She didn’t see me; I quickly moved behind a large copse from which I could remain hidden and watch her as she put the magnificent roan steed through its paces. She was thin and erect in her riding gear with a confidence and poise developed over her 42 years. Her hair, still long and black, was clasped at the back of her head and as usual, when not in a horse show, rode without a helmet, much to the dismay of everyone in the family.
I had followed her adventurous life in the newspapers and magazines and must admit that I had not come upon her by accident. This was not a chance encounter. I just wanted to see her one more time.
I was twenty-seven back in those cloudy days of 1927, the world at peace but rumblings occurring throughout Europe, revolution broiling, the new few affluent Soviets settling into their dachas. George V had changed his name from King of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, recognizing in name the Irish Free State with the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Stanley Baldwin was prime minister, the first transatlantic telephone call from New York to London was made, and Sir Malcolm Campbell set a new world land speed record at 174.8 mph in his Napier-Campbell Blue Bird.
Mrs. Mary Partridge’s 10 year old “Sprig”, was an 8/1 favorite to win the Grand National at Aintree Racecourse on March 25, 1927, with Tom Leader aboard. I, Will Pennington, was riding on Bovril III a nine year old, 100/1 longshot owned by Adelaide’s father. I was young and in love and yet Adelaide and I were kept apart by the difference in our heritage. My father, a poor miner had eked out a miserable existence and I had managed to find my way into the racing world. By age sixteen I was ensconced on several horses and by age 20 had become the head jockey for her father, Lord Basterfield, an arrogant, unpleasant regal man who guarded his daughter carefully through her teens, hoping for a “good match” to help maintain his castle and grounds which were falling into disrepair. Bovril III had been kept out of the public eye for several years and the result was an impossible odds of 100 to 1 by post time. He and made careful observation and inquiries and was sure the horse could be the upset of the year.
Adelaide and I met at the stable regularly and I was always an arms-length from her. As the years progressed from our first meetings as teenagers, we began to slip away in the late afternoons or when I was taking the horses out to exercise. Our love developed slowly but by the time I was 24 we had decided to elope after the Grand National, in spite of her father’s obvious abhorrence of any man for his daughter without landed wealth. The day before the race Adelaide went to her father and confessed her love for me and the Lord met with me and threatened every possible means including lifetime exclusion from racing through his connections. I had trained and ridden Bovril III and he had to keep me aboard. In a condescending manner, he said he would increase my salary but warned me to stay away from his daughter.
I well remember the arrogant look he gave as he turned away stating, “Just win the damned National tomorrow and we’ll talk!”
I met with Adelaide late that evening and we declared our affection and made love for the first time. I told her about my discussion with her father and she cried, holding me close until the wee hours of the morning.
Race day was sunny and warm, a cloudless sky with several thousand in attendance to see the favorite Sprig win. Lord Basterfield had bet heavily on his horse, and felt certain it would take the day and land him a great payoff at 100 to 1. As the race progressed Sprig was leading with Lisset II, Marin and Silver Somme second, third and fourth. I held Bovril III back in fifth but could feel his strength and energy and knew he was aching to go forward. On the first circuit at Becher’s Brook, all hell broke loose. Marsin and Lissett III both fell and Silver Somme, one of the popular horses, refused to jump and was disqualified. The race was now between me on Bovril III and Ted Leader on Sprig. All I thought about was the arrogant Lord as I let the horse have its reins and he sped past Sprig by one then two then five lengths heading towards the finish line. I could see the damned Lord raising his cane and twirling it in the air expecting his windfall, just a few heartbeats ahead.
With one hundred yards to go I pulled tightly on the reins and Bovril III slowed to a trot as Sprig raced by; then I let go and my horse finished second, the crowd booing and screaming at me as I came to a halt and dismounted. The Lord came after me, beating me with a cane and I grasped it after several swings and returned the strike, hitting him on the head. He fell to the ground, but not seriously injured. Adelaide ran to her father, glared at me, and her father swore and said he would make sure to keep us apart.
I was tried and convicted both of throwing the race and assault and battery on Lord Basterfield. I was sentenced and served eight years in prison. I tried several times to contact Adelaide, with no response and later found out that she had been sent to Switzerland for a year, apparently to have my child which died shortly after birth. She never responded to me, later marrying Count DeVrille and settling down on her father’s estate. The Lord passed away in 1940 at the outbreak the War and I joined the army under an assumed name.
In 1945 I decided to leave England and visit family in America but I had a desire to see the only woman I loved one more time. As I stood behind the copse I raised my head to get a better view and smacked my head on an overhanging branch, fainted and collapsed. When I awoke, I was in the Lord’s castle and Adelaide was standing over me.
“Oh Will. Why did you never try to contact me?” she asked.
“But I wrote many letters. I was in prison and never heard from you. I figured you had given up and forgotten me. And then you were married. I hear he died in the war. I am so sorry.”
She knelt by me. “Dear Will. I have always loved you. I never stopped loving you. My father must have hidden all your letters. I thought you were so angry with us that you had stopped loving me.”
We kissed and spent the rest of the afternoon together. We have been together ever since, not married, but in a loving partnership; I hope we will spend the rest of our days together. I always wanted to live in a castle!