Release Day & Giveaway for The Horse Thief by Tea Cooper
Today around 250 permanent residents call Wollombi home and at weekends that number blossoms with the many Sydneysiders who escape to the Wollombi Valley.
The local watering hole, Wollombi Tavern, is the Friday night gathering spot and believe it or not that’s where The Horse Thief began!
One night the subject was the upcoming Melbourne Cup and someone (and I truly can’t remember who) announced that the winner of the first Melbourne Cup, Archer, was a Hunter animal. There was much debate and of course being addicted to research and all things historical I rushed off to check the facts.
A few weeks later I received a phone call from one of my writer friends. She had somehow managed to wangle a behind-the-scenes, private tour of the nineteenth century homestead at Tocal, in the Hunter. Would I like to go along? And the rest, as they say, is history.
I’m going to let the pictures explain my “inspiration” for The Horse Thief but first I must add a disclaimer: The Horse Thief is a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents are a product of my imagination. You see it wasn’t until the 1870s that a Hunter horse first won the Melbourne Cup and as for the Kilhamptons of Helligen Stud … let your imagination be the judge!
Excerpt from The Horse Thief by Tea Cooper
Two people one dream … with the past riding hard on their heels.
When India Kilhampton is caught up in the heart-stopping excitement of the first Melbourne Cup her mind is made up. She will breed a horse to win the coveted trophy and reunite her fractured family. Determined to make her dream a reality she advertises for a horse breeder.
Jim Mawgan arrives at Helligen Stud in the Hunter Valley to take up the position. He has a mission: he must fulfil his father’s dying wish to right past wrongs and prove his ownership of the prized stallion Jefferson.
Jim and India discover they share a common goal but as the secrets of the past unravel old emanates surface. Will India save Jim before he is branded a horse thief and sentenced to death?
The Hunter, New South Wales
Bold black handwriting sprawled across the envelope:
Alexander Kilhampton Esq.,
The flourish beneath the writing stopped at a small spot of ink as if the author had prevaricated then come to a sudden decision.
‘Off you go.’ India Kilhampton clutched the letter and dropped a penny into the young boy’s hand. She tore open the envelope before he’d even turned to leave. Her fingers trembled as she extracted the paper and unfolded it.
‘Peggy! Peggy!’ Grasping her skirts in one hand she flew across the flagstone courtyard, the letter held high above her head. ‘I have a response.’ Skidding to a halt on the threshold of the kitchen, she brandished the letter under her housekeeper’s nose.
A sceptical look flashed across Peggy’s round, pink face. ‘That’s mighty fine news.’
‘I never believed we’d hear from anyone.’ She tapped the envelope against her lips, relishing the scent of ink and new prospects. ‘I placed the advertisement over a month ago.’
‘What does it say?’
She glanced at the paper again, elation and tension blurring the words. ‘Not as much as I hoped. His name is Jim Mawgan and he’ll be in the area during the week of fourteenth of August and will …’
So much depended on this advertisement. Twelve months to prove a point and perform a miracle. The fourteenth of August … the knot in her stomach tightened. ‘Wasn’t that yesterday?’ Too late. The date had passed. Why hadn’t he turned up? She slumped down at the kitchen table. ‘Maybe he changed his mind.’
A cloud of white flour settled over India’s precious letter as Peggy dusted her hands. ‘Calm down. Read me the letter.’
Shaking the paper clean India cleared her throat and adopted her most businesslike tone. It was one she intended to practise, and use, if she ever got the chance.
In reply to your advertisement in The Maitland Mercury, I wish to make application for the position of Stud Master. I will be in the area during the week of fourteenth of August and beg your permission to call to discuss said position.
‘There you are.’ Peggy’s rolling pin thumped the table. ‘You’re supposed to be the educated one. The week of the fourteenth of August means anytime during the week. Today’s Monday. It could be any day until the weekend.’
The simple script floated in front of India’s eyes, the neat lines merging and drifting. ‘Oh, Peggy, I think you’re right. I hope so.’ It wasn’t too late, he hadn’t changed his mind, he just hadn’t arrived yet. Somewhere in her chest a bubble of elation burst. Unable to stay still a moment longer she leapt to her feet and spun around and around, clasping the precious letter tight.
‘Stop cavorting and carrying on. Come and sit down while I finish these scones.’
More from habit than agreement India plopped down again at the scrubbed pine table. Neat circles of dough fell from Peggy’s hands and lined up like soldiers on parade. India’s thoughts were less cooperative. It was such an outside chance. Some might call her idea reckless and foolish. No one advertised for a stud master. There was no point. No reputable stud parted with the one man who knew all their secrets. No one would apply for the job. It simply wasn’t done. Well! She sat back and indulged in a smug smile. She’d done it.
‘Are you going to tell your father?’
As usual, Peggy discovered the hair in the icing.
Telling Papa wasn’t necessary. After all, he might not even be in Sydney. He could be anywhere. Sailing the seven seas, trading his goods, anything to keep him away from Helligen. She chewed on her lip. ‘No. Not yet. He agreed in principle. I’ll wait and see if the man can do the job before I let Papa know. And anyway, he agreed matters were in my hands for twelve months.’
With a long-suffering sigh Peggy swung the oven door open. ‘Morning tea. Who’s here today?’
The smell of freshly baked scones compensated for Peggy’s lack of enthusiasm. India knew her plan would work—she didn’t need Peggy’s approval. ‘Only Fred, Jilly in the scullery, and the men working on the back fences with Tom Bludge. I’m going to tell them it’s their last day today. I’ll just keep Fred and Jilly on until I discover what this new man is like.’
‘Don’t get your hopes up. You advertised for a stud master not a labourer. He won’t be sweating it out in the paddocks. He’ll have other things on his mind.’ The corners of Peggy’s mouth twitched and her eyes twinkled as she let out a loud chortle.
India had lived most of her life on Helligen Stud and she had no doubt about the direction the housekeeper’s thoughts had taken. ‘Peggy!’
‘Well, I don’t know. Putting an advertisement in the paper for a man to do your breeding.’ She slammed the oven door. ‘Hardly ladylike.’
‘Not my breeding.’ India laughed and pushed the chair back. She stretched her legs under the table and wiggled her feet. ‘I can’t wait. It’ll breathe new life into the place having some foals around again. I’ve missed the rhythm of the seasons so much. I’m never going back to Sydney or Melbourne again.’ She lifted her hands and pulled her heavy hair off the nape of her neck. ‘Except to race Helligen’s first champion in the Melbourne Cup.’
‘And will you be taking your sister?’ Peggy’s caterpillar eyebrows twitched.
Violet! Heaven forbid. There’d be no chance of leaving without her. She’d made the most awful fuss about returning home to Helligen. ‘She’ll do as she’s told. Until she marries she has to do as Papa says, and right now I’m in charge so she’ll have to learn to live with it.’
‘Those are brave words, my girl.’
India jumped to her feet. ‘I feel brave, audacious and adventurous.’ For too long she’d plotted and schemed, wondering how to get things moving. ‘It’s a new beginning for Helligen—for all of us.’
The Horse Thief is available in eBook and paperback from good retailers.
Read more about Tea and her books on MEET TEA COOPER
Leave a comment for Tea and go into the draw to WIN a signed paperback copy of
The Horse Thief.
This giveaway was open to Australian postal addressees only.
And the winner is: Ails73!
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