His day was at an end. Kip looked forward to keeping company with Miss Squeaks tomorrow. As he began to undress for the night, he found a pittance of money in his pocket. This was a rare day for him, but it had all been of his own choosing. People were coming into his life, which held far more value to him. For a year, he had avoided his family because of his decision to leave home, but there had been no attempts to change his mind. His father was more devastated by his daughter’s loss than he had let on at the time. Why did nobility feel they could never show their true emotions? The peerage of the land seemed to have been taught to take the overwhelming news with composure. No one dared show weakness.
While sliding off his boots, he wondered what he and Squeaks would talk about. Kip had given no thought to his future since he left home. If he did find a woman, he wanted to spend his life with, what would be her opinion of his choice of trade or being titled?
Kip rose early, thinking of his dream and Squeaks’ magnetism. Was it the novelty of her being the only female driver? He knew it started there. He had never thought about someone to love who could man a team of horses. Nevertheless, she was there, almost in front of him. Never having seen her hair unfurled, it was black and shiny as jet glass. Little dimpling cheeks, rosy from the morning air, and no muscular stature for someone in that trade. He imagined her riding a horse. He pulled out his pad and began to draw; her head reaching just above the stirrup. As the charcoal in his hand swept across the canvas, he pictured her being boosted into the saddle by a groom from the stable. Perhaps they had a concrete step, as many riders needed those. Finished sketching his fancy, he donned his daily dress and harnessed the horses.
Kip was there early, ensuring they could park next to one another when she arrived. There were very few teams in the yard as he pulled in. He didn’t care what the others thought when no passenger disembarked. He rode straight to the waiting area and parked an hour before the Stokes’ coach arrived. Kip watched from a distance as her rider exited. She headed towards him looking like a child on the bench. If she wasn’t known, one might be prompted to rescue the little boy on the runaway carriage. Seeing the black ribbons from her hat flapping in the wind, made his heart soar. Squeaks would look magnificent in a rain cape that billowed out behind her as she raced the team to shelter. He started to analyze his own reactions to seeing her. His pulse quickened; heart raced, and a strange nervous state came over him. If she turned from him, it would be a serious disappointment. I think I am falling in love.
As she pulled around behind and came to rest beside him, facing the building, she smiled.
He tipped his hat, “Good morning, Squeaks. I watched you trotting in. You are so petite that one would think you live in a dollhouse.”
“Good morning to you, as well. May I come aboard?”
“You may indeed.” Kip gave her a broad smile. “You know you’ll get a reputation sitting with me.”
She said it again. She makes me laugh too easily.
“They will get to know me someday and know the way I am. I merely wish to see your harnessing.”
Kip feigned an arrow through his heart by clasping his chest with both hands. “You wound me, young woman. I thought it was I who interested you. Alas, I am but the humble servant of these horses and tack. You bestow us your presence at a price to my very soul.” He smiled.
“I hope not. I wish to know your heart and soul someday, not the cost to it.”
Kip was momentarily stunned. Did she really say that? “You know Squeaks; you cost every man here some form of restraint.”
“What restraint? What do you mean by restraint?”
“Miss Squeaks, could I caution you to resist applying a scent before working? The control these men are putting forward will become even more burdensome. I know what they tolerate and have a concern for your welfare.”
“Tsk? Don’t you know your own attraction here?”
“Not really. Novelty maybe. Nevertheless, I am not wearing any scent.”
“Dear God,” Kip sighed.
“I think you are having fun with me.”
“I wish that, but I am serious about the scent and the restraints.”
“I would like to accept your offer to ride the next time I am available; when is not clear yet.”
“Squeaks, I am in anticipation of the day.”
“If I wasn’t on the Stokes estate, I was riding with my father. I have only seen London from up here. It would be a delight to get out of the city. Shall I pack a lunch?”
“My very thoughts. Speaking of reading my mind, let me show you something I did last night.” Kip reached under the bench for his folio. He opened it and flipped a few pages until he came to the sketch of her standing next to a large horse.
She clapped her hands as she giggled. “I am most impressed by your drawing ability, and you have caught me utterly. Oh, Kip, this is grand. How did you learn to draw?”
“It was something I picked up during my waiting times. Eventually, you will find something that entertains you. I have little talent.”
“I think you are wrong there. I believe this is exceedingly well done. It isn’t a masterpiece, but quite accurate. Could I borrow it? I think His Lordship and my father would enjoy seeing it. And you say you did this from memory – well, of course, you did. I didn’t sit for this.”
“Would you mind if I sketched you on our day out? I would like a picture of you.”
“Me? You would?”
“I think you know I would, as any man here.”
“Can you not speak for yourself, Kip?”
Confused, Kip asked, “Am I not speaking for myself?” Quite in doubt of her meaning.
“Not really. When you want to pay me a courteous remark, you add that all the other men would feel the same. I would rather hear your own thoughts.”
“You astonish me. I knew I was doing that but never suspected it to be seen through. The truth is, I do fancy you, and every time I see you, it becomes harder to leave. I fear it is too early to say words like this, but you have forced me into this admission with your astuteness. I hope you cannot read my mind.”
“Give me time. Your face is starting to tell on you. It is you who I cost restraint, is it not?”
Kip was grateful it was only his face giving him away. “Please, do not make me admit that. I am one of many men who you will make the acquaintance of, and I daresay, most will react the same.”
“You like saying that. You dismiss any warnings that I give you. Why is that? After all, you have forced out of me this morning, you must know I have an interest in your safety.”
Squeaks is the most un-noble woman I have ever met.
“Am I not among gentlemen? I have you here and Boots for the rest of the week. Let me enjoy this time before I start to worry for myself. My father and Lord Stokes do the worrying for all of us. I do carry a pistol and am skilled in its use.”
“Do you have it with you? May I see it?”
Squeaks took the wheel peg down and ascended to her bench. Under her seat, she extracted an antique pistol.
Kip, taking it from her lifted hand said, “This … this is what you were trained on?”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s a relic. It belongs in a museum. It has probably been on the Stokes property for a century or more. It’s a flintlock. I will get you something you can handle. They actually have firearms that shoot more than one round before reloading,” he laughed. “I’ll show you mine someday. I can’t believe this is what you and your father have been relying on should the time come.”
“Back to my drawing. Yes, you can borrow it or have it if you like, but would you sit for me when we travel into the country? I mainly want to sketch your face. I am just starting to try my hand at portraits. Everything has been landscape until now.”
“I will consider it an honor to sit for you. I would imagine it shall be within a few days. You will come to pick me up?”
“Which coach do you wish: The Queen Mary or this one, The Butler?”
“I think this one. Should some accident befall us from my driving, let it be in this coach.”
Kip hardly noticed the yard filling. A footman from the Parliament building was heading his way. He thought it awkward when the man handed him a sealed missive.
He opened it.
Your brother will be here today. Come dine with us at 7:00.
Kip closed the message and placed it in his coat pocket.
It wasn’t long after receiving his note that drivers were descending on his horses and guest. Warrior might be put out if he knew he was now the second favorite. Kip rolled up his sketch and handed it to Squeaks.
“I guess I should withdraw to the ground like all the other drivers,” she said.
“I will join you for a while. I forgot to tell you that we will meet on Saturday night at a gala that my rider and your rider will be attending.”
“Do you mean in the dark?”
“Do you fear the dark or could it be me?” he smiled.
“No, but I have rarely driven at night using the lamps. Could I beg your company for a brief time tomorrow, so you can explain any tips? I will ask my father, as well. Perhaps His Lordship will not allow me to be there alone in the dark,” Squeaks said, as she placed the sketch in the coach.
“Yes, I will be here tomorrow if you wish it.”
“Yes, I do wish it of you, along with the other hundred women waiting in line for your charms.” The inclination in her voice sounded far more than asking him to be there for night-driving tips. She wondered if what she felt that moment was called jealousy. It was a new and very uncomfortable emotion.
Kip felt a thrill run through him. He wondered how she saw their developing relationship. She couldn’t feel as he did. Right now, because her father knew him and liked him, he was her safe haven. If that’s all it was, he would be happy to have that. For a moment, sadness crept through his mind as once someone else counted on his safety, and now she was dead.
As Kip’s feet landed on the ground, he began conversations with the others. He did not want to draw any more attention to people thinking they were a couple because they weren’t. He purposely had his back to her, as he didn’t wish to see her being ogled. Kip heard someone talking about her livery with the skirt and top hat. Many of them wanted to know how it was to work for Lord Stokes, but she never gave them any information. On his wait times today, he would begin a list of important facts to know about night reining. An hour later, Kip left her with the others talking about their jobs.
Kip spent the balance of his day picking up standard fares, thinking of Squeaks, wondering if he should come to the front or back door of his father’s suite, and thinking about night driving. Tomorrow night he had a special fare for an evening event. He would wear his tails and drive the Queen Mary. Then, if his luck held, he would see Squeaks at the Saturday ton. The full moon was just beginning to wane.
Squeaks spent her morning getting to know the other drivers and who they worked for. Several times she heard an apology for their language, but this was the life she had always wanted, and words like that came with a gathering of men. She never heard any talk about women, of which she was glad. As much as she wanted to know the sincerity of men loving women for more than their bodies, she wasn’t willing to learn from overhearing conversations and boasts.
Lord Stokes hailed her near 1:00 in the afternoon. Squeaks drove him to a nice restaurant. Entering the coach, he saw the rolled-up heavy paper and had a look at it. His first impression was laughter. After that, he wondered when that was done and where was she. As she matured, he had struggled to stay out of her private life, but it hadn’t been easy. He had only one son. They never bore a daughter, and he had wished to have had one. Squeaks filled his want of a daughter, but she was an adult now, and there was little he could say. He would wait to see if she told him about the sketch. He hoped she had packed her own lunch. For some reason, along with the thought of her meal, he wondered about her personal issues while out on the road. Men had no trouble taking care of that function, but she would need to seek privacy. He decided to ask Clyde, about such problems for her. Stokes was still hearing from his fellow Lords about glimpsing his new driver. “You Lords, are just jealous,” he told them.
Lord Stokes was returned to Parliament for the rest of the day and did not leave until near dusk.
Squeaks lit the lamps with the help of some young man lifting her instead of doing it for her. This would be her first drive this late. It wasn’t dark, yet, but the sun was going down. The tall buildings in that part of the city allowed little twilight to filter through. It seemed easy to tell how close to the road edge she was but found herself coming up on a coach ahead of her a bit tricky. It was hard to tell if they were moving or stopped. What would she do when she drove where there were no gas street lamps?
Kip arrived home, bathed and changed into his tails, which was expected at his ancestral home – one always dressed for dinner. Arriving at his father’s suite of rooms, he could only park in the rear. That was settled, as he would not leave his team on the street. A groom ran over and took the reins. “Water them, please,” Kip asked. “How do I enter this building?”
“Sir, it depends on if you want the front door or back door.”
“I’ll use the back door.”
“Yes, right through that alcove, into the courtyard. You will see steps to the back.”
“Thank you, my lad.” Kip wondered where his father’s driver was. He knew that he would recognize him. This was going to be an exciting night.
He walked from the below stairs area to the upper hallway, becoming Lord Trevor again, Chandler was there to greet him.
“Lord Trevor, I am most happy to see you. I hope you have been well.”
“Chandler, I believe I am improving. Do you know what I do these days?”
“Oh yes, sir. We know it is to be confidential at your request.”
“That would be Briggs and me, sir.”
“Thank you, Chandler, and Briggs, too. No doubt our coaches will pass someday.”
“Sir, I believe that has already happened. This way, sir. Your brother is anxious to see you, as we all are. Your usual scotch, sir?”
Kip smiled, “You remember!”
“Oh, yes, sir.”
As Trevor Caldwell entered the study of his father, he saw his brother rushing over to him. At first, there was a handshake, followed by a hug, with back-slapping. “Good evening, milord,” Kip greeted the title first, with a head bow. Then turning toward his brother, “How are you, Gus?”
“I believe your brother has some disturbing news from home. Sit down, sons. Here comes Chandler with your drinks.”
Kip flipped his tails up so as not to crease them, crossed his legs, taking the crystal glass that was handed to him. The large study was that of a working Lord, and warmth billowed from the hearth near his desk.
“Thank you, Chandler,” he said.
Chandler bowed and left the room, closing the double doors.
“Trevor, you look marvelous. Getting much of the sun, I see. When we have a long time, I would like to hear what lures you to this trade of coachman. There must be something for you to settle for a profession like that.”
“Gus, I am not ‘settling’ for anything. I am happy with driving. Yes, we will talk more, but what is this news you have from home. Is it about, Mary?”
The room grew quiet. Gus shifted in his seat and pulled on his scotch glass before starting.
“Trevor, I think Mary may be haunting Caldwell Hall.”