Noble Coachman Chapter 17

Available Amazon Kindle

Chapter 17
The Sketch

 

Returning from the coach, Kip spread the coverlet on the ground.

“Shall we eat first, or shall I sketch?”

“I am not that hungry just now. Sketch me. First, I need a drink of water.”

Instead of pulling water from the basket which had been poured into canning jars, she went to the stream. She squatted down as only one can do in pants, cupped both her hands and filled them with cold water. She sipped from them several times, shook the excess from her hands, and dried them on her trousers.

She was the epitome of simplicity and carefree countenance, Kip thought.

“This is a good spot where we sit. I believe I told you before that I am just starting to sketch portraits. You are my first commissioned work of art.”

“Who ordered it?”

“A fine gentleman who wishes to remain anonymous. You are perfect right there, and I will sit here,” Kip said, finding the ground and sitting cross-legged.

“Is this gentleman handsome?” Squeaks asked sheepishly.

“Now what kind of man would I be if I could answer that?”

“An interested one?”

“To me, all men are the same. Now, the female creature inhabits a different sphere. She will walk among flowers and through wisps of clouds, which make her soft, fragrant and porcelain in color. She reveals little of herself leaving the man in mystery. Her fan will be used to communicate with her gentleman.”

“I’ve heard of that, the fan language. Is it really true or were the maids teasing?”

“They spoke the truth to you. I’m slowly picking up the art of the fan by watching my riders as they wait for my coach when I am in a line.

“Tell me.”

“Tell you? Tell you, what?”

“A fan word.”

“Most of the time they are comments—not words. Let me see, what can I tell you? If the lady holds an opened  fan with her right hand in front of her face; she is asking her gentleman to follow her.”

“I don’t believe you. I’ve never seen such goings-on.”

“I am not surprised at Stokes. You have my permission to ask his Lordship,” he chuckled.

Kip readied his supplies and opened his sketch folio to a large blank page. “I want you to look into my eyes for a while. I will be staring at different parts of your face. I say this, so it does not alarm you. We can talk if you do not move your head, and I will draw your mouth last. There we will decide on a smile or a more serious look. Are you ready?”

“Yes.”

“Look at me. Stare into my eyes. I will draw down to your neck so move your arms however you wish.”

Kip placed the folio on his knee and withdrew the black charcoal from the box. He stared at her and began to draw the sweep of her hair.

“Can I ask a question?”

“Yes, Sweets, what is it?”

“The night that you let me learn to night-drive, the night you really kissed me, remember?”

“Of course, I remember.”

“You introduced me to the other drivers, and you told them if they got ‘caught out’ to take care of that privately; then you went on to talk about language.”

Kip put down his charcoal, laughing. “I would guess you want to know what ‘caught out’ means?”

“Yes.”

“That would be to urinate. Wait. Hold that look. Where is my red charcoal?” He teased her.

“You had to say that with me there?”

Kip continued sweeping lines on his paper. “Look at me. Yes, but you must know that was a very proper way to mention it. There are other words we generally use.”

As Squeaks sat there staring at him, she felt as if she were in a lovely dream. How often she had wanted to stare at him and study his handsome looks. His strikingly green eyes were his most significant feature. “You have a Patrician nose; did you know that?”

“What do you mean, Patrician? Am I girlish looking?” He knew what she meant.

“It’s a feature that goes back to ancient Roman nobility, or is it Greek? It’s a perfect nose, I think. It is not large or too small, it has no bump or hook to it. It is slim and not wide, but not thin either. It is an aristocratic nose.”

Kip continued to stare at her, drawing. “So, does that mean I have nobility somewhere in my lineage? I would think everyone can say that.”

“Perhaps, or maybe you are just lucky.” His lips and mouth were perfectly shaped. All his features were handsome, from his ears to his brow to his chin. “If I were with another man at a restaurant and you walked in …”

“I don’t think I’m going to like this.”

“What do you notice first about the other gentleman. What makes one man jealous of another man and don’t say it is because I am there?”

“You sure are tough on me. Can’t we men have any secrets?”

“Please.”

“Men are fairly territorial. They need to protect what is theirs. Now if that is not a factor, I would think a man could worry if he was handsome enough for his lady. Did he have a nice build? Is his profession worthy of her?”

“Does intimacy enter  a man’s jealousy?”

“Most assuredly. That is the number one factor, which is usually an unknown, and the most difficult to cope with. You gaze at me rather hard, Miss Squeaks. Must I pass muster, again?”

“I’ve waited to do this.”

Kip smiled. “I’ve waited to do this. Do you know I came home that night and drew you standing as footman? Remember, I asked you to look at me and smile. That is what graces my mantle.”

“Perhaps, I shall see your home one day.” Squeaks wondered what it looked like. “Let me tell you about your home, may I?”

“Yes. This should be interesting.”

“You are a single man, who I believe lives in a place where his stable looks better than his residence.”

“You are very nearly right with that.”

“Your house is two levels but only two bedrooms. It is devoid of nearly everything except a bed, kitchen, and a few items to rest upon. You have old furniture for the apostles to sit when they visit. You have never brought a woman to your house.  You have a nice wardrobe for your clothing finery. A charwoman comes in weekly to sweep the dirt from the floor, change your bed linen and finish washing your dishes. She takes your laundry home when she leaves. You keep two tins of boot polish all the time. You have more shoes than I do. I believe you to have saved for and purchased real Wellington boots. I see you’re smiling.”

“Proceed. I am enjoying hearing about myself.”

“Your loo is outside. You have a post office box in London proper, and you collect your post rather than having it delivered. Your address is part of your image. By looking at your face, I cannot tell if you cook or eat out. In your bedroom, you have one nightstand and one oil lamp beside it. You do not have indoor gas lighting, but that doesn’t bother you, as your best fares are at night. You like to whistle when you drive. Now you are laughing. Tell me where I am right or wrong.”

“Oh, I cannot do all of that. You must still find me mysterious. I will say I drew the line at an outdoor loo. It is inside. And I do not whistle while I drive, except for whistling for my horse, but I do not do it for entertainment. I will say that I have three tins of boot polish. I have black and brown boots. As you see today, I am wearing the brown boots. Do they look polished to you?”

“Why … the leather is blinding when the clouds pass.”

“You should know I would not be caught dead with worn leather boots. I am ready to add your mouth. Perhaps, I shall kiss it first.”

“Yes, please.”

Kip crawled over on his knees and leaned in to kiss Squeaks.

Squeaks burst forth with laughter as he reached her lips. He sat back on his ankles wondering what was causing this moment of amusement.

“Miss Squeaks, you take my romantic attentions too lightly, I fear.”

“It’s not that. You tricked me. What a novel joke.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Now, stop that. You know very well what I mean?”

“I wish it was true, but I have not an idea at all.”

“Your sketch, silly.”

Kip looked down and was shocked. He pushed the folio off of his lap, wanting it away from him.

“Kip, now stop playing. That sketch of yourself is exactly how I just pictured you in my mind. How did you do that? I would like to have it. If you wanted me to have your portrait, you could have given it to me. I would love to hang it in my room. This charade wasn’t necessary, but it is funny.”

Kip staggered to his feet aghast. “How did I do that?”

Squeaks held up her hand for him to take it and sit beside her. “Kip you look awful. You have gone pale. What is happening to you? What is wrong?”

Lowering his body next to her, keeping his distance from the sketch, he said, “I did not knowingly draw my own face.” He stared at the portrait. Squeaks became quiet. She didn’t have words, as she felt he was telling the truth.

“Can you read minds, Kip? That is exactly, and I do mean accurately, the way I see you. Could you see the image in my head?”

“If I did, this is a first. This doesn’t make any sense. I looked down every so often to see what I was doing, and it appeared as I saw you. I have no gift. I hope they don’t still hang people for witchcraft.” The near accident came back to his mind and how he thought of Mary.  Mary, Mary, you are making this happen? “Are you sure this is how you see me?”

“There is no doubt. Perhaps, you do have a gift. You said you were new to portraits, and you stared at me, and I stared at you. Should we try something else? Are you afraid to know if you are gifted?”

“I do not believe in such things. What do you wish of me?”

“I will sit as before, but I will not look at your eyes. I will look away. I will imagine a vision and hold it. Perhaps you can see what I see by looking at me again.”

Kip hesitantly pulled his folio back to him. “This cannot work. But I will try.”

“I have a vision in my mind now. Do not see my face, but look deeper.”

Kip sat for a minute trying to force himself to reveal an image. “This isn’t working. It cannot be that.” Mary’s image swirled through his mind.

“Give it more time, Kip. Try again. Concentrate. I will be quiet.”

Kip put the folio aside. If he could see her vision, he could tell her. He would not have to draw it. “I think I am guessing. I feel like you are seeing Warrior.”

Squeaks gasped. “That is right. It may have been a guess, but how did you think of it?”

“I do not remember thinking. I was thinking about not thinking when I saw Warrior. Actually, that isn’t the truth. I believe I can tell you now. I was clearing my mind, and an image of my sister seemed to rush past my consciousness.”

“You don’t think …”

“I don’t know. Something allowed me to know of the impending danger with the runaway carriage.”

“Let us try this again. This time, I will envision something you have never seen. Give me a moment.” On the wall in her bedroom was a small painting of her in her mother’s arms as a baby. Her father was standing behind her seated mother. It was crudely done, but it was something Kip would not know about. “I have it. Now concentrate and so will I.” Squeaks conjured up the picture as she would see it from her bedside.

“Oh my god, something is forming. Don’t say anything. Hold the image.”

“I believe it is a picture hanging on a wall. You are looking at it from below, as it is hung over your head. Let me concentrate on the picture. It is in a dark frame, most probably walnut. Sitting in a kitchen chair, there is a woman holding a baby. The man behind her with his hand on her shoulder appears to be a young Clyde Dorset, your father.” With that final word, Kip fell backward, utterly spent.

Squeaks hurriedly moved to him. “Kip, what can I do? Your eyes look unfocused. Does your head hurt?”

“Give me a second. I feel totally exhausted. I couldn’t keep myself upright. It is starting to recede. Where was I? Oh, yes. How close was I to your vision?”

“Kip, you are gifted. Your words told me more than I saw. I didn’t consciously remember the frame color or the chair coming from the kitchen. You looked through my eyes because you spoke of the perspective from which I see it every day. It is across from my bed, over my head by quite a lot. I do not think I can reach it from standing on the floor. This is incredible. Nothing like this has ever happened before?”

“Never.” Kip felt, if he was developing a gift, it was being given to him by Mary. But why?

“Are you strong enough to try it once again, for good measure?”

“Yes, I would like to. If this turns out to be a real gift, I wish to keep it quiet until I figure out what is going on with me. This time, do not envision anything specific. Just have random thoughts with images, but do not stand on one.”

“All right. I guess you can start anytime you want.”

Squeaks turned to Kip and looked at him but thought of a day in her life. She rose and washed, dressed, ate, and went to find her father. She brushed the horses and helped her father harness them. Later, she would walk some of the horses in the paddock along with the other lads.

“No, I cannot see anything clearly. Will you do me a favor tonight?”

“If I can.”

Kip laughed, preparing to have his face slapped. “At 9:00 p.m., if you can, make ready for bed, strip down until you are naked, and stand in front of your mirror. Hold that vision. I will try exceedingly hard to conjure what you are seeing.”

“Are you serious?”

“Only if you don’t hit me.”

“Since I do not have a full-length mirror, I will do it.”

“You will?”

“You will have to try this on others. Perhaps it is just me.”

“Oh, I hope not. I do not want to know what you are thinking. That would never work for us.”

“What happened to my kiss?”

“I hope I do not see me kissing myself.”

This time, he placed Squeaks on her back, and he rested on his elbows looking down at her. Her hair was spread around her face. He wanted to drown in her big, light blue eyes. Kip looked at her beautiful skin, impeccably arched brows, perfect pixie nose, and lips that he wanted to kiss until he died. He leaned toward her mouth and kissed her simply and gently, then backed away from her to see her face again. Quietly, she laid there smiling, looking directly at him.

“You are not trying to see how much I love you, are you?”

“A bit ago you said you think you loved me. Why are you sure now?” Kip wondered.

“Can’t you tell me?” She asked.

He smiled broadly, “No. I do not want to wander in your mind if I find I can. Nevertheless, are you saying you know you love me?”

“Yes, I am.”

Kip wrapped his one arm around her body as he plundered her mouth over and over. She brought her hands to his face and held him there to look at him. Kip rolled on his back and brought Squeaks on top of him. He wrapped his arms tightly around her and penetrated her lips repeatedly until she forgot all concerns and yielded herself, passionately.

I must stop this.

“Do I please you enough?” she asked.

“Far beyond what I thought it would be like kissing you.”

“I’m not sure what I can do for you.”

“What do you feel like doing to me?”

She sat there and blushed for a moment.

If you can’t say it, just picture it,” Kip laughed.

He unbuttoned his shirt, pretending that was what her thoughts were telling him.

Kip wished he could let her feel how much she pleased him.

“Sweets, allowing me to kiss and touch you is your precious offering.”

Kip pulled her shirt from her trousers and unbuttoned the top three. Exposing her cleavage, he slid his hands underneath, climbing her ribs. Slowly, they found the swell of her breasts, and Kip watched her eyes close. He felt their fullness while the nipples pebbled. Flames ignited in both of them. Kip removed his hands and pulled her up hard against him, nestling himself in the apex of her thighs.

Squeaks gasped, emitting a small unexpected moan. Her eyes opened to him staring into his face. “I … I.”

“I know, Sweets.” He took her mouth again, making love to it while his hands reached under her shirt. Once more, her eyes closed as did his. Kip felt tears drop onto his face. He reached for her head and licked them from her cheeks. “I need this very essence of you, Sweets.”

“I never thought it would feel like this,” she whispered. “There are other sensations at work here. I guess you know that, though.”

Kip smiled. “Yes, I know. We are merely at the beginning of what I hope will last a lifetime.” Kip found control and ceased his actions, but his chest was still pounding from the interminable pleasure and patience.

She placed her hands on his hairy chest and saw his eyes close immediately. A great sigh and smile came from him. She retracted her hands back.

“I don’t know what I am doing. I think I should talk to the women again.”

“I think you should talk to me. I love what you are doing. You can’t tell?” He buttoned her shirt.

“Have you been with many women?”

“I don’t know of your relative term of ‘many,’ but I am experienced.”

“Have you been with many women when it was her first time?”

“No, I haven’t, but I know what to expect. Please don’t have that on your mind. I will not ask for your virginity.”

“Well … suppose … I might …”

Kip kissed her deeply and sensually.

Catching her breath, “If you keep kissing me like that I might have to insist.”

Kip rolled his head from side to side, laughing. “Sweets, do not ever, I mean ever, think you have to offer yourself to show me you love me. What you are thinking is only part of you. I will want all of you, your heart, mind, body and your soul one of these days. I want you by me for life. What you are embarrassed to talk about is making love. Yes, it is pleasant beyond words, and a part of marriage I would not care to live without, but I could if you could not. Do not feel you have to prove anything to me. Promise me that.”

“I can promise you I will not do that to prove my love to you.”

“You sound rather vague.”

“Well, there you have it!”

“There I have what?”

“My promise.”

“Perhaps, it is a good idea to talk with the women. Not about the act itself. I will control all of that. You need them to tell you how normal you are for a woman in love.”

“Well, stop kissing me then. I’m feeling all funny inside.”

“I can’t help myself.” Kip pleaded.

“That is how you make me feel when you kiss me the way you have today. I can’t help myself. I have no idea where the brakes are. I don’t want them.”

“What is it that you think you cannot help but do?”

“Never mind. Can we have our lunch now?”

“I think the timing is just perfect to have our lunch. I’ll check the leads on the horses while you place the food out for us.” Kip remembered thinking how he loved the idea of her being raised without restrictions and proprieties. He was having second thoughts on that now. Neither had the will to control their passion. She was soaking in desire, unhindered. They had better marry soon.

Squeaks smiled to herself as she watched him walk toward the horses. He was not coping very well with what he had started. She placed the food out and waited for him to return. He was smiling, too.

“Do you want roasted chicken or a beef sandwich?”

“I’ll take the chicken.”

Squeaks handed the cloth wrapped chicken to him.

“Why do they geld horses?” She asked out of nowhere.

“To subdue them. They are lust-driven, mighty powerful and strong otherwise. And you don’t want them trying to mate with the horse waiting at the next coach. Wait a minute. What are you trying to say?”

“Oh nothing,” she laughed. “How many women have you been with in your young life? I’ll tell you if you tell me. I think we are supposed to not be embarrassed to talk with each other about lovemaking, is that so?”

“You are a brat. I have never made love to a woman.”

“Other men?”

“Stop it, Squeaks. I will paddle your backside if you continue this.” He snickered.

“What do you mean then – you have never made love to a woman?”

“Surely, or maybe not, you know there is a difference between having sex and making love. You know men have needs, do you not?”

“I haven’t understood a lot about that. And I do not know the difference between having sex and making love.”

“You will never know that difference as you will never have just sex.”

“And the needy part?”

“Can I finish my chicken?”

“You have been driving for over one year, correct?”

“Professionally? Yes.”

“You have trained me on a few new things which tend to be known more by independents.”

“I have, I believe.”

“I have ten years more experience with a coach than you do. Who would you say is the better driver sitting here today?”

“That would be me, of course,” he smiled.

“Why?”

“Because, Sweets, I am a man.” Kip thought she was throwing down the proverbial gauntlet. He was going to have some fun with her.

“Is that your same declaration for saddle riding?”

“Not quite.”

“What do you mean?”

“I am the better rider, but not because I am a man. I am an excellent horseman.”

“I see.”

“Pray tell. What do you see?” Kip asked with a sparkle to his eye.

“Wait and see.”

“I guess I will have to.”

“I would practice if I were you.” Squeaks countered.

“I need do nothing of the sort, Madam Horsewoman.”

“I will hate embarrassing you in front of your friends.”

“My friends? What do they have to do with this?”

“Wait and see. Tell them to practice, too.”

“You are really piquing my interest now,” Kip smirked.

“So that’s what it takes to arouse you?”

“Please don’t use that word. Miss Sweets, I think you are jesting with me.”

“I think not. You will have a month to practice.”

“To practice what exactly?”

“Your skills as a coachman and horseman.”

“Are you in earnest?”

“I am hoping I will be,” Squeaks replied. “I want to have a derby. Can we saddle-ride after we finish eating? Also, I need to find a bush. I did not bring a jar with me.”

“We can empty a water canning jar,” he mentioned, still scratching his head over whatever she was talking about.

“Yes, that will do.”

“I will guard the coach, but not listen.”

“Thank you.”

They packed up their belongings. Kip carried the folio, and the coverlet and led Warrior after having a final look at his gaskin area.  Squeaks managed the empty basket and Soldier.

Squeaks had no idea where the coachman derby idea came from. She blurted it out to tease Kip, and it caught in the wind and carried on. She would speak with Lord Stokes. Perhaps, he could suggest a way to withdraw this challenge or indeed let there be one. The more she thought about it, the more exciting an idea it became.

The Noble Coachman – Chapter 16

Available Amazon Kindle

Chapter 16
The Picnic

 

A messenger arrived at Caldwell Hall in London, handing a note to the footman. He passed it to Chandler, who took it to Lord Caldwell. Upon opening it, he asked his Butler who Richards was.

“He’s the head footman when I am away.”

Lord Caldwell began to read the note.

 

Your Lordship,

Miss Lilith Caldwell was found moments ago in the ice house as Miss Mary. It appears she has met the same fate. The Constable is on his way. Although life has left her, the doctor is upstairs with her now. The staff sends their sincerest regrets.

Regards, Richards                      

 

Morgan led Kip through the house toward the back, where he would find Squeaks waiting. “Squeaks, you look like a little doll belonging to a child. Thank you for wearing that for me today. Here, let me take that basket.” He carried it to the coach and set it inside on the floor.

“You are so feminine today, perhaps you should ride inside the coach.”

“No, I will ride beside you.”

“But you have a frock on!”

“I think I can manage. Was this not the day you would let me rein Warrior and Soldier?”

“Yes, but I had not expected you this way. I am quite overcome. Would you care to change and allow me a proper evening out at another time where you can wear your frock? I think I am going to insist. We may have a wind kick up, and although I may appreciate it, it might not bode well for others to see me holding down your frock.” He laughed.

“But I wanted to look like a woman for you.”

“Squeaks, from your head to your toes, shows me that. You are always a woman to me. Please change. Perhaps, you have riding clothes such as I wear.”

“Are you quite decided on this?”

“I am.”

“Very well. I will be a few moments.”

As she walked away from him, Kip was struck with her slim build. The shapeliness of her hips and bust and legs were every bit female. He had fallen in love with her heart, her mind, and her face, never seeing her very feminine attributes. How unmanly of him, he thought to himself, and then laughed at the ridiculousness of such a notion. He had never known any woman who didn’t wear a frock. And now he was asking for her to change out of hers.

Squeaks was still breathtaking to Kip when she returned, wearing riding clothes and a dark green tam on her head. She was a pixie. At that moment, he thought of his sister. She had worn a tam when riding. Kip had seen few of those on women. Apparently, they could be a proper part of women’s riding apparel. He laughed when he saw her carrying a short crop with her.

“Are you off to the hounds, Miss Squeaks?”

“I might need this for you. My saddle is just in there,” she said pointing to the large stable door.

“Do you wish to ride today?”

“Can we do both? I brought apples for the horses.”

“Let me check.” Kip climbed to his bench and lifted it. “Yes, I still have my small saddle stored here. I think we can ride a bit, and I know just the place. Let me carry your saddle.”

He followed her into the barn. The depth of the stable surprised him. He started to wander down looking into all the stalls. “There must have been eight horses in here. Lord Stokes has eight horses?”

“No, he has ten. The wagon is out being used to collect firewood. I do not see it around here.”

“This is a mighty stable. He makes me jealous.”

“Someday you will have your Kipling line of livery, and then you can enjoy the pleasures of a fine stable.”

“One never knows, does one? Where is your saddle?”

Squeaks pointed to one hanging from a hook in the tack room. “There it is.”

“You ride astride?”

“Yes, another way father raised me. I am not sure it ever occurred to him, as I grew, to change it. There is no physical reason why I cannot ride astride.”

“Hmm… I have never had that conversation with anyone. Are you saying it couldn’t … it won’t…?”

“Yes, it can, to whatever you are embarrassed to ask. It’s a bit late, now. I’ve been riding astride for years. Can we go now unless you want a full accounting of the female body and riding?”

Kip, placed the saddle on the ground and folded his arms. Squeaks had started out the door and noticed he wasn’t behind her. She finally stopped and looked backward. “Why are you back there?”

“I am waiting for my full accounting you offered.”

He saw her blush.

“I don’t know you that well.”

Kip crooked his little finger.

She sighed and returned to him. “If you think I am going to ….” She felt his lips find hers. He walked her backward away from the door entrance to where no one could see them from the house.

Kip pressed her against the wooden stall door. He wrapped his arms around her, almost pinning her own arms to her side. He licked her lips over and over. His tongue pressed for entry, and she parted them for him.

She stiffened momentarily then softened to the gentle stroking of his tongue. Her struggle to free her arms abated.

He progressed from her mouth, wandering down her neck, kissing it and nipping here and there. Squeaks tilted her head back abandoning her inhibitions. Feeling her earlobe being suckled, she began to slide through his arms.

Kip smiled, backing his face away from her body as he held her by her waist.

“Thank you, Squeaks. That is quite a compliment. If you beat me with your crop, I had no feeling of it.”

Squeaks dropped her short whip. There was no reply from her, just as it had been at the pavilion that one night. He watched her eyes slowly open as if she had been in a dream.

“Shall we go, my sweets?”

“Sweets, I still like that,” she said in a raspy voice as she stumbled forward.

As his coach, pulled from the Stokes’ residence, Clyde hobbled back to his bed. There was a knock. It was Lord Stokes.

“Clyde, it looks like you have been out of bed. Looking out the window perhaps?”

“Yes, I admit I was.”

“You and I are like mother birds … unable to keep our chick from jumping out of the nest. I believe she is flying solo now. Anyway … enough of that. I wanted to tell you that I talked with Mr. Trevor Kipling before they left. I was most impressed by his manners, demeanor, and articulated words. He did admit to holding back something, which he would not tell me. He did impart some information that your daughter knows nothing of, and which he wishes to remain confidential. I gave him my word, but I am here to tell you that I like him very much. I believe whatever is behind the mystery to the man is nothing to fear. I am convinced that he loves our Squeaks, and come what may, he will protect her.”

“Thank you, sir. I would have done the same, but I am not in a position to do it from my bed. Here we are worried about Squeaks. I think we need to give some thought to what that young lad is in for with her. He has probably never seen the spirit she can display.”

“Quite true, Clyde. Whatever it is, I think he can handle her. He spoke of her naiveté, and perhaps she only thinks she may love him. He is prepared for her to realize her true feelings, which would not include him. He wants to be the first man for her to allow closeness, as, in his words, she needs to be nurtured and treated with delicacy. He has a fine mind. I wish my own son, wherever he is, can match this Kip someday.”

“Do you think when he said, ‘allow closeness’ means what it could mean?”

“I do not care to speculate on that. He will do right by her no matter what. He’s quite taken with her, and I do believe he is honorable.”

 

“Where are we going, Kip?” Squeaks asked as the wind refreshed her consciousness.

“Have you ever driven into a forest?”

“No. I’ve never been to a forest.”

“There is one about an hour’s ride northeast from here. I think we can picnic, let you drive the team, and we can ride the horses. We will also be very much alone. Does that worry you?”

“I believe you to be a gentleman, and I am safe with you. Am I wrong?”

“I didn’t feel very much like a gentleman the way I kissed you in the stable, I’m afraid.”

Squeaks was quiet. Her cheeks flamed red.

“I do believe you are blushing. It is most becoming on you. Your dimples look like cherries.”

“What did His Lordship want this morning?”

“Now, you must know the answer to that.”

“Nothing was mentioned to me. Several times you have told me that I should know something. I feel rather foolish at those times. I have emotions about a few things. I know what I very much like. Father doesn’t seem to be able to explain the feelings of love and how to recognize it. He says, ‘I will just know.”’

“You are right, Sweets. I have been remiss. You have me off balance with the person I’ve always known myself to be. When we are not driving, I will tell you of my feelings for you. I will not assume that you know them. As for Lord Stokes, he wanted to meet me. He thanked me for watching over you this past week and for the night training. He cares for you a great deal, and I am an unknown, who is taking you away today, for the first time. He wants to feel confident that I can protect you.”

“You’re tall and vigorous. You can protect me. Protect me from what exactly?”

“Probably protect you from myself. There is a big world out there with many different people. We are going to an area that we know little about. Who is going to protect me from you?”

“You will.”

“I’m not so sure I want that type of protection from anyone.”

 

Kip arrived at the outer rim of the vast forest. There were roads that crisscrossed through the dense woods. He turned onto a path and pulled to the side. He wanted to kiss the woman beside him but knew it would lead further than it should.

“Are you ready to rein Soldier and Warrior? They have been patiently waiting for your deft hand.”

“Like I’ve been waiting for yours?”

“Do you want the reins or not?”

“Oh yes, please.”

She won’t allow me to fight for control of myself.

“Do you want to sit right or center?”

“Do you mind if I sit center.”

“May I sit behind you?”

“Yes, of course. I will have more confidence if you were looking over my shoulder for a while.”

Kip moved back as far as he could, spreading his legs for her to fit in between them.

“I’m sorry. This is the best I can do, Sweets. We cannot have this.”

Squeaks looked at the situation. “Perhaps I will sit right.”

“No, I will move to the edge. You will sit center.”

“I … I …”

“You don’t have to say anything. That became quite obvious when I could not move further back. It was not intentional.” He should have known how it would look. He was just hoping to put his arms around her that way.

“Here are the reins. Take their heads and lead the way.”

“Walk on.” Squeaks ruffled the reins lightly. She thought it was too light a touch, but they responded.

“Kip, it was a very light touch on the reins. Are they reacting to the reins or the voice?”

“Both, I should think. They will react to the voice, but they only need a light hand to steer them. This type of horse is becoming very desirable because they can train well. If you read the old books, there are stories of the dedication of this horse to its rider four centuries ago. They were paired for life with their knight unless he was unfortunate. There is a myth that great warriors killed in battle return as great horses.”

“That is a fascinating story. I will hope to own one of these for myself someday. I would like to train one. I like training. He will dedicate himself to me.”

“You will be amazed when you ride one of them later today. What name would you give your own horse?”

“Oh, I’ve never given a thought to that. Let me think. By the way, how am I doing? Do they look nervous to you?”

“Sweets, you are doing an excellent job. Further ahead there are several small bridges and a few hard turns. After that is the last bridge. We will find an area near there to park. I will unharness them, and we will take them to the river to drink.”

“I have a name for my fabled horse.”

“Tell me.”

“Guess.”

“Guess?” Kip replied with incredulity.

“Well, you have told me their story of dedicating themselves to their master. They braved the battlefield with arrows and spears. I imagine a lot of them died during battle.”

“Yes, they did. They were almost wiped out. Eventually, full armor came along, and the knights became too heavy for these horses. Pestilence was next to take nearly all of them. That is why there are few, but coming back. So, your fairy-tale horse would be named Knight?”

“No, but I like that. They are as black as night, and they carried the knights. It may be better than my name.”

“Tell me your name.”

“I was thinking of Hero.”

“Hero! A splendid choice, if I do say so. Admiral is a good name as well as Knight. You are coming to the first bridge. I will be quiet.”

“I have never driven over an old wooden bridge before. Here we go.”

“Nothing extra to do, just keep them in the middle. They know wooden bridges. I said I was going to be quiet and just listen to me babble. Good. You came over that well. One thing to always know about your coach and team is how much wider your coach might be than your horses’ hindquarters. Some coaches are wider, and if you try to go over a narrow bridge just watching your team, you may lose a wheel off the edge. That would be catastrophic. Most of the coaches pulled by two horses are about the same width. Sometimes those large coaches, like touring coaches or those stagecoaches in the Americas, which all need four horses drawing, can be wider.”

“I wish I could live with you and know all you know.”

Kip opened his mouth to alert her to the next bridge but found himself stymied by her words.

“Here’s the next bridge,” Squeaks told an astonished Kip.

“Yes. Yes, I was just going to say that.”

“How much do these horses cost?”

“More than you have. Now watch the road.” The price of these horses would certainly add more questions that he was not prepared to answer, but truth be told they would cost an average lower-class worker around five years of wages or a London coach driver about four years for one of them.

“Can you see the turn ahead?”

“Yes.”

Kip sat back and folded his arms, gazed at the trees, hoping to give her a sense of confidence. He looked over at her profile. Her cheeks were ruddy from the wind.

“Can I take the pins from your hair?”

“Yes, if you wish.”

Kip pulled her tam off and stuffed it into his vest. He found a total of four pins. He pocketed them and again sat back watching the wind catch her long tendrils being blown about her face. There was a strand that caught on her moist lips. He pulled it from her face.

“Thank you.”

“I thank you. You are a vision, I must say. Am I allowed to say that?”

“What do you mean?”

“The other day I was overwhelming you with too much attention and compliments. Oh, here’s the hard turn.’

He sat up, although he had complete faith in her. She began to strain the reins in the turning direction. This was the motion he felt would forever prevent women from driving a team.

“Sweets, you need not pull so hard. These horses only need a light touch. They are not like your master’s horses.”
He went back to studying her hair. Now one was caught in her eyelashes. He slid over, putting his arm around her back and removing the wayward strand from her eyes with his other hand.

“Very nice, Sweets. One more and then a final bridge. You know … we make an excellent team.”

“I think so, too. I have thought about that several times.”

Kip wanted to ask her about that, but he would let it pass for now. She was concentrating, trying to give her lightest hand to their heads.

“I think I could let these reins go, and they would follow the road on their own.”

“Yes, they will, but eventually, they will stop if there is no one ruffling them to continue. And then there is the other action, which is to take off and fly.” Kip laughed, as that had happened to him as a young man.

“Where should I park?”

Kip sat up watching her hair begin to lie against her head. His arousal was painful.

“Just up the road is a small area to pull into.”

“How do you know about this place?”

“I brought a couple here, so the man could propose to his lady. He was aware of the area. I was not.”

“Squeaks, stop here. I will unharness the horses. Will you hold them while I push the coach backward? There is no turning room. We will park so that we can pull out easily.”

The two climbed down. Squeaks started looking over their rigging. It did not look too different from what she had been taught. She began loosening harness straps. Kip looked across the team, trying to watch her face as she studied the strappings. He could unharness blindfolded, so he did not need to watch what he was doing. All he could see was the top of her head. She was head height to Soldier’s back.

“How short are you, Sweets?”

“Don’t you mean to ask how tall I am?”

“I think I asked it correctly.”

“I am short compared to you, average for a woman, though.”

“I don’t think so.”

“How tall is an average woman?”

“Oh, about 5’5’’.”

“I am almost 5’1”.”

“That means I am three hands taller than you. In Stokes Castle, do you live in a toy box?”

“Are you going to carry me about on your shoulders?” she frowned but laughed.

“Sensitive about our height, are we?”

“I’m not, but I wouldn’t have thought you were,” she rebutted.

Laughing at that, “All right. Here are the reins.” Kip said, still chuckling at her comment.

Kip picked up the thill and easily rolled the coach backward.

“You make that look easy.”

“The wheels are heavily greased. Are you ready for a walk?”

“Yes, I’ll take this horse. Which one is he?”

“That is Soldier.”

“Give me a minute, I forgot something.” Kip handed the reins to her and went back to his box. Hoping she wouldn’t notice, he pulled a pistol from the box and slipped it into his pocket.

“Ready!”

Kip knew he could see the coach from the water’s edge. The last time he was here, the couple sat by the stream, and he stayed with his coach. He could see them if he wanted to, but he gave them their privacy, whether they knew it or not.

“Should I bring the basket with us?” he asked.

“It isn’t that far. Let’s leave it for a while. I would just like to sit by the water if the ground is dry.”

“The stream awaits,” he smiled.

Kip reached for her hand. Would she let him hold it while they walked? She did.

They walked in quiet, down to the bridge. Kip felt her small hand tighten around his fingers. He looked down at her, wondering what she was thinking. She was dwarfed by him on one side and Soldier on the other.

Kip wasn’t sure what happened, but he felt a sense of danger before he heard the sound. He grabbed at Soldier’s reins and shouted for Squeaks to run to the side of the road. Pulling bridles, Kip managed to move both horses off the road just as a flying coach and horses were on top of them.

“Are you, all right?” he shouted to Squeaks.

“Yes, Kip. And you and the horses? I thought Warrior might have been clipped.”

Dust from the road was still billowing in the air when Squeaks made it over to Kip. He handed her Soldier’s bridle and began to look over Warrior.

“He has been brushed by the wheel hub. Bloody idiots.” He squatted down to take a closer look. Relieved that no real harm was done, he let out a sigh. “He’s fine. I don’t think the skin is broken. Let’s get them to the river so I can wash the area.”

Kip didn’t know what Squeaks thought just happened. Was it the foolishness of a driver racing his team? Recalling back, Kip knew there had been an undeniable sensory expansion acknowledging the danger before he heard the coach. Immediately, he knew his sister was responsible for awakening his inherent protective reaction. Otherwise, a tragedy would have occurred. Moreover, the speed of that coach appeared suspicious.

By the riverbank, Kip soaked his handkerchief and wiped away the loose hair around Warrior’s abrasion. Using his hands, he inspected the leg bone, too.  Squeaks watched while she held on to Soldier lapping at the water.

“He’s fine. Our rest here will do him good, but he is well enough to pull us home.”

“What would you have done if Warrior was injured?”

Standing, shoving the handkerchief in his pocket, “I have never had that happen, but I would ride Soldier to the nearest town and rent a horse to pull with him. Warrior could travel behind, unhindered by the coach weight. Anything less, and I might have had to put a bullet in his head.” Kip literally shivered at the idea.

Kip mulled over again what had happened as the two horses slurped from the chilled stream.

“Find us a seat, Sweets. I will tie the horses and be with you in a moment.”

It was mossy and damp near the water’s edge. She traveled toward the inside of the forest and found a fallen tree. Sitting down on the leaf bed in front of it, Squeaks leaned against the log. She wondered what Kip thought about the charging coach. She had not been looking ahead, but down at her own hand holding Kip’s. They could have been seriously injured or worse, but Kip saved her first. The driver must have been a madman, or his master was in a furious hurry. That slight bend in the road could have hidden them until the last moment. It was an old coach, once used by a privileged family.

Kip sat beside her and took her hand once again. “You’re trembling.”

“Yes, I guess I am You could have been hurt, saving your horses. I was not looking ahead. I never saw it coming until you called for me to run. You saved all of us from a horrible accident.”

“Don’t give me that much credit. You will learn as a driver, that you will make quick decisions. In a second, you can visualize the impending problem and compensate for changing the outcome. We do that in life, Sweets.”

“We do? How?”

“Had you not spoken with Lord Stokes about a building regard that I have for you …”

“And mine for you, too.” Squeaks interrupted.

“With reacting first, you probably have avoided a lot of questions and worry by those men who love you. Here you are with me today. We are alone. We are not hiding from anyone. You and I are freely deciding to be together. Personally, I think you just want to be with my horses.”

“Kip,” Squeaks began looking at her hands, not into his face, “I think I love you. I am young and naïve and never had a romantic thought about a man, but I think of you all the time. I cannot promise that it is love because I don’t know how that feels. But I like how I feel with you. Friday night I felt so empty until I spotted you. I was almost mad that you had to be called over. I thought about that later and understood why you did that. These may be words a lady ought not to say.”

Kip moved next to her and wrapped his arm around her shoulder ensuring her hair wasn’t caught under him. The breeze was fluttering through the long strands which he was intently watching. “Why … Sweets? Why was I not there immediately?”

He heard a small sniffle. Kip turned facing her profile, as she spoke peering at the moving water.

“You did that for my own reputation, didn’t you? You thought we needed to show some distance or rumors were sure to start. You did it for me.”

Kip was silent, still watching her face. She finally turned to face him. She was flushed. Her eyes were glistening, but she wasn’t crying.

Squeaks met his eyes and his smile, which was waiting for her.

“Are you not going to say anything?” She began to fret at his silence.

“Yes. I have been practicing something to say.”

“Practicing? Saying what??”

 

She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes;

Thus mellowed to that tender light

Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

 

One shade the more, one ray the less,

Had half impaired the nameless grace

Which waves in every raven tress,

Or softly lightens o’er her face;

Where thoughts serenely sweet express,

How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

 

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,

So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,

The smiles that win, the tints that glow,

But tell of days in goodness spent,

A mind at peace with all below,

A heart whose love is innocent!

 

The tears rolled down her face as she listened.

“I’m sorry. Was that too personal?”

“No, it is beautiful. It is Byron, is it not?”

“Yes. I remembered the ‘raven tresses’ when seeing your hair. I have labored to remember it completely for you.”

“Why are you so nice all the time? I’ve never felt this comfortable before. When I am with you, it is a different world to me. Please do not play with my new feelings. It is challenging to wander through these blissful emotions. I want to enjoy them and not harden myself against them for fear of being hurt when they disappear. I am lost in this world of love and your romantic overtures.”

Kip heard words that only were in his dreams. He could not bring himself to interrupt the purest echoes resonating within him.

“The way you kissed me this morning in the stable caused new … well … I … there was much more awareness . . . umm …”

“Emotional feelings?” I must have her.

“More than that. It was something physical,” she said, embarrassed.

“Sweets, I think you are falling in love. I certainly know I have, but overtures; it will only be. You have changed my world, sweet lady. You know that you’re the breath of my life. You fill my senses. I wait from one moment to the next to see you, to hold you, to feel your hands touching me. I want to run my fingers through that long black mane you have. And I want to pleasure you beyond your own belief. Please don’t weep. I don’t know what to do when you weep. I’ll tell you one of the many reasons I love you more than there are words to explain it. Simply, I love you because you are you. You are Rebecca Dorset, a young lady raised by her father who allowed her spirit to fly. I’ve had my fair share of lady friends, and inevitably play the game of ladies. Oft times there is a myriad of meetings, both clandestine and proper before the final curtain is lifted. It is then that I see the true woman behind the expected shyness, who plays her games to hold my attention. Most of them are not interested in a long-term relationship. They merely want a man on their arm to take them places, and some solely want just intimacy. It is difficult for a man to find the perfect match for himself. I see none of those games in you, and I credit your father for that. It may not be from what he was teaching but rather what he wasn’t teaching you. Unknowingly, I believe he taught you what a man can understand about a woman, and made you uncomplicated. Men are common thinking and women are more complex. Had you a mother, I believe our situation would be very different and perhaps difficult at this point. With your naivete, spirit, bravery to achieve what you want, even though forever thought impossible, innocence and honesty, I feel I have known you my whole life. I dare any man to say these same words about his lady. You are an exception to every rule I’ve come to know about women, and I love you for it. I embrace the unexpected in you.”

“Your words are stirring my soul, I can’t think. My head cannot take it all in. I have this thrill of soaring when I am with you, yet I fear to fall.”

Kip faced her and pulled her into his arms during her sobbing storm. When their eyes met, the moment stood still. Before she could encircle his neck, his lips were upon hers. One kiss followed another and another until he roamed down her neck, which he had been yearning to taste. There he dwelled and licked her skin that was showing over her buttoned shirt. Her response to that was sensual. He returned to her mouth and parted her lips repeatedly.

He pulled her into his lap. As she opened to him, her tongue met his, and they salaciously intertwined. Occasionally, he would retract it and reenter. She ran her hands across the front of his vest, feeling the strength in his chest.

Kip left her mouth and began to nuzzle towards her cleavage and discovered no corset. There was nothing fitted there to cause him to cease. He was embarrassed that she might feel movement on her backside from his lap. A piece of innocence chipped away as she heaved a heavy sigh.

After a moment, he set her back down beside him and held his head in his hands. “I am destroying your innocence little by little. I don’t want this for us. I have never been obsessed with anyone as I seem to be with you, Rebecca. I’ve always been a gentleman until now. I am losing myself,” he said hanging his head. I am becoming just a man around you and no longer the gentle-man. “I am going to scare you away. Please forgive me for being so forward. This is totally improper.”

Squeaks had concern on her face. “What do you mean to do? We love each other.”

He had no answer that he could tell her.

“Do you want to love me?” she asked.

“Yes. Desperately. I want to love you slowly. I must take these beautiful steps with you so we can enjoy them longer. I can’t imagine anything more perfect and pleasurable that could happen for us in the rest of our lives. Down deep, I seem to want to brand you as my own property.” Kip stood, paced and threw his hands in the air as if asking God for permission. “I don’t even believe what I hear myself saying to you after such a short acquaintance. These should only be my personal thoughts. When you spoke of being wooed to death, that set something off inside. I knew I couldn’t live without you. I want to skip over the wooing and go straight to pleasuring you. You are making it far too easy. You are too free with the favors you bring to a man. We shouldn’t have it this easy. Men pay for the ease you are allowing. Can you see my confusion? Because I love you, I want to take you, and yet I hear myself saying, don’t permit me such access. These are things that only a mother teaches her daughter, for which I am glad you haven’t learned. It’s not you, sweets. It’s me. If you knew how you shall be one day, you would understand why I feel I always need to be in control of myself.”

“What can I do to help?”

“I can’t believe you are asking that question as if I had rights to you. I need to get through this on my own. Someday I hope you understand why that is important to me.”

“My father wants me to be happy above all else. I want to make you pleased. You are making me happy.”

“Yes, but this is wrong if left unabated in so many ways. We’re charting our course to a physical relationship, and I know it’s not what your father meant by happiness. If you were just any woman, I would have no cares. There is guilt here, and I have ruined my life once with guilt. I am afraid I will ruin yours. And even though the physical relationship is what we desire right now, there is so much more to loving someone. That’s what you have to know within yourself.”

“I don’t understand that.”

“I know you don’t. And you should know what I mean by that. It is so much you don’t know about love and about me. I am the experienced lover between the two of us. This is totally my responsibility, no matter how encouraging you are.”

“Are you sure?”

“No, but please do not discuss this with your father. The world has opened up to you too quickly. You attained your goal. You are meeting the world outside Stokes. You are interacting with men for the first time. These are intoxicating experiences for a young woman and all men.”

“Do not worry about that. Your kisses and attentions are making my body fully aware of where the next step could lead. I think I still have enough strength to say no, not yet.”

“I believe you think so, but you don’t. I am still not sure in my heart that you know what you want. As you said, this is all new, it’s more than pleasant, and it begs to grow. My horizon is to love you beyond life itself. This does not give me unlimited privileges with you. I have another life you know nothing of. Someday, when the time is right, I will tell you. You must know me in every way before you give yourself to me. That knowledge could change the way you feel toward me and the life I must live.”

“What are you saying, Kip?”

“I don’t know. I think I am talking more to myself than you. I hadn’t expected my advances to be this well received. Can we lay this discussion down? I will collect my sketch pad and the basket. I must reflect on this when I am alone, which up until now has done me no good at all.”

“No more kissing?”

“Not for a while, Sweets.” Kip walked through the woods toward his coach.

As he tramped through the thick leaves, he was aware of the fool he was making of himself. He had been with a woman recently; it was not a physical need driving him, yet he was acting like it. She was of age. She was receptive. She regarded him. Where was the nurture and delicacy he’d promised himself? Away from her, his plans seemed honorable and gentlemanly. With her, they all went to hell. He couldn’t think around her anymore. He didn’t know what he could do about it. He couldn’t marry her and take away her career, not yet anyway.  Resistance was useless.  There had to be a way. Above all, for her or for him, it was not going to be paid for by her reputation.

Kip reached the coach and collected the luncheon-basket, the old coverlet, and his sketching kit.

Chapter 15 The Friday Event

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Chapter 15
Meeting His Lordship

Kips carriage arrived ahead of the Stokes carriage. The parking yard was ablaze with torches, and Kip spotted Squeaks as she turned into the yard. Lord Stokes was exited at the front of the ballroom, and Squeaks parked her team in the next available space. There was no random parking tonight, she could see. Everyone formed a line of teams.

Kip felt pain around his heart, as he noticed all the other drivers following her with their eyes. He smiled, seeing her cravat and watch chain. She went to her most professional look.

God, how I love her.

He watched as she applied the brake and then wrapped her reins around that. Someone, most likely her father, taught her to extinguish her lanterns, conserving the oil.

She was beautiful tonight. Her big, wide black bow framed her petite face. She wore her livery skirt and the silk top hat. There was no mistaking her for a man this time. His chest tightened as drivers started to stroll towards her. He decided to watch for a while.

His heart raced when she appeared to be looking for someone. He supposed it was him. The way she left him last night, the thought that she was searching for him now lifted his spirits.

Kip sat back, folded his arms, and propped up his boots on the driver’s footboard. He was proud seeing her being admired by so many other professionals. Time was needed for her to fully prove herself. And time was what he needed to properly recommend himself to her. He smiled seeing she was clutching the whip. Suddenly, he could tell she spotted him. He sat up straight. In a casual manner, she waved him over. Kip wanted to be over there and hear about her drive to the ballroom. Patiently, he kept his eye on her. This was what it must have been like this morning. Then he remembered she had Boots, the footman, and no one now.

Kip climbed down to the ground and saw her doing the same, except she was descending into a throng of men. They might jostle her around. She still clasped tightly to her whip.

Squeaks pushed her way through the men, even though her breasts were skimming some of them, just to be on the outer rim, when Kip arrived. She saw him tip his hat to her. She curtsied. Kip look pleased, and she smiled broadly back at him. The curtsy caught the attention of many, and they looked his way.

Kip looked heavenward and thanked his sister.

“Good evening, Miss Squeaks. How was your drive from the Castle? The bridge over the moat give you any problems in the dark?” he kidded.

“I am feeling a bit proud right now. No jerks, sways, ruts, or hard turns. I will be told how I did later tonight; I am sure. His Lordship wanted to talk with me when I got home last night.”

“So, I heard.”

“You heard? How do such things travel about?”

Kip realized that he could not tell her that his father had told him. “I believe I told you we are a brotherhood. We hear a lot that is not actually spoken to us. What did you tell Lord Stokes, if I may ask since I was responsible for you?”

“He wants to have a private talk with you before we go out on Sunday.” Squeaks was so full of happiness; she could not resist the temptation to surprise him.

“Are you in earnest?”

“Yes.”

“Can you tell me what you know?” Kip took her elbow and walked her into the empty center of the ringed parking yard where there was less chance of being overheard.

“I told him almost everything. Perhaps, it is better to tell you what I did not tell him.”

“However, you want to say it, sweets.”

“Sweets, not Squeaks? I like that.”

“I do too, but I didn’t know I was saying it.”

“I told him about my embarrassment with Lord Astaire. I think he laughed.”

“Stokes did?”

“Yes, but he said he and Father had drunk too much scotch waiting for me to come home. I told him about pulling the coach out of the yard with you going back and forth. I did not mention going to the park, but I told him you kissed me. I think that is why he wants a private word with you on Sunday.”

“I see.”

“He asked me if you fancied me. I told him no.”

“You said that to him? I fear you have lied to your Lord.”

“I told him I thought you loved me.”

Startled for words, Kip flustered before speaking. “You did not lie to him. I do think I love you.”

“I told him I thought I felt the same way.”

“You said that to Lord Stokes?”

“And father, too.”

“You are overwhelming me as you say I do to you.” He noticed how she was smiling as she looked up to him. “We both need a further conversation on this matter.”

This is unimaginable. It is all too fast.

Kip rubbed his forehead. This was so hard to believe. Her admission of her feelings was something he was not prepared for. He felt this couldn’t be that real for her.

“They are not sure that I mean it.”

“Quite frankly, I feel as they do.”

“Since I have never loved, this might not be the true emotion.”

“That should be your own question, as well. You don’t know me.”

“I know all I have to know. We have time to understand what we have.”

“As long as it takes for you to be sure, my sweet.”

Squeaks could see his eyes in the torch lighting glittering from unshed tears.

“After the way you left me last night, I thought I had lost you.”

“Kip, Lord Stokes asked me why I looked taken aback, and I reminded him that you had kissed me. You completely overwhelmed me in body and heart last night. I thought it all a dream.”

“God, I want to take you and hold you so badly right now. Last night is nothing to what I want for you and me. These feelings are new to me, too. I have been with women, but something deeper and more primitive is at work here. Let’s walk back to the others. I am getting carried away. I do not trust myself at this moment … this momentous moment in my life. One last thing?”

“Yes?”

“Will there come a time in your life when you will not discuss everything with His Lordship and your father?”

“Where my personal life is concerned, that has started now. I had to introduce your importance to me somehow, and last night seemed to be an opportune time. I don’t want to hide anything from the people who raised and love me or even to your friends. They are now aware of our interest in knowing each other. That is all they need to hear. I believe I can actually feel myself becoming a true ‘woman-in-waiting.’”

“Do not say anymore. We will talk on Sunday. I can barely weather your womanhood at this moment.”

“Well . . . I am sorry. It is all your fault.”

“I hope I am never forgiven, Kip replied, looking at his boots.”

#

“Squeaks, would you care to talk a few moments with me about tonight,” His Lordship asked upon returning home and exiting the coach.

“Yes, sir. I would like to know your opinion.”

“See me once you are settled.”

“Yes, milord.”

Squeaks drove around to the back stable where a stable boy was waiting to put away the team and clean the coach.

“Did you do a good job tonight, miss?” Asked the groom.

“I think I did. His Lordship is going to tell me how he felt about it, now.”

“Good luck, Miss Squeaks.”

She looked at herself before entering the main hall. Snapping her uniform into shape, feeling her cravat, and checking her watch chain for a proper look, she knocked at the door.”

“Come in, Squeaks. Would you care to sit?”

“No, sir. I will stand.”

“I will not take much of your time. With your father and his many years of experience, I have paid little heed to the comfort of my ride. This past week, I have made it a priority to be aware of such actions, as I know you are learning. For more years than I can count you have wanted to follow in your father’s footsteps. I am here to tell you that you have succeeded most notably. I know tonight was difficult for you. I paid attention to the lighting and what you had to negotiate on our route. I would never have known your father wasn’t in the box. In fact, and this is between you and me, I believe it was a smoother ride than when he drives. I have to take back all of my doubts about you having the strength or capability to master such a position. I have been wrong. I sincerely doubt just any woman could accomplish what you have, but your perseverance has held true through the years. Your body is small, and your strength is not that of a man, but there is little evidence of that being a hindrance for you. I just wanted to let you know I am very proud of you.”

Tears formed in her eyes.

“Although I have thought of this in the past, last night brought home to me, that you are a woman now, and may not be a driver all your life. There will come a time when you will want to be a wife and mother, I suppose. You will leave my service one day. My goal until that day is an interest that you make your best choice. I will not make any for you, but I may question you, if you allow me, as to the probability that you have thought through any final decisions. You may think that I am talking specifically about Kip, but I am not. Two years henceforth, you may wish to open a training school for women drivers, I do not know,” he laughed. “However, your father and I have nothing but your happiness in mind. We want you to achieve that most of all.”

Squeaks found it difficult to stand and face all these complimentary words from His Lordship. She finally looked away unable to shoulder the accolades.

“I have talked far longer than I wanted to,” Lord Stokes said, seeing tears roll down her face. She never once wiped them away. “Just know that I am proud of you, and I believe the world is at your feet, now. That is all.”

Sniffling she said, “Thank you, milord. It is only by your good graces that I am where I want to be.”

“I cannot take all the credit. Your father has raised you, not I.”

“But through your kindness, you have given me the opportunity to be what I wanted to be. Father helped me get there, but you made it possible and you have just praised my work. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

“All right. Enough of this from both of us. I will need to visit a friend tomorrow noon. You will have your day off on Sunday. Now, be gone with you.”

“Good night, milord.”

 

Kip spent little time with his Father when he delivered him home. There was too much on his mind. Discussing other matters would be a distraction he did not want. He said good-bye and that he would meet for dinner before Gus returned to Norcaster.

His work finished for the night, Kip slipped out of his tails, trousers, and boots and relaxed on his couch in only his undergarments. It had only been a week, but his existence had been turned upside down. Perspectives and goals had changed. If their interest in each other was to be known, he was anxious for all to know. The fewer men hovering over her, the better. She had actually said the words he was building up to say in the foreseeable future, and she repeated them back to him. His head was still swimming. Declaring themselves, was quite a distance away, he had imagined.

All of this happiness that was racing towards him prompted him to begin thinking of his life ahead. At some point, she would have to know who he really was. He would have to decide what he wanted or needed to do. Nevertheless, one thing he did know, he wanted her by his side. But would she stand by him if he was an Earl? She was quite used to being part of a nobility household but as a staff member. Marrying into it was another huge challenge for her. He would take his time, and when the moment was right, and his decision made, he would talk with her about it. He wasn’t eager to pull her away from her new-found career that was two decades in the making. Not only was she making her own career, but she was also setting examples for other women. She could be at the forefront of the woman’s movement and wouldn’t know it. Those were just rumblings now, but soon would be making their demands known. She may even become prominent in her own right.

He looked forward to Sunday with eager anticipation. Being alone with her had only been a dream until the pavilion at the park. He vowed to keep himself controlled. With declarations behind them, he hoped his obsession for her would be abated, at least to a moderate degree.

Kip decided to gather all of his charcoals to take with him. Although her hair was pitch black, he had to capture those light blue eyes and lightly tanned, creamy skin.

 

Saturday evening, Squeaks looked into her wardrobe. It was practically bare except several livery uniforms, white shirts, and stable clothes. She even hung her gloves as her father had taught her. She had one dress for funerals, and one gown passed down to her from Lady Stokes, but she had never worn it. It was not appropriate for a Sunday picnic anyway. Squeaks began canvassing the maids and found the perfect simple dress she could borrow. If Kip was going to be escorting her places, she would have to use some of her savings and have one or two frocks made. Carrying the frock back to her room, she realized she had no stockings or shoes. “What a bad way I’m in,” she sighed. Back to the maids again, where she found success to some extent.

Slipping on the dress, she found it difficult to see herself at full length. Her father had a full mirror; she headed to his room. Walking in, her father beamed.

“Squeaks, dear. Is that really you? I have never known you to wear a dress. Where did you get that?”

“I had to borrow it from Bessy. I needed stockings and shoes too. I think you skipped a few lessons with me,” she frowned. “Father, I need a day during the week to go and get fitted for a couple of frocks. If I am to be seeing Kip outside of driving, I want to look like a woman.”

“My dear, you do look like a woman.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I guess I do. Rearing you has had me scratching my head more often than you know.”

“You taught me the most important parts of life. The women have taught me about myself, and very little about men. It’s time for me to put that to use.”

“I hope I am not misreading you, my dear.”

“I don’t know, are you? Have you ever looked into my wardrobe? I am not sure if my undergarments are for men or women.”

Her father laughed out loud. “I am sorry, child. I was never knowledgeable about women’s fashions.”

“I don’t even have a corset.”

“I do know what that is. You should have one of those. Oh dear, how I have let you down. What will you wear under that frock?”

“I will wear the undergarments that are still in question and a shift to cover the top of me. No wonder I jiggle. It is getting painful to jiggle. They have some weight; you know?”

“Yes, I do know that. Your mother taught me. It seems you are top-heavy like your mother. It’s times like this that I know how much I have missed teaching you. We shall buy a suitable wardrobe for you.”

“Do you think Kip will understand?”

“Understand? I certainly hope not.”

“I mean will I look like a charwoman?”

“Never in your lifetime, my dear.”

“Father, I have a strong regard for Kip. I do not want to shame myself with my clothes.”

“Dear, if he loves you, as I suspect he does; you could never shame yourself to him.”

“I hope you are right about that.”

“I do know one or two things. I was a young man once upon a time.”

“Oh Father, I love you. However, I think some items are lacking in my femininity.”

“Like what, precisely?”

“Like what do I do with the feeling I have when being kissed. I want to leap out of my skin.”

“Let me work on that.” Clyde was embarrassed by himself for never properly speaking with her about the things his wife would have taught her. He was a man and wasn’t quite sure what a woman feels.

#

Sunday morning came, and Kip pulled into the Stokes’s stable area. He drove his day coach, and he dressed as a man riding a horse – no livery. A stable hand escorted him to the kitchen. There he asked to see the Butler.

Several minutes later, Morgan came to greet him.

“I believe Lord Stokes wished to speak with me today,” Kip told the Butler. “I will wish to see Miss Dorset after my talk with His Lordship.”

“Very good, sir. I believe she is waiting. Your name, sir?”

“Trevor Kipling.”

“This way, sir.”

Kip followed the Butler, being more than a little nervous. They came to a set of big doors. The Butler opened one side, and announced, “Trevor Kipling to see you, sir.”

“Show him in.”

“Good morning, Kip,” he was greeted by Squeaks.

He bowed, “Good morning Your Lordship, good morning, Miss Squeaks.”

“His Lordship said I must leave when you arrived. I will collect our luncheon-basket and wait outside for you.”

“Very good, miss.”

Squeaks was smiling while he was dying inside. She backed out of the room, paying close attention to His Lordship’s face. The door closed behind her.

“Sit, Mr. Kipling.”

“I would prefer to stand, sir.”

“I wish you not to stand on formality on this occasion. Please sit. Can Morgan offer you some refreshment?”

“No, sir,” Kip said finding a large chair.

Lord Stokes took the opposite chair.

“I am sure you are wondering why you are here or perhaps have an idea, but still, wonder why a Lord would seek to know the goings-on of a staff member.”

“Sir, I believe most drivers know of your kindness to the Dorset’s. I will speak honestly with you about that, sir, if I may.”

“Thank you, proceed.”

“It is known that you have a fondness for Squeaks since she was born. It is believed that you never had a daughter and found that missing child in Rebecca. There have at no time been any other rumors about your interest in her. It is plain to see she has been loved, treated well, and reared with care.”

“I believe your arrow has flown true with your understanding. However, I would like to speak of her future. She tells me that there is regard for you, and she feels you have an interest in her.”

“Yes, sir. More than interest, sir. I am sure I love her. I do understand that she is naïve in this world and may be mistaking her heart for more than is actually there. Being the first man in her life, outside of yourself and her father, I am quite aware that her interest in me might not be what I hope it to be. I am prepared for that. It could be envy for my knowledge of a trade she professes to love. I understand you had a conversation with her in her regard for me and in her perceived regard of I for her. Nothing had ever been mentioned or intimated beyond friendship until that time.”

“Well . . . it seems you know why you are here. I do know it is not my place to pry into her affairs, and they will be laid to rest after our conversation unless a matter is brought to me.”

“Understood, Sir. You are correct. She is of age to handle her own affairs, but I am thankful she has the guidance of Your Lordship and her father. At the same time, I would be honest in hoping you do not stand in her way when she is resolute, whether it be a career, or marriage, or whatever her heart desires.”

“I take your meaning as well and admire your honesty and courage to say that to me. May I ask a few questions?”

“By all means, Your Lordship.”

“I understand from several levels of society that you possess a remarkable skill in your trade, but also I am told that your own values in life are exceedingly high and unexpected for a man of your bearing. You are a mystery to many.”

“Yes, sir. I have been told that.”

“Are there any words that you can say to me to alleviate this anxiety her father and I feel about you?”

“Lord Stokes, I will tell you what I feel I can, but I would hope this would remain confidential between yourself, only, and me. It will not be the entire story, but if the day comes and Miss Rebecca accepts a suit that I offer, you will know all there is about me, and she will, too. There will be undeniable proof at hand, but big decisions are ahead.”

“Agreed. Proceed.”

“I was reared in a titled home. I am extremely well educated but wish that wasn’t known, as there are questions, I cannot answer. I am not in trouble with the law. I do not have loose morals or bad habits. I have suffered the loss of a beloved family member which has impacted my life severely. Depression has followed me. I had to leave home and redefine myself. Finding interest in the coachman trade has brought back some self-worth. It has helped me get back on my feet as a responsible man. I take pride in my profession and wish to provide the best possible service.”

“Miss Squeaks is entering my life and giving me back hope and a sense of self that I had lost. She knows nothing of this. I do not love her for what she is doing for me. I love her for who she is. My intentions towards her are sincere. I know she needs to be nurtured and handled with delicacy. I wish to be the man in her life whom she allows a closeness. I will never hurt her. I will protect and defend her. Her happiness is my ultimate desire in life. I wish there were more I could add, and I will should she accept me. Sir, I hope this puts your worries aside.”

“A titled English family, you say. Are you a firstborn son?”

“I am, Sir.”

“Thank you, Mr. Kipling, for being straightforward and honest. I fear you have raised more questions than answered, but I am content that you mean what you say about taking care of Squeaks. I also want to thank you for your attention to her safety during this past week and her training in night driving. I must admit she had a compelling tale about herself that night being a footman. It seems the House of Lords found great favor in hearing it.”

Kip felt awkward. “I apologize, Sir, for any embarrassment. I wish I could have foreseen such an issue.”

“Perhaps, it is just as well that you didn’t. Squeaks has grown into a beautiful young woman. She has great pride in her chosen profession. She is spirited, delightful, and far too outspoken to me, her Lord and master, but I have encouraged it, I admit. Her father and I are quite jealous that she is allowing another man into her life who we will share, but she is grown now. I do know that these relationships are not always what one hopes, but whether the two of you see your way far into the future or not, I do believe you will always take care of her. You say you were raised in a ‘titled’ family, but that does not mean that your land, connections or finances are in good stead. Should you be, however, barriers will be thrown in your way. I wish you the best. If you have no questions, I believe you have satisfied my curiosity, and you may go.”

“Thank you, Lord Stokes, for your confidence in me to watch over and love a very special gift to us all. I will protect her with my life, so help me. Good day, sir.”

Chapter 13 Night Bloom

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Inspector Marshall was waiting patiently for Kyle and the sketching policeman to finish his drawing of the driver who was unknown to everyone.

“I had not thought of this, until now,” Kyle said, “but I think his top hat was frayed and well worn. He must have come from another place. London drivers are not that rumpled. Too many high-borns to hail a cabby looking like that. He definitely does not fit the London independent coachman and certainly not a liveried staff driver. He looked like he was from the Whitechapel district if you ask me. I cannot see anyone attending that affair who would hail or hire a driver from that area.”

Marshall sat back smoking his pipe. Whitechapel could have drivers hardly seen by the London mainstream coachmen. Perhaps, there were some with no scruples who would do anything for money. That would be his next area to investigate once he had this sketch in hand.

Finally, a face was born. Kyle thought it to be the best he could remember, but it was dark that night. “I’m sorry. I wish I could do better. I can draw the coach for you, though.”

Kyle took the pad and pencil in hand and slowly sketched the coach. To Inspector Marshall, it looked like every other coach out there, but Kyle started pointing out differences. One of the biggest differences was that it could carry four people, similar to Kip’s. Peerage families have at least one of these. It was old as if discarded from a wealthy family. It was muddied, looking as though it had been driven some distance before arriving. Inspector Marshall seemed to get lost when Kyle started talking about the suspension.

 

Typically, Kip gathered with the other men talking but not this evening. He was training.

Squeaks asked about the “Apostles” and “The Almighty” words that had been spoken. As Kip began his story, feeling slightly self-conscious about their reference to him, several lads came out and lit the yard torches, so the drivers had a small amount of light. Kip continued his story, dismayed to see his area being lit. He would have preferred only the lighting coming from the back of the building.

“Kip, you know a lot about me, but I know little about you. I very much want to hear of your life growing up and how you came to be a coachman.”

“Squeaks, I am not ready to speak with anyone concerning my upbringing, but I will tell you something  that no one knows.”

“Thank you for that.”

“I have a father, and a brother, and had a sister. She was murdered over a year ago, and that sent me to the depths of depression. I will not speak of her now; I still find it difficult. I left home shortly after that. From there I wandered to London, and the first person I met was Marc, my coachman. The job looked ideal for me. I was visible but hidden if you know what I mean. That is not so true anymore, but I love this life. In all honesty, I cannot say it will be my entire life. I will have responsibilities that must be settled within the family.”

“May I ask a question?”

“Yes, but I may not answer just yet.”

“Are you running from something?”

Kip chuckled. “No, I am not running from anything or anyone except myself. I am sorry to tell you so little. No one even knows I have a sister who died recently.”

“May I ask how you have been able to afford the coach and rare horses?”

Kip mulled that around in his mind. “They have not been purchased with ill-gotten gains. I would rather wait on telling you that if you do not mind.”

“I do not mind whatever it is. I might mind if I knew something was affecting you sadly, and I tend to think it is.”

“Please, do not speculate on my character.”

“If you say so, I will not. You do know you are a mystery to many?”

“Yes, I am a mystery to everyone, including my family. Within me, there are solutions I must seek. I hope that does not affect our new friendship.”

“Friendship? Is that what this is?”

“I am a gentleman. That is the only way I should see it at this time.”

“But … you wish it to be different?”

“Yes. Above all, I hold dear.”

“You fancy me?”

“I do fancy you. Does that upset you, Squeaks?”

“No. I welcome it.”

Kip removed his top hat and hers. He turned to her and could tell she knew he wanted to kiss her. His eyes roamed her face, finally resting on her mouth. He felt her hold his hand, which was resting on his knee. Kip tentatively began to lean towards her, still watching her wet, trembling lips. His eyes drifted to hers before she closed them. Their lips met. It was a light kiss, with Kip taking in her sweet breath. The luscious sensation traveled his body like warm honey, seeking out every part of him.

Squeaks moved her hand to his shoulder, and Kip placed his hand on her waist, moving towards her middle back.

He reluctantly pulled back to see her acceptance of his advance. Her eyes were still closed. He slid his body closer to her and kissed her again, this time encircling her with his arms. Regretfully, Kip heard someone whistling. He let go of her with a sigh as he sat back. That interruption was painful. Bloody hell. He was immediately deflated, which all in all, was better for Squeaks, he realized. Although desperately, he wanted that smooth, exquisite ivory neck of hers, which had been beckoning him for days.

Squeaks whispered, “That was wondrous.”

“Kip, I thought that was you,” called a voice. Oh, I see you have … a … a woman with you?”

“Kyle, this is Squeaks, driver for Lord Stokes.”

“Hello miss. You are the one everyone has been talking about. It is nice to meet you. Is Lord Stokes here tonight? This does not seem his type of affair.”

“No, he is not here, but Kip is showing me how to drive at night since I have to drive Lord Stokes tomorrow evening.”

“Yes, I guess we will all be working tomorrow night. I say, Kip, I have just come from seeing Inspector Marshall. I drew the coach, but another officer drew the driver. It looks a little like him, but I could not explain what I saw in my head. I did the best that I could.”

“I am sure you did, Kyle. Did he have any thoughts?”

“I believe he is going to canvas the Whitechapel area, where a coach like that one could have been hired.”

“That is a good idea.” Kip could hardly talk, thinking about their kiss, and Squeaks was silent herself.

“Anyone here?”

“Marc is here, and I think Jonathan is too. I have not seen him, though.”

“I will go find Marc and disturb you no longer. Good luck, Miss Squeaks. Please know that all of Kip’s friends are at your service and hope the best for you.”

“Thank you, Kyle. I am genuinely grateful. It is nice to have friends among all these men. I may come to rely on all of you at times.”

“Miss, we are your humble champions. Never forget that. Good night.”

As Kyle walked away, Squeaks said, “I feel like I am building an army.”

“You are Squeaks . . . you most certainly are.”

Silence reigned for a few moments; neither having words to proceed such an overture.

Kip thought about what she had just said. He feared his heart would break realizing she was out alone driving the coach at night. Knowing that she was building an army, a large portion of admirers watching over her, gave him some relief. Anyone of them would come to her aid if it was needed.

Squeaks began to speak but stopped herself.

“Please, go on milady,” Kip implored.

“Was that kiss to warn the other drivers away from me or was their real meaning to it? I must know.”

“I have overstepped my boundary.”

“So … it was just for show?”

“No, it was genuine. I beg your pardon, even if it was not unpleasant. I’m getting too far ahead of myself with you.”

They both sat there quietly, wondering what to say or do next. The fear of being seen kissing her was too great an issue for her reputation. Kip assured himself as a gentleman.

“Squeaks, about before …” he was interrupted.

“I understand. I will remember it always, even if it never happens again. It was pure and sacred to me.”

Looking into her eyes, he could see the pool of tears reflecting the golden glow of the yard torches. One slipped down her cheek, and Kip wiped it away with the back of his finger.

“No. Permit me to make myself understood. I wish to be alone with you before I do that again. I will not chance to put your character in any doubt. I should not have done that here and now, as I did. I should have waited.”

“So, does that mean I will be paid later?”

Kip smiled, “If you wish it. I have coin, though.”

“I’ll take your first offer if it is like what just happened.”

Kip had moved away, watching her profile in the torch lighting when Kyle unexpectedly returned. The light was at a distance, and her head and body were silhouetted against the brilliant firey torches. He wanted to reach over and pull the pins from her hair. He’d wanted to do a lot for her, but he must lay those thoughts aside.

Their talking turned to night driving eventually and other small talks about his friends and his sketching until it looked as if the event was coming to an end. Footmen were calling out names to the torch-lit driver’s yard for the lords and ladies who were waiting for their coaches.”

“Do I stay up here with you, this time, Kip?” She looked at him with excitement.

“Yes, Miss Squeaks, you do. You will exit the couple when we arrive at their residence. Remember to wait for a signal. These people have been married for a long time. I doubt you will have to wait at all. I am not sure if you bow or curtsy. What did you do before?”

“I bowed. If I wear a skirt, which I will from this day forward, I will curtsy. I still want to maintain my image as a woman and not one wishing to be a man.”

“I am pleased to hear that,” he smiled. “That suits me as well.”

Kip handed her the top hat she had worn and popped on his own. He found the reins, loosened the brakes, and waited for the name to be called out.

“Kip, I watched as you drove. You are magnificent. I hope to drive as well as you.”

“I have seen you rein. You did very well that day.”

“You followed me?”

“I did, but only for a short time. I think you will find all the drivers do an excellent job. We are out all day and driving all day, unlike you. You are a driver who waits most of the day. I am no better than my friends and other independents.”

“You will tell me what you are seeing or doing special as we drive tonight?”

“I believe that is the reason you accepted my offer, is it not?”

“Not entirely.” Squeaks could see a smile spread across his face as he peered straight ahead.

She is stealing my breath.

He had to remind himself of her innocence, but she had no shyness, which was refreshing. Women seemed to be inherently coy, vague, timid and reserved. Although, amiable qualities all, it appeared to be a blessing to him that those walls didn’t exist. Meeting any challenges with her, if she allowed a romance to blossom, would be her own barrier and not some rule of propriety. That must be the difference of a girl growing up under the guidance of only a father. Everything with her feminist ways would be pure emotions with no hindrance of what was expected. Kip hoped it would be he who she allowed into her heart and not some other man who might not handle her with the delicacy that was needed.

“Kip! They called the Astaire driver.”

He ruffled the reins and pulled the team out into the line that was forming.

“You were far away. You didn’t hear them call us? What were you thinking?”

“I was thinking of you,” Kip said shyly and softly.

Squeaks felt her flesh ripple all over with those words as if someone had poured a cold bucket of water down her back. Every nerve ending seemed to come alive. She assumed her straight back posture and kept her eyes forward. Attention to detail was the expected. She would be humiliated in front of him if she did anything wrong.

“Would you like me to enter them, Kip? They are on my side?”

“The footman will do that because he is waiting with them, specifically. We don’t want to usurp his position. Here we go, now, quiet, please.” Kip couldn’t help but smile, which was all the better for his job. He continued to look straight ahead and listen for the door to close. Next time he would have to tell Squeaks to pay no attention and keep eyes forward when an event footman attended. He felt like this was one of the happiest nights of his life. The carriage pulled into the flow line of teams and coaches leaving the premises.

As they drove, Kip kept his voice low, so his rider would not be disturbed. He talked about the team which was in front of him and told her how they would slow down as they made a turn onto the main thoroughfare.

“See, I am barely applying the reins.”

“Kip! You forgot the coach lanterns.”

“I did? Here, you take the reins, and I will light them.”

It took several minutes for Kip and Squeaks to quietly change places so he could light both sides. Squeaks was ducking around him, looking through his legs as he stepped over her, keeping an eye on the team in front. They were less than a coach length away. Before Kip could settle back in the driver’s seat, Squeaks had negotiated the turn out of the yard, with nary a sway. She took it slow and wide just like a professional. Kip was proud of her.

“Can you take the reins back? That was exhausting.”

“You were excellent. I am proud of you. Why are you exhausted? There will be many of those.”

“I know, but this is your fare, your reputation and I’ve never done that before. I could barely see to turn with you crossing in front of me. This team almost had their noses pushing the coach in front of us. Not driving in, while it was light, I had no gauge of the width I would have to turn coming through the gate.”

“You did all that on instinct?”

“I had no choice. Not instinct but intuition.” She almost screeched.

“Shhh . . .”

“I am sorry,” he chuckled softly, seeing her with that look of consternation on her little face. With those dimples, it was hard to take her seriously.

Kip noticed her hands shaking in her lap. He placed his hand over her folded fingers and squeezed gently, reassuring her of a job well done. “I’ve heard women have intuition, but we men cannot understand it. However, I have now seen it for myself.”

“Will the rider be expecting me to wait for a signal to open the door?”

“This client will, but it will be almost immediate. You are too nervous, Squeaks. We have been over this before. Calm down. You’re trying too hard.”

“I should not apologize for what happened before? You know, the jiggling?”

“Never. That would be my place, and we certainly do not want to alert his wife about your entertainment show.”

“But I didn’t show anything.”

“Not in your mind, Miss Innocent.”

“So, you don’t think he will hold that against you?”

“No, not at all. He might request you riding footman next time.” All Kip could do was grin, but he wanted to laugh at the very thought of that happening to a male rider.

As they were nearing the residence, Kip passed the street.

“Are you missing your turn, Kip?”

“Now, think about why I did that.”

Squeaks figured it out as soon as he made the second turn. “You did it to right the coach to the curb in the proper direction. Is there a correct side to exit and enter from?”

“I’m not sure about a rule of this, but I try to offer them the side where the gentleman had last entered the coach.”

“Meaning he most likely is sitting on that side and would exit first?”

“Correct, my promising prodigy.”

Squeaks looked at him and glowed. “That hardly came up between my father and me.”

“All right, get ready to climb down.”

Before the coach had stopped, Squeaks’ boots hit the cobblestone road. She stood out of sight of the door and waited. The gentleman shouted, “driver,” and she opened the door and lowered the steps. Their butler was on his way. Lord Astaire exited first and passed his wife’s hand to the butler’s arm.

“Miss Squeaks, from what I could see, you did an admirable job. I am sure Lord Stokes has made a sage decision installing you. Just be mindful of your safety.”

“I will, milord. Thank you, milord. Good evening to you and Her Ladyship.”

“May I suggest one thing to you?”

“By all means, Your Lordship.”

“You should wear a skirt.”

“Sir, Lord Stokes’ livery has provided me with a skirt to cover the male’s uniform. I do have that. I had to borrow one of our footmen’s uniforms to blend with Kip tonight. I could not wear my master’s colors. I was hoping you would not notice that I was not a male, sir.” She blushed under their street lamp.

“Miss Squeaks, it was quite unmistakable that you were not a male by your … your hat that does not fit well. I believe driver’s hats to be fitted tightly as to not allow the wind to blow them off of their heads, yes?”

“I beg your apology, sir.”

“Please do not do that. I think it was the best part of this whole evening. I am just glad that you now know what smiles you will bring to your male riders.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Lord Astaire laughed heartily and looked up at Kip. “Thank you, Kip. Another pleasant ride. I will send you a draft for this month. Is there any extra for your attendant?”

“No, Your Lordship. This was a training session for her.”

“Lucky lad. Good night.”

“Good evening, milord.” Kip knew but would not tell Squeaks that Lord Astaire’s experience would circulate Parliament tomorrow, like a torch to a barn.

Squeaks waited on the ground until they entered their doorway. She did that with Lord Stokes but did not know if that was proper for all of Kip’s clients.

“Squeaks, get up here, you beautifully skilled show-off. Next time you need to explain something, make it short. He doesn’t want your life history.” Kip couldn’t hold back the laugh.

Kip reined away from the curb but pulled over to the side only moments later and took Squeaks into his arms with an intensity that surprised him. He wasn’t as gentle as he had planned.

Squeaks felt her hat fall off. The closeness was overwhelming. No one had held her in their arms like that since her mother was alive. She couldn’t breathe. Instinctively her own arms wrapped around him pulling him closer.

Kip held her head as his firm kiss was pushing her backward. The signs were clear that she was enjoying it. He felt a hairpin. As he continued to press his lips hard against hers, and slide his tongue over them, he pulled out several others.

Finally, he allowed her to absorb what was happening between them and released his hold on her head. Her black hair cascaded down her back, almost touching her waist. In the lamplight, the sheen of her hair reflected shooting stars of brilliance as a full moon lights the sea.

“What happened to my hair? Did you do that?”

“I kiss you like that, and you talk about your hair? You are different in so many ways,” he laughed, ruffling her hair and then the reins.

Squeaks became quiet.

“Kip?”

“Yes, Squeaks?”

“I have no words for how you made me feel. It was the most pleasant experience I can remember, ever. No one has held me like that since I was a child. I had forgotten how beautiful and warming that could feel. You made me feel wanted. Thank you.”

“Squeaks, you are wanted … wanted by me, and I am beginning to think you are needed by me. I never thought I needed anything. You are weakening my restraint. I fear the gentleman will leave me before you do.”

“I am not sure you could frighten me away even with my innocence. You are awakening in me … some form of sensitivity. I cannot explain it. It’s so deep, and I have little understanding of it. I shouldn’t be trusting myself to you. I want to be accountable for my own responses.”

“I pray to God that you trust me. I am growing more than fond of you. It seems to be irreversible. There is no effort on my part to enjoy you. It just keeps rolling toward me and filling me with … with happiness which has been unprecedented in my life.”

“You are going to make me cry with words such as those. No one has ever talked to me that way.”

“Then weep, my sweet, and I will dry your tears.”

Kip drove the team slowly while deep in thought. The quiet grew to be an entity unto itself. The feeling that he might burst apart with words of love was nearing panic. What is happening to me?

“I know why you pulled the pins from my hair,” she giggled.

“I’ve wanted to do that since I met you.”

“I do not think that is the reason.”

“And just what is your reckoning on my pulling the pins from your hair?”

“You did not want anyone thinking you were kissing another man.”

Kip laughed. “Surely, that is why. Do you need to be home now?”

“Not for a while. Can we park and talk somewhere?”

“Yes, I know the very place. I will take you for a walk.”

“A walk?” There was a hint of disappointment in her voice.

“Would you rather not?”

“Will we sit at all?”

Kip saw her frowning and wanted to grin, thinking he might know her thoughts.

“Yes, we will go to the park and sit at one of the empty pavilions. There should be a few people there at this hour.”

“Yes. Let’s do that. I’ve only seen it in passing. Perhaps I should put my hair back up.”

“Please don’t. Just pile it under your hat for our short walk.”

“All right. You like my hair?”

“I think I love your hair.”

“Do you have a brush under the bench? It’s not much different than brushing your horse’s mane.”

“Perhaps I shall buy a brush and keep it with me. I am definitely buying you a top hat, in hopes, we can do this again.”

“I think you should design a Kipling Driver line of livery clothing,” she chided.

“You may have a good point. I actually designed what I am wearing.”

“I wasn’t serious.”

“I know you were not serious. I kind of like the idea, myself.”

“There! That remark right there, adds to your mystery.”

“I hope you will want to discover all about me.”

“I really do not need to know any more about you than I do now. I respect you. I am trusting you. I admire you. And I think I want to be with you often.”

“I want you with me if you can find your way across the moat,” he chuckled. “I anticipate every coming moment, such as Saturday night.”

“You are overwhelming me. I will not sleep for days. I would like you to kiss me again, but your words are driving deep into my soul. I need time to work through them. I am new at this.”

“Your pleasure is my thirst. Just let us become familiar with each other. Here we are. In two days, on Sunday, you can drive the team.”

“You are overwhelming me again. No more emotional words, I beg of you!”

Kip smiled at Squeaks with longing in his body and soul. He pulled the coach to a stop.

 

 

The Noble Coachman Chapter 12

Available Amazon Kindle

 

Chapter 12
An Affair to Remember

 

The Inspector had a long talk with Lord Caldwell. Marshall was convinced the two occurrences to Caldwell’s women were related. For a year, he and the other law officers had been looking for any man with a patch over one eye. Many had been questioned, and alibis had been checked as well as they could. It was rare if any of them could remember where they were when Mary Caldwell was beaten to death. The coroner said the man was missing his left eye. From the state of Mary’s hands and nails, the possibility of the person having other scars near the other eye was high. Marshall had finally resigned himself to it being a vagrant passing through, but with this second Caldwell woman missing, initial doubts began to resurface.

Squeaks took no time in visiting her father in his room. She talked about her day, which felt better than the day before. She said that Kip was there once more, but would not be tomorrow. She would be on her own, come morning.

As she sat and ate her dinner with him, she said, “I’m going out this evening.” Clyde Dorset huffed out his displeasure, causing pain in his leg as he twisted about.

“Who are you going out with? You are not taking the carriage alone, young lady.”

“Yes, father you are right. I am not taking any carriage from here at all, and driver Kip invited me to ride footman tonight. He has an elegant affair and a client to drive.”

“He asked you to go with him? Does he need a footman so badly that he has to ask you?”

“Father, you are making me sound unworthy. No, he is going to teach me about night driving.”

“But you are riding as rear footman. Do you even know how to do that?”

“Father, I have been with you constantly, for many a year now. I open doors. That is it. There is no baggage. How hard can it be?”

“We use no rear footman. How is he going to teach you with you on the back?”

“I will ride on the bench until we pick up his fare.”

“You cannot wear His Lordships livery, you know.” Clyde couldn’t imagine Squeaks wanting to ride in the rear.

“Yes, I know, but I think Jimmy has a black footman livery I can wear.”

“Men’s clothes? Sweetheart, no woman does that. Do you have a skirt you will wear over it?”

That was the signal that her father would approve.

 

#

 

It was quarter past the hour when Kip rolled into the back of the estate in The Queen Mary. He had not expected Squeaks to go with him but thought she would be there to decline. He descended from his perch to talk with one of the grooms.

Calling out to one, “Is Miss Dorset about?”

“Who?”

“He’s asking about me, Bradley,” said Squeaks appearing from inside the stable. It was a dark night, but Kip could easily tell she was dressed as one of Lord Stokes’s footmen, black tails and a top hat that barely kept from covering her eyes. It sat on the bridge of her nose.

As Squeaks walked towards Kip, he rolled his fist to cover his mouth and stifle the smile he had at seeing her in men’s clothes.

I feel like I am being ambushed. She is stealing my life.

 

“If I could only draw her strutting towards me, pulling at her gloves and smiling,” he sighed to himself.

She walked straight to him and peered into his smiling face. “Will this do? This is the best we have.”

Kip wanted to pick her up, hug her, and spin her around for the joy she was giving him. His heart raced at the sight of this noble urchin. He knew he was in love there and then. At that moment … his life changed forever. He would not find a way forward without her.

“I cannot believe you found a way to do this and a footman’s real livery. I am stunned. I shall never doubt you again. Yes, it will do most splendidly. Perhaps in future, I will buy a hat that fits you, but I assume you are trying to pass as a man. Of course, that will not work, but I love your look all the more.”

Squeaks smiled. “What do you mean I cannot pass for a man? I’ve tried very hard to hide my hair and keep this hat on. I have taken all the snickering from the staff that I can stand. My father is laughing himself to tears, upstairs. I was going to wear a skirt over the pants but thought that might embarrass you to your client. So, this is what I am. Does it look good with the footman uniform with these high boots covering the legs? You did not tuck your trousers into your boots tonight.”

“You may want to pull the trousers over your boots for this evening. We are in tails, and we dress a bit differently. Ahem … I only see one failed attempt at being a man, but you are more charming than I could have hoped for. I just may have to kiss you before the night is over.”

“I insist that will be my payment.  Where did I fail? Should I get my father’s watch and chain? Wave to my father. He is watching out of the window.”

“We will talk about this failure later,” Kip stated as he looked where Squeaks pointed and waved, showing a very broad smile.

Squeaks made Kip turn in a circle to appreciate his effort of elegance. “You look most handsome, Sir Kip.”

He bowed to her. “Would madam like to see the coach interior?”

“Madam would.” Squeaks followed Kip to The Queen Mary, and he opened the polished brass door handle. He pointed out the stepping mechanism, which was shining and well oiled. Squeaks liked the broader step that it offered the ladies in fancy shoes. She entered and sat on the most comfortable seat she could imagine. Seats on both sides. They were much softer than the traditional horsehair-stuffed seating. Overwhelmed with fragrance, she touched the flowers in the vases on each side of the coach. There was an embedded torch lamp that could be lit but seldom was. Also, a window at the back with a courtesy drape to be unfurled if one wanted privacy.

“Kip, I have never seen a finer coach, including His Lordship’s. This is exquisite. You are exquisite. This is a fairy tale for me, and to think I will be part of it.” Squeaks left the coach as time was wasting, and she asked Kip where she would stand later and what he wanted her to do. Was she to open doors or was his client expecting him to do it? Was she just for show?

Inside, Kip was bursting with emotions. His stomach was jittery with excitement. Her breasts were her failure, which is something he never thought he’d hear himself say. She neglected to bind them down if she wanted to pass as a male. But it was too endearing to correct. His selection of coach and horses had meant the world to him for over a year, but none so much as this moment in time, seeing her elated face.

“Miss Squeaks, since you are dressed appropriately in your footman tails, you may ride rear footman or second driver. You will look spectacular in either position. I shall open the door as they enter, you may open the door when they exit. Do not forget to extend your arm if the lady exits first.”

“Oh yes. Thank you. I am so excited. I will ride rear footman going and second driver when leaving. Is that all right?”

“More than all right, Miss Squeaks.”

“Should you call me that tonight or Dorset?”

“I think Squeaks as you wish to be called and it will separate you from your father. You will not pass for a man, so no need to call you Dorset.”

“Is it because I don’t have hair on my face? I tried to pull my hair down by my ears, but it looked foolish.”

“Thank you for the trouble you have gone to. It is a little more than facial hair, but I am glad you do not look like a man. I will be proud to have you with me.”

“Really? You’re not just kind, are you?”

“Well, I hope at the very least I am kind, but it is more personal than that.” Kip stared at her a moment longer. “I think we should leave now.”

Squeaks waved to her father and walked toward the back of the coach. As she stepped up, Kip showed her the handholds, as there were holdings for two rear footmen. She was to stand at the right side. He would rein on the left, keeping the coach balanced.

“Are you sure your legs can take it? It will be two ten-minute rides, and you will need spring in your knees and thighs.”

“I will do it. Have faith. This is a fantasy I’ve had for many years.”

“Somehow, I believe you will. Let us depart.”

Kip backed away, holding that image in his mind of her standing rear footman. He never wanted that to leave him. He would draw her tonight when he got home. “Squeaks, look at me.” She stopped fiddling with her gloves and turned towards him. “Now smile.” She gave him the world just then. “Perfect. Let us away.”

Kip sprung to the box, took the reins, let loose the brake and looked back at Squeaks. “Ready?”

“More than you’ll ever know,” she answered loudly.

Turning with a big smile, Kip ruffled the reins, Squeaks waved to her father, and the horses began their slow pace of starting. He never wanted to jerk the head of his rider by starting them too fast.

On their way, Kip looked back at Squeaks several times, and at one point, he broke into a laugh. Most of the time, he could only see a hat. She was holding herself on with one hand and keeping her hat down with the other. Tears came to his eyes from the sight of this, and the laughter that he had not felt for so long.

I feel as if my spirit is coming home.

Kip pulled up to the peerage-owned flat and jumped down to wait.

“Should I get down, too?” lightly called Squeaks.

“No, stay your stand. You look regal to the client.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see she was ensuring her hat was correctly placed.

The butler opened the door for the couple. The woman took her husband’s arm and proceeded to the coach.

Kip bowed as they neared. “Good evening, Lord and Lady Astaire.”

“Good evening, Kip. I see you have a footman tonight. Thank you. What’s his name? The Lord asked as he entered the coach.”

“Squeaks, milord.”

“What?”

“Squeaks, sir.”

“Squeaks? That wouldn’t be Stokes’s Squeaks, would it?”

“Yes, milord. It would.”

“You chaps do have an exciting life.”

“Yes, milord.” Kip closed the door and returned to his bench. He waited momentarily for the sign to begin. Hearing the knock of a cane, he started.

Squeaks thought she could not smile any wider. The excitement was overtaking her. Watching Kip maneuver his team was a dream. He was extremely skilled. She hardly felt herself sway. When they arrived, it was her turn to exit the couple, and she began the procedure in her mind. Should she wait for a signal to approach the door? No, that was only when arriving home. She would open the door quietly, let down the steps, and extend her arm if the lady exited first. What if an event had footmen was attending the coaches? Should she insist herself? She knew she would not if she were the driver, but she wasn’t. She was in a dither. Squeaks did not move as they made their way there. She knew her breasts were jiggling against the rear window of the coach. She must tell Kip about what was happening. She began to giggle to herself, which made her breasts jiggle faster. She prayed no one inside noticed. She pressed herself harder against the glass to stop them from bouncing about. As a rear footman, her chest area should exceed the height of the coach. Squeaks wondered how silly she looked. She was a dwarf rear footman, not likely to be found in nature.

As the coach was slowing down to stop, Squeaks jumped off the back and appeared at the coach door before the event footman. She prepared her smile and opened the door. She let down the step and stepped back, holding the door at its widest angle. The man exited first. She bowed.

“Good evening, Squeaks.”

She was stunned that he spoke her name.

“Good evening, My Lord and Lady.”

“I quite enjoyed my view.”

“Your view, sir?”

He laughed and walked on.

Kip had been watching her the whole time. It was his reputation he was modestly risking tonight. View?

Squeaks closed the door and returned to her post.

Kip pulled away from the front and headed towards the driver’s area. There were more than twenty other teams. He saw two of the apostles. The looks he was getting from the other drivers had him sitting proudly with a rear man. Wait until they found out, he thought to himself.

 

Lord Stokes tapped on the door to Clyde Dorset’s room.

“Enter. Your Lordship. To what do I owe this honor?” he asked, sitting up straight in his bed.

“May I ask what is going on with our Squeaks? She may think that I do not know what she is doing, but she would be wrong.” He smiled.

“Am I wrong in thinking that this is a night off for her?”

“No, she is perfectly permitted to do as she pleases, once I release her for the day. I would like to know what she is doing tonight. I know she is with Kip. I trust and respect that driver, but what is her motive?”

“Sir, she desperately does not want to make any mistakes driving tomorrow night for you. She has had little practice at night. Kip offered to teach her.”

“I see. She is doing this for me, is she?”

“Honestly, sir, I would say yes. Although I do think there is more motive there than she realizes. Being a father, my judgment may be biased. I feel comfort in the fact that should Kip find a regard for her, which I think he has, his intentions will be all that they should be.”

“Clyde, you and I have watched this young, crawling, squeaking baby rise to a lovely striking woman. I know you have always been first in her heart, and I have hoped I have been close behind. I find it difficult to allow another man in with us. What is your thinking?”

“I am thinking you have been a second father to her and feel the pains of your child becoming an adult and wanting to control her own destiny. It is life, milord. We have been lucky to have her as long as we have. She has been hidden away on this estate. The road has opened, now, and she has tasted freedom. I know she loves it here, and nothing will pull her from my or your side unless it is the strong love of a man. This is natural and right, as much as we dislike it. All we can do now is to ensure the man who takes her from us is worthy of her.”

“Clyde, it sounds like you have been giving this a lot of thought. You are preparing yourself. Good on you.”

“Sir, there is little to do, lying here, but think of her out there. That leads to further realizations.”

“And you know this driver Kip fairly well and like him?”

“Sir, of all the drivers whom I know, he lives by a high moral standard. He has a good education that he tries to hide. I wish I knew why. He has been reared in a family that values honor above all else. His professional standing in the trade cannot be exceeded. He is well-liked and respected. As any man would protect a woman from harm, Kip is fiercely involved in the safeguard of young women. I have heard this from other drivers. He is driven in that respect. Again, I wish I knew why.  She is a lucky young lady if his feelings are sincere.”

“Well, we must ensure that they are,” Lord Stokes said, rising from Clyde’s bedside. “I am well enjoying the remarks about my driver from the other Lords. It seems I am not as stodgy as I once was,” he laughed.

“I am indeed happy to hear she has not embarrassed you.”

“That could never happen, even if she fails at this driving. Her bravery holds a significant place in many people’s minds.”

“Are you not being a little biased yourself, milord?

They both laughed as Lord Stokes walked out of the room.

 

Before Kip could get down to the ground, Squeaks was there asking if she did well.

“From all I saw and heard, you were perfect. What was the comment His Lordship said about ‘the view’?”

Other drivers were arriving to know about the footman more than his horses this time.

“I will tell you later, Kip.”

“Please be sure to do so. I must know what my rider is thinking.”

Marc arrived first. “Kip, you brought a footman tonight. Who was your fare? He’s a bit short if you ask me, and he needs a better fitting hat.”

“Marc, I would like to introduce you to Squeaks, Lord Stokes’s female driver.”

“What?” Marc looked her up and down.”

“Bloody hell, if she isn’t. You lucky bast … ahem. Nice to meet you, Miss Squeaks. We have been waiting for this day, and of course, The Almighty brings you to us?”

“Pardon me?”

Kip laughed. “I’ll explain later. This is Marc, one of my best friends I was telling you about. He was the first driver I met when arriving in London. He took my coin and pulled me under his wing.” They all laughed.

“Darn, I cannot believe this, my man. How … how did this ever come to be?”

Other drivers were arriving, and the voices grew louder. Kip waited for all he could see to arrive.

Kip quickly pulled Squeaks up to his bench. “Drivers, may I have your attention. And I know I do,” he laughed, as they did. “This is Miss Rebecca Dorset, daughter of Clyde Dorset; driver for Lord Stokes. His Lordship gave her the name Squeaks, and she would prefer to be called that or Dorset. She has been training to be a driver for…” he looked at Squeaks, “…for many years. Her father has broken his leg, and she is now first driver for His Lordship. She has had little experience reining at night, and she must drive her master tomorrow evening. She is here to learn. Tonight, she is my responsibility; she is my employed footman. If there are any issues, tell them to me.”

Someone from the rear shouted, “Is she single?” “Can she drive footman for me?”

“I will not speak for her. She is a professional driver, so I want you to treat her as one of us, which is what she wants, too. Just watch your language around her. If you are caught short, please take care of that privately. Thank you.”

Kip asked her to stand on the bench, so everyone could see her in the dark.

“Oh Kip, you’re shining a light on me. I don’t think I want this.”

“Squeaks, what happened to ‘I must get through this or twenty years is wasted’? This will get a lot of that out of the way, and I am here with you.”

“All right. Questions then?”

“Everyone, I know you men are gentlemen; at least that is what Squeaks has been told. She is willing to answer questions for a short time. She is very aware of the novelty she is to all of us.”

“Kip, give me the whip, please.” Squeaks said loud enough causing all the men to laugh.

The questions went on for an hour. The drivers were enamored with her. She had won each and every one of them. However, she still knew she had to prove herself to be considered a brother … or would that be a sister?

Finally, they dwindled away, all except Marc. Kip jumped down to stretch his legs. Squeaks followed.

“Kip, on our way here, I thought about the event footman, and should I open the door? As you saw, I jumped off and insisted myself. Was that all right?”

“Yes, being an independent, you have no allegiance to the rider if there are event footmen about, so it would matter not who opened the door. Staff rear footmen usually want to open their master’s door. What was that remark about the view from His Lordship?”

“I am glad you cannot see me blush. There is an issue we had not thought about.”

“And that would be what? I think I thought it all through.”

“Can I speak in front of Marc? It is embarrassing.”

“Whatever you say to me that isn’t too personal, you can say in front of Marc and the other apostles.

“Apostles, The Almighty? You said you would explain.”

“I will later; now what about this ‘view’?”

“We never thought about my breasts,” she blushed.

“I am not sure that is exactly true.” Kip was holding back a huge smile. “What was the problem, do you think?”

“It seems, with my height, they jiggle against the glass rear window.”

Kip turned his back to her so she wouldn’t see his beaming face. His eyes darted to Marc, who turned to look at him with the same expression.

“Are they that humorous?” Squeaks asked. “It’s not like I can leave them at home.”

“Miss, please forgive me,” said Marc. “In my life, I would never have expected to hear that as a driver, and I have heard it all.”

Now, Squeaks was laughing.

“I made a spectacle of myself and embarrassed Kip.”

“Squeaks, I am sure if anyone was embarrassed it was you. If this happens again, we will find a lift for you.”

“Suppose Lord Stokes hears of this?”

“He is a man like any other.”

“And that means what, exactly?”

“Squeaks, don’t make me explain that,” Kip pled.

“Next time they will be bound tightly.”

“Squeaks, if Lord Stokes doesn’t mind that you helped me tonight, it will become known that you are a woman. We are not trying to hide that fact; you know?”

How could anyone not fall in love with this breathtaking fearless female?

“I thought maybe you might be. That is why I left the skirt behind.”

“Listen, Squeaks, I asked you if you wanted to come along, knowing full well you would be known to all as a woman. I had not expected you to be able to accept, but still, I was prepared for both of us. I am proud to have you on board.”

“He is, miss. It is rare who he lets ride rear.”

“If you wish, I will speak with him.,” offered Squeaks. “I will apologize.”

“No, let us not bring it up any further.”

Kip sighed. “I am almost sorry this has been settled. The conversation has been quite entertaining. I admit, I thought I had figured everything, every move, every footfall, but so help me; your breasts never entered my mind … in that regard.”

“I am curious,” remarked Squeaks.

“About what?”

“Could I ask Marc to stand rear, and I get in the coach? You are too tall, Kip, for this.”

“At your service, my dear.” Marc climbed to rear footman.

Squeaks entered the coach. Kip knew what she was doing and laughed so hard he was about to bring up his dinner.

Inside, Squeaks found disappointment. The glass came to Mark’s mid-thighs, but no higher. She left the coach.

“Disappointed, Miss Squeaks?”

“Yes,” she pouted.

“Don’t you think that was a bit unladylike?”

“You don’t know many ladies, do you?” she coughed out laughing. “I was a driver checking the views presented to my rider. Suppose I have Lady Stokes and a footman?”

“Oh, I see. Research, was it? I think you have a point. I should know what my rider is seeing. Would you mind?”

“Mind what?”

“Would you mind returning to your post?”

“Some gentleman, you are!”

“I am the same as you. Researching.”

Squeaks walked back to her post. She stepped up. She heard laughter and a voice saying, “A little more to the left, please.” Squeaks jumped off the rear.

“Thought you had me, didn’t you?”

“I believe I will not comment on that.”

“I think I will leave you two,” Marc said, tipping his hat and leaving.

“Marc, before you go, did Kyle get the message about seeing Inspector Marshall?”

“I believe the Inspector found him first. He’s probably there now.”

The Noble Coachman Chapter 11

Chapter 11
Almost a First

 

Putting in long hours each day since Miss Caldwell disappeared, Kip woke past his usual rising. He rushed to dress, had a quick shave, and buffed his boots. He paced the team at a good jaunt down the thoroughfare towards Parliament. Again, many shouts were calling him, but Miss Squeaks was calling to his heart.

Pulling in, he was not surprised that she was completely inundated with male admirers, and Kip was unable to park by her side.

He strolled over as if he were one of the group and tipped his hat. The smile that she greeted him with weakened his knees. The sincerity in it was unexpected. She looked lost.

Squeaks moved through the men and stood next to Kip. He folded his arms and looked over the horde of men who were there while he leaned sideways to talk with her.

“I am sorry I was behind time. I had a late night.”

“I understand. Right now, you are my champion.”

“There are many combatants for your favor, today. Has anyone been rude to you?”

“I don’t like the way they crowd me and brush me.”

“I can’t say I haven’t thought to do that myself.” His smile was short-lived, though. “Where has Boots been all this time?”

“I think he’s afraid of them. There are so many.”

“Perhaps two footmen tomorrow?”

“No. I will not ask His Lordship for more staff. I knew what I was getting into, and I insisted. It is right to stand my ground, but I have decided to carry my whip when on the ground,” she laughed. “As I get to know them, it shouldn’t seem that all of them are strangers.”

“Excellent idea about carrying your whip, milady. They shall fear that. I apologize again for being late.”

“Are you teasing me about them fearing my whip?”

“If you must know; yes. I am having a bit of sport with you.”

“Were you out late with a lady?”

“Why do you ask that?” he smiled at her nearly jealous question.

“I was just inquisitive. You never talk about people. I would not care to ride with you if you have a steady lady in your life.” Squeaks said in all innocence.

Kip saw a pout beginning to form, causing him to cough and cover his grin. He took her elbow and guided her towards the rear of her coach, then he walked her towards his, across the back. “Perhaps if those gentleman drivers think you are spoken for; they will not be buzzing about you so thickly.”

“Spoken for? Do you mean by you?” Her face lit up.

“I do, or any member of the male population that you choose.”

“I believe you did not answer my question.”

“Are you asking me if I was out with a lady last night, or do you mean to know if I have a steady lady in my life? My answer would be – soon, I hope. However, you didn’t answer mine, either.”

“About what?”

“About making these drivers believe you are forming a relationship, not attachment, with your choice of males,” Kip said, puffing out his chest, conscientiously.

“I am comfortable in your presence and feel safe, too. I cannot ask you to give up your fares any longer. If I chose you, would it be depriving you of your wage.? I don’t think you can keep away from me, anyway. And you see where I’m standing. The next few days may be hard, but I have to get through them. If not, twenty years have been wasted.”

“You do not believe I can keep away from you? Is that not being a bit presumptuous on your part?”

“You mean; you can?” she asked, sporting a crushed look.

He smiled until he thought a tear would be shed if he didn’t hurry away from this lovely torment. “Do know that a driver will never climb to your bench without asking to come up. It is like asking the captain to come aboard a ship. So, you have a relatively safe place to be when you are alone.”

“Well, can you? Am I not your priority that you mentioned the other day? Father thinks I might be.”

“Do you want to be a priority in my life?”

“Is that a question you can ask a woman?”

I’m being lovingly ambushed by a wee woman. How can one so naive and so small have such great thoughts?

“Can you please answer my question?”

“Yes.”

“Yes? What? Yes, you want to be a priority in my life or, yes, you will answer my question.”

“That is good to know about safety on the bench. I am sure there are many practices that father never thought to explain because none ever occurred. If I entered the coach and closed the shades, would anyone open the door?” Squeaks elected not to give him the satisfaction of an answer.

“No, they will not. They may knock and wait for an answer, knowing your master is not in there, but if the shades are drawn a coachman respects the privacy expected inside. Why would you … oh … forget what I was going to ask? I will be glad for you to meet my group of friends. I know and trust them, well enough. I think you will like them, too, and they will take you to heart and protect you, as I want to do.”

“How can I meet them if they’re never here? Do any of them want to form a relationship with me, not an attachment, so I’m told?”

“Soon, I am going to paddle your backside. You know I mean me! So, do you have an answer?”

“Do you mean like very good friends?” She started to cry. “I don’t know what a real relationship means.”

“You trust me, am I correct?”

“Yes.”

“I will tell you when we are entering into a relationship. Then you will know. And always remember that most associations pretty much mean the identical thing. So, if we begin to become more than friends, and you are uncomfortable, you can find the same closeness with another man. Now, onto a different subject. As for my friends, I imagine they will all have fares for this Saturday night event. If Stokes is going, you will meet them.”

“Oh, he is going. He asked if I could drive in the dark. I told him I could. I was driving at dusk last night. I found it hard to tell if the coach ahead of me was moving or stopped.”

“Your team will sense that and slow down or stop. Unless you are fast-pacing them, which we do not do in the night, you could injure one or both.  You should not have any problems.”

“Why do you not pace them fast?”

“If we step them into a hole or on a bolder they need time to recover themselves. I believe the other horse senses a change in stride with his partner and adjusts quickly.”

“So, you are telling me to take my time and watch for the side of the road. The horses will do the rest.”

“That’s a quick lesson, but it is a place to start. They can see only slightly better than we can if their eyes are given a chance to adjust. They don’t do well leaving bright sunlight and led into a dark stable.”

“Have you heard anything about Miss Caldwell, Kip?”

“No, I haven’t. I did not stop by yesterday. However, I wish there would be an attempt to inform me. I am no one to the Blevins, who I drove that night. I should think I have been forgotten by now.”

“Do you think she’s alive?” Squeaks asked.

“I wish I could say yes, but I have my doubts now.”

Squeaks sat on the back step of Kip’s coach. Kip looked around for anyone watching them. He saw no one, so he sat down next to her, their bodies touching.

“Father and His Lordship found your sketch of me fascinating. I think they were both surprised with your ability to see me the way they do.”

“I have always drawn for my own pleasure. It has never been a work I show others. I am a bit embarrassed to know that others have offered an opinion. My friends know I fool around with it, but they never ask to see what I’ve done.”

Kip turned his head towards Squeaks, looking down at her.

She sensed that and faced him, catching only his eyes. He looked at her inviting lips, in a way no one had ever looked at her before. It was a moment that seemed to stand still.

Kip removed his hat as he began to lean in the direction of her mouth until a voice interrupted them.

Squeaks experienced disappointment when Kip pulled back. She heard him sigh. She looked away from Kip, and the other driver as regret had to be on her face.

“I wondered where you two got to. Sneaking off, were you?” the driver laughed.

“Kip was explaining how to drive after dark. I will take His Lordship out in the evening soon. I don’t have the strength in my legs to stand all day, as you gents, so I came back here to sit. Someday, I suppose they will grow strong.”

Squeaks continued to speak covering up any wayward thoughts by the other driver. Kip knew she was talking too much as if guilty of something. Although frustrated himself, Squeaks was amusing in her childish attempt to begin a new subject. Yet, he was buoyed by the fact that she was trying to hide her discontent.

There was the woman, recognizing the situation and the child searching for explanations to satisfy the onlooker.

“Is there a way to light the lamps? I had to have someone lift me last evening.”

Kip and the other driver looked to each other and laughed.

“Miss Squeaks,” offered the other gent, “you do not try to light them from standing on the ground unless you have Kip’s height,” he smiled.

“I shall try climbing the next time,” she said, rising and walking around to see Kip’s lanterns.

The other driver waited for her to be out of sight from the rear of the coach. “Do you fancy this Squeaks woman?” Kip was asked.

“I am sorry, but I insist that is my concern and not yours.”

“She’s Stokes’s driver, you know.”

“Yes, I do know. Since when have we started comparing our ladies against each other? A gentleman never does that.”

“Yes, you are right there. What I mean is, we all know Stokes’s attachment to her, like she was his daughter. Anyone who she takes a fancy to will have to pass muster with Stokes.”

“Sir, I will worry about my own regard if that day ever comes. Excuse me.” Kip headed in Squeaks direction. He had never thought to pass muster with Stokes, but he would not let that worry him. She was of age. His intentions were honorable. Had they not just been interrupted, she might have allowed him to kiss her. He felt her pulling him near, and he wanted to go there, too.

Jesting to Squeaks, Kip said, “I have an elegant fare tonight, would you like to ride footman?” That just seemed to slip out, wanting to lift the disappointment a moment ago.

“I think you tease me,” replied Squeaks.

“Yes, it has to be a tease, because I am sure you would not be permitted to leave the estate.”

“Oh, yes, I can. I’m old enough. Is it a long ride?”

“No, it’s here in the city. Quite close. It is at Cranford House.”

“How long would it last, do you know?”

“It is not a ball. Perhaps it is a dinner, in which case it would last about three hours, approximately. I pick up my clients at 8:00 p.m. You are not seriously considering this, are you? I should say, I would love to have you with me … this isn’t coming out the way I mean to say it. I would enjoy the company. It would add a bit of flair for my riders, and I could pay you, too.”

“Could I have some tips on driving in the dark until you pick them up?”

“By all means,” Kip broke out in a smile as if she was devilishly finding a way to make it happen. “You could not wear the Stokes livery, though.”

“Yes,” she said with disappointment. “I still might have a way.”

“Are you sure you want to attempt permission for this?”

“I do not need permission, remember?”

“Squeaks, this is a big step you are taking. Think it over.”

“I will. The livery is a challenge, though. Do you wear all black?”

“I do. I wear my tails tonight.”

“Oh, yes. I would love to see how you do business.”

“Squeaks. Perhaps another time.”

“Would you have time to come by the Stokes stable to see if I can go with you and have time to pick up your riders?”

“I will find the time if you really feel inspired.”

“I do want to try this. I am quite keen on the idea.”

“And the livery?”

“I think I have an idea.”

“If you wish it, I will come to the Stokes stables at quarter past seven.”

“Truly? You honestly mean it?”

“Well . . . yes, I honestly mean it, but I doubt you do.”

“Am I very far out of the way to stop and see if I mean it?”

“Not very. Perhaps, ten minutes more.”

“Then you will do it?”

“Yes, of course, I will try anything to … yes, I will do it.”

“You may go now. I have a lot of planning to do.”

“I may go now? Thank you. That is kind of you to dismiss me, milady. Suppose I want a few more minutes with you.”

She was an impetuous imp.

Kip could see she was already scheming. There were times when he could see the beautiful young woman, and at others, there was the child at play. In between the two was a woman of great courage to brave a trade that existed only in a man’s world. She was resolute in her chosen profession, and once over the awkwardness of proving herself, she would reach heights never accomplished by a woman. Even though of legal age with many her age married, she was all innocence. He would come to the Stokes stable tonight but in truth, would not expect her.

The Noble Coachman Chapter 10

The Noble Coachman – Amazon Kindle

Chapter 10
The Haunting

 

Squeaks spent her mealtime with her father, telling him about her day, and the chaps she was coming to know. She produced the sketch, and that seemed to cheer her father as he sprouted a big smile.

“Kip did this . . . from memory?”

“No, Father. I never posed or sat for him.”

“He seems to have a gift.”

“When we go riding, he has asked to sketch my face. He says he is just starting on portraits, as he’s been drawing landscapes on his waits.”

“I assume you said yes.”

“Yes, I did. However, he said he wanted it for himself.”

“Oh, he did, did he?” Clyde chuckled. “Now it seems that Kip has been at Parliament twice or is it three times, without a passenger. Is that right?”

“Has it been three days? I don’t know. I asked him to be there tomorrow, too. I want to talk with him about night driving with the lamps.”

“And, of course, he said he would be there.”

“Yes, Father. I know what you are thinking … and you may be right. He could have a bit of a fancy for me. I must say I am flattered and hope that it is true. I approve of him a great deal.”

“Approve? You sound like the lady of the manor. I believe his feelings are becoming stronger if he is giving up fares to be with you.”

“I asked him why, the other day, why he was abandoning his fares. He said he had his priorities. I think he may have meant me.”

“It would seem so. Have there been any words?”

“Not really.”

“What does that mean?”

“Today, he said he had an interest in my safety. Furthermore, he did say he favors me, and it becomes more difficult to leave.”

“Oh, those are words all right. How do you perceive them?”

“I am pleased to hear them. No one has ever said words such as those that make me feel giggly.”

“That’s not what I meant, but it answers my question. So, you are taking a fancy to Kip?”

“Right now, I want to, but I don’t know if I have a fancy or not. I’m not sure about what is a real fancy.”

“Are you attracted to him?”

“Yes.”

“Do you wish for him to be attracted to you and be near you often?”

“Yes. Very much and often.”

“Then you fancy him.”

“Should I tell him?”

“Well, you have me there. Women usually don’t speak such thoughts first. The man does. He is very careful with every step he takes. He’s likely ensuring you are ready or willing to accept his advances. But I hardly know much about that, as your mother was as headstrong as you.”

“He cautioned me not to wear a scent when I work.”

“He did? That was proper thinking on his part. You need nothing to lure men to you, my dear.”

“I told him I wasn’t wearing any. He didn’t take it that well,” she laughed.

“Well, if Kip is to be the first man in your life, I think you are starting out well with a fine gentleman.”

“First? You think he’ll be the first of how many?”

“I have no idea. It will depend on how well you get along. If you cast him off, you will have others standing in line.”

“That sounds cruel. Cast him off, as if I can throw away my fancy. I would hurt his feelings, would I not?”

“A fancy is not quite love; you see. It’s an interest is in someone … keen interest. It may not be love for him. You do not know. You are not at that point yet. Has he tried to kiss you?”

“No, he’s been a complete gentleman.”

“I have no doubts about that. There is something different about him. He’s been reared as a true gentleman, I believe. I know nothing about his past.”

“He did say his master was able to educate him.”

“That seems to shine through once in a while, but it’s as if he tries to hide it. Enough of this. His Lordship would like to see you this evening. Here, take your sketch.”

“Yes, I wanted to show it to his Lordship, although I think Kip is embarrassed that others are seeing it.

 

“Enter,” Squeaks heard from the other side of the door.

“Good evening, Your Lordship. You wish to see me?”

“What have you there in your hand?”

“It is a picture of me next to a big horse.”

“A picture?”

“A sketch, really. Driver Kip drew it at home. He thought it was funny because I am short, and the horse is tall.”

Lord Stokes unrolled the sketch that he had seen earlier in the day. “It is a good likeness of you.”

“I thought so, too. I asked Kip if I could bring it to you and father to show you. He said I could keep it if I wanted it.”

“Kip, you say?”

“Yes, sir. He seems to have taken over as security for me for an hour or so, in the mornings. Yes, the lads are at my coach. Kip watches over me since he knows them. I am sure he would warn me about the unsavory ones, and he hasn’t, as yet.”

“Does he drive a Lord in the morning?”

“No, he comes just for me.”

“Is that so? And what do you think about that?”

“I like it. In fact, I asked him to be there tomorrow, too.”

“And why would you do that? Are you taking a fancy to this coachman?”

“Father and I just discussed that. It would appear I am. I certainly enjoy talking with him.”

“Squeaks, I know I am an old man, and I am prying into your adult personal affairs. I should not be doing this.”

“I don’t mind, milord. I will stop you if your questions become too bold,” she smiled.

“You will?” he laughed. “That is good then.”

“When I have my day off, he is going to take me riding and allow me to rein his pair of fine horses. I will feel like a queen holding those reins.”

“I have not heard of his horses.”

“You must be the only one, milord. Excuse me,” she paused. “That was improper.”

“That would be improper for everyone except you. However, even though I am a Lord of the realm, I do not know all. Someday, after you rein these grand animals, you must come and tell me about them.”

“I will be excited to tell you, sir.”

“I was going to ask your father this, but I have decided to ask you. You can tell me you don’t want to talk about it if you wish.”

“What is it, milord?”

“For your personal needs when out for the day, is there any trouble finding facilities for women?”

“No, sir. Not where you go.”

“Where I go? What do you mean by that?”

“You only go to where the high-borns would have been driven by an in-service coachman. There are facilities for drivers at all the finer places.”

“For women, too?”

“Well, no. I use the gents. Father would stand guard.”

“And now?”

“Until I can find a trustworthy coachman, such as Kip, I carry a canning jar under the bench. I see that look on your face. Yes, I get in the coach and close the shades. I hope that is all right.”

“I guess it will have to be,” he laughed. “You know Parliament is becoming enjoyable again, as Lords approach me, knowing of you being my driver.”

“I hope you are not embarrassed, milord.”

“Embarrassed? No, I am quite proud and delight in calling them jealous. The rumors are just beginning to circulate about you. I will have more fun going to work in the days and weeks ahead.”

“I hope I never disappoint you, milord. You have been remarkably kind to father and me.”

“I received more than I gave, Squeaks. All right, off with you. Oh, one more thing. Do you feel you could take me to an affair on Saturday night?”

“Yes, sir. That is why I have been asking Kip about night driving.”

“You knew of this affair?”

“Kip did. I believe he has a client that night, too.”

“I wonder who that could be. Perhaps, this person’s staff driver will be unavailable or sick. Be ready to drive by 8:00 p.m.”

“Yes, sir. I am looking forward to it.”

“I wish my life were as simple as yours.”

“Being a girl is not all that simple, milord. I don’t think you would like it.”

Lord Stokes laughed heartily and waved her out of the room.

 

#

“And?”

“Trevor didn’t you hear what I said. Mary is haunting the manor.”

“Son, something is going on within our home. Listen to your brother. He’s most upset with the staff or whoever is playing these pranks.”

“In what form are these pranks being played, Gus? Are people seeing the ghost of her? Is she lifting people to the ceiling, frightening them to death?”

“I can see you’re not taking me seriously. We have seen her name smudged on the outside glass of the window in her room. That area is unreachable without hanging from the roof.”

“Interesting,” Trevor smiled. “And you have questioned every one of the staff and have concluded that Mary is haunting the house.”

“The staff are frightened. I am worried they will start leaving.”

“Trevor, you know something, don’t you?” His father eerily remarked.

“Yes. Yes. I do know who’s doing it. I just didn’t expect it at the Manor house. I find it fascinating that an actual physical movement of dirt on the window could be accomplished.”

“Trevor!”

“Hmph, I guess I am not the only one she warns. Your prankster IS Mary.”

“Trevor, don’t blaspheme her memory.” Earl Caldwell, full of sadness, said emphatically. “Explain that comment.”

“You both remember before I left here how I talked with Mary. That has never stopped. She often comes to me in dreams, swirling her image. On several of these extraordinary occasions, I believe she was trying to warn me. However, I am unable to discern if the warnings are for danger or not.”

“Lord Caldwell stood and began pacing the floor in front of his son.”

“This has been happening since you left home?”

“Yes, but she has become more active since the other Caldwell woman went missing. I must admit that even I began to worry about my passionate belief that she was watching over me, until a few days ago. There is much talk about the coach which departed with Lilith Caldwell, which I believe the coachmen are going to solve. But what the two men look like, only one person knows, and that’s the cousin who was in attendance that night, who I happened to drive. Within a night or two, Mary swarmed into my night. I wasn’t sure if I was awake or asleep. What she presented to me is beyond belief. I saw the man that was raping her, through her eyes at that very time. Unfortunately, her eyes were full of tears, and the image was blurred. I will not explain what I felt during the session, that I now call it, because it is too horrible to hear. Until then, until she showed an image that I could not have made up myself, all the encounters could have come from my own need to see her. This was different. The event at the Manor confirms it to me. I believe she is trying to tell us something. It is my fervent hope that she can lead us to her killer or to Lilith Caldwell. I suggest you keep a diary of anything such as what you’ve seen.”

Lord Caldwell dropped back in his chair, long ago. The room could have heard the proverbial pin drop. It took some time before anyone could speak.

“It will be unbearable to think she hasn’t completely passed over.”

“Father, I have agonized over that myself. I feel she is here for a purpose. Once that is resolved, she will continue her journey. I believe she senses my guilt and is trying to relieve me of it.”

“Why haven’t we seen her so vividly in our dreams?” asked Gus.

“Since I was always closer to her than anyone else in the family, is my only explanation. Now that a coach is involved with Lilith, that is a path to me.” Kip walked over and refreshed his drink. “I don’t understand any of this, but I do know that I do not fear my visions, if fact, I welcome them. She must know that. Otherwise, I wouldn’t think these manifestations would be so pleasant.”

“Trevor, I am glad you have found a way to accept whatever may be happening. There certainly is no precedent for it.” His father had exhausted all his words on Kip’s extraordinary experiences.

“Trevor, I don’t know if father has told you, but I have a lady friend. Would you think she could be in any danger?”

“I wish I could voice an opinion. We don’t know what has actually happened to this Lilith. Is this a coincidence or is there a vendetta against our family? We can find no cause for that. When you return, settle the staff with my feelings on these strange happenings. Someone should talk to Chandler in regard to any type of motive, no matter how vague. He has been at the manor since father was a boy. He’s the one with knowledge of our family. See what he knows about our uncle, Nathanial.”

“It seems you have been giving this quite a lot of thought, Trevor.” The tenor of the Earl’s voice signaled the end of the conversation.

 

The Noble Coachman Chapter 9

Chapter 9
Early to Rise

 

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.”

“Tsk!”

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.”

“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.”

“Tsk.”

“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.”

“Tsk.”

“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.”

“We?”

“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.”

 

 

 

 

 

The Noble Coachman Chapter 8

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Chapter 8
The Rest of the Family

 

Trevor was seated in the pub when his father entered after his day in Parliament. Rather than wave him over, he let his father discover him. Kip doubted if many people from this part of town knew what his father looked like. He stood as his father arrived.

“I hadn’t expected to see you so soon, but I am glad I have, son.”

A serving woman came over to take the order. “What may I get for you gents?”

“Please, let me order,” Kip suggested.

“Very well.”

“We’ll have two pints and two beef sandwiches,” Trevor smiled at his father.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten or tasted this meal. You like it; I assume. Oh, Gus will be visiting soon. He’s anxious to see you.”

“Good. This is one of my meals when out.”

“Which is how often?” Lord Caldwell laughed.

“Actually, quite often, but I do cook.”

“I went to see the other Caldwell family yesterday,” said Lord Caldwell. “They do look a bit familiar, but they are quite far from us – somewhere down my grandfather’s line. I believe he’s a second son, of a first son. It’s quite sad over there. Lilith is officially missing. No ransom note. Her clothes are home; no eloping is being considered. It’s grim, Trev.”

“I wanted to talk about a few other Caldwell members. If there is some conspiracy to our family, I should be aware of them. Tell me about your brothers.”

“This could take a long time, son.”

“For now, just be brief about where they are, what they do, and are their cousins I don’t know about.”

“I believe you met my brother, Hamilton. He has two sons. Hamilton remains in the banking business in Manchester, which now seems to be making him quite wealthy with all this new machine industry flowing into that city. His oldest son, also named Hamilton, is following in his father’s path. I don’t think you have seen either of them since you were very young. Hamilton’s other son, Gregory, went into the legal profession. He is most likely a barrister if he hasn’t made it to his judgeship, yet. I think my brother has a grandchild or two, but how many and their names; I am afraid I have forgotten.”

“You have another brother I remember. He left home early.”

“I did, yes. He was born second and could not accept that he would never hold the title. Many years in our youth, I feared him. Nathaniel and my father argued often. He was wild and remained irate. Your mother called him feral. We know he caused the staff almost unbearable anxiety. We lost several excellent servants. One was a pretty young woman whom he favored more than most. It came to our knowledge that she was with child because of him. We always thought she left on her own, but one day she was gone. God only knows what she endured. Upon hearing of this too late, which the staff was afraid to mention, your grandfather asked him to leave. Your sister had just been born. Nathaniel was given money to live on and left, taking his valet with him. Within a few years, his coach was stopped by highwaymen. Possibly being drunk, we believe, he fired upon them and was killed during the robbery. There is little more I know about that.”

“What happened to his driver and valet?”

“I am not sure about the driver. He could have been part of the gang. We invited the valet back to Caldwell Hall, but he had a love interest by then and stayed in London. All that was years ago. We never spoke of him again. I have at no time met my other nephew Gregory either. If they have families of their own, I know not. Hamilton and I are amiable brothers to each other and parted ways peacefully. He knows how very busy I have been, and I assume he has no time either. We write at the holidays, but that is as far as it goes. He did send your sister a gift at her ‘coming out.’”

“You’ve never told me much about Nathaniel,” Kip remarked.

“Son, we talked sparingly about him most of his life. I believe your grandfather did more covering up for him, too. He was an embarrassment to the family. It is conceivable that he made enemies, but that would have been many years ago, now.

“Have you heard the rumor about Lord Stokes having a female driver?” Trevor asked.

“Yes. I am afraid Stokes is taking the brunt of some banter in the house by his friends. I believe she was born into his service, and he has taken to her since she could walk. Her father is Lord Stokes’s driver for over twenty years, but you probably know that. The daughter grew up wanting to drive like her father. I believe Stokes gave up when she was a young teen and told her she could. She has been riding with Dorset; I hear. I guess the time is getting near, and she never changed her mind, which he actually believed she would. I think that’s how the story goes. Have you seen her?”

“Yes, this morning. It was the second time we’ve talked. Her father broke his leg last evening. She is reining, with a footman riding the rear, but she was alone in the box.”

“She can turn a team of two? Well, the day has come for her, has it? Wait until I see him. Is she pretty?”

“Stunning would be my word.”

“Oh, stunning, is she? Someone with whom you would not mind crossing the class lines to know better?” His father laughed.

Ignoring his father’s slight, Kip continued. “I followed her today. She is quite skilled.”

“Followed her? What kind of son have I raised?” he laughed again. Earl Caldwell secretly was elated that his son might be returning to the man he remembered.

“Lord Stokes doesn’t know about me, does he?” Asked Kip.

“I don’t know about you, son. How could he? I cannot finish this sandwich if you continue to make me chuckle.”

“I would like to see more of her, Father. I thought I should let you know in the event she accepts my calling on her.”

“Do you call in the lower classes? I am sorry, that was terribly rude and unfair, but you are making me laugh, and here I am so happy to hear you looking forward to seeing a woman.”

“You are correct, Father, you don’t know about me,” Trevor agreed.

Earl Caldwell scratched at his beard, “I’ll tell you there is to be a special dinner invitation this Saturday. Someone is announcing an engagement or some other event. Many of us will be attending. I did not plan on going, but if Lord Stokes accepts, I will, also. That’s the best I can do, son. You will drive me.”

Kip finally blushed in front of his father. He had never done that for anyone.

“I can hardly wait to see this beautiful young lady driver.”

“Father, somehow, I doubt you ever will. You are the upper class, remember. You keep saving the realm, and we’ll keep seeing that you do.”

They smiled at each other as if a broken bond had been renewed.

“Tell Augustus I will see him while he is here.”

“He will be overjoyed. Augustus won’t tell you or show it, but with you, Mary, and myself away, he has been abandoned, so to speak. I ask him to London as often as I can. He’s a young man. The young are here, in this city.”

“That never once entered my mind. I have been quite selfish it seems.”

“No, son. Don’t feel that way. We both knew that if you had not walked away when you did, you would be lost to us, forever, as an upstanding man. Our only hope has been that you would see there was nothing you could do to save her that day.”

“After nearly a year, it has been only recently that I feel life flowing into my lungs again. I am now faced with learning the art of wooing. This will not come naturally to me.” Kip laughed.

 

#

 

“What did His Lordship want, Squeaks?”

“He asked about my day. I told him about talking with Kip and meeting many other drivers. He gave me another talk. Then he complimented me on getting around that horse that was rearing on the other side of the road. He said I did a grand job.”

“I am so proud of you. Perhaps, I can retire early.”

“Would you do that, Father?”

“No, you silly child.” Clyde laughed. “But I think you may be allowed to be the second driver and no longer waiting in training.”

Squeaks blushed. “I don’t know if you heard Kip yesterday calling me the driver regent. We both laughed at that.”

“No, I did not hear that. However, you are no longer regent; you are installed as the first driver right now.”

“Father, you had days off to do what you wanted, didn’t you?”

“What’s this? Twenty years you have wanted to drive the coach and are now looking for a day of rest?” Clyde smirked.

“Oh no, I want to drive more than anything. Even so, I don’t think His Lordship will allow me to do it every day. I want to make plans for my day away.”

“Away? Away, where? Oh, I know. You still want to drive but another coach with other horses, hmm?”

“You knew I was going to say that.”

“Yes, but I knew that because of Kip. I had no idea what your answer would be unless it really was for his team and coach.”

“I think these feelings are more than that. I would like to know if it is. I need to assess it, somehow.”

“Assess it? What kind of foolishness is this you speak? Are you talking about love? You don’t even know the man.”

“I know! So how do I get to know him? How did you get to know mother?”

“I thought you said you’ve have had all these talks with the servant women. I do not believe I can tell you how YOU will tell. I think you just know, and you are nowhere near that stage.”

“I do have some sense, Father. I know he is not going to propose or anything. Suppose he is a nice gentleman wanting to be friends?”

“I would be quite happy with that.”

“Suppose I want to know him? How do I get him to see me?”

“Young lady, he definitely sees you. I guess what you are asking is what type of mistakes you must not make. What could you do to turn him away?”

“Yes, that’s it. Such as what, Father? He drives so many beautiful women; I doubt I hold a candle to any of them.”

“You’re suddenly not my little girl anymore.” Clyde became saddened.

“Father, I will always be your daughter and love you. Someday, you knew you would share me, didn’t you?”

“I gave it as little thought as possible, but the day is shortly upon me; I sense.”

“I don’t want you telling me silly stuff to drive a gentleman away from me.”

“Do you think I would do that to you; dearest Squeaks.”

“Well …” she said, looking down at her tapping foot. “You might.” She laughed.

“My only goal in life is to see that you are happy and content. I want to know that you have a fine man in your life when I am near my end. He doesn’t have to be rich, or important. He just has to love you as I do.”

“I want that, too, Father. I want more than that.”

“I think I believe you. I see your flower is about to bloom. It will not wither as I once feared.”

“So what mistakes could I be making if I want to keep his attention?”

“I do not think you can make any mistakes if you remain yourself. You are a wee bit headstrong, but that may be inevitable, living with a lord of the realm. This house has always had high standards and expectations.”

“Do you think Lord Stokes will want to approve of a man I want to marry someday?”

“He will take an interest. If he is a gentleman with income, you will most likely not be questioned on anything. You will not pander to those other types, anyway. Just be yourself. You know how to be polite. Don’t show a gentleman what you are not. Do not mislead him. Whatever your life will be with another person; you want to be able to be yourself, and he will too. There will be some compromises, but few if the love is really there.”

Squeaks had tears in her eyes. “Thank you, Father. You make it sound easy.”

“With your looks and brains, it will not be too easy for you. You will be admired and sought after by many, and decisions may come hard.”

“Suppose I meet a driver, who I like – will he not be intimidated by me?”

Clyde laughed. “Are you that good of a driver to intimidate another professional driver?”

“I guess that’s not what I mean, and he may not be a coachman.” She frowned.

“Are you saying he will not like you being in a man’s world with lots of other handsome men admiring you?”

“I believe so, yes.”

“I cannot answer that. It will depend on the man. It will take a lot of trust on his part. It will be difficult for any man being in love with you, you know. He will have to be endowed with much confidence in himself. You must always be honest, and I have no doubt that you will.”

“Thank you, Father. I will go collect our meal.”

“Too late,” someone called from the stairway.

 

Kip picked up fares until he spotted one of his apostles. It was nearing dusk when he found Marc. Kip nodded, and they both pulled to a side street and parked.

“I’ve been looking for you all day, Kip. Kyle had a nice look at the coach and just a glance at the driver. He was not familiar with either one. They’re new in town. He said the coach was old and hadn’t been cleaned. Kyle figured it came from quite a distance before picking up the young lady. Is she still missing?”

“Yes … well, she was as of this morning. Do you know where Kyle is now?”

“Sorry, mate. Haven’t seen him since then.”

“If you do see him, ask him to see Inspector Marshall at the Met. I will tell him of Kyle, and they will come looking for him.”

“I’ll spread the word. I heard the lady driver was alone today. She was driving Lord Stokes.”

“Yes, I spoke to her. She has a house footman riding the rear step. He is her protection. I wish us all to keep vigilant of her. I followed her for a short time and found she is well skilled.”

“If any of us was to meet her first, why did it have to be you?” Marc kidded.

“When I last saw her this morning at the Parliament Building, she had just been introduced to another thirty drivers, mostly in-service.”

“What are we to call her?”

Kip laughed before he could get the words out. “Apparently, being born into service, His Lordship started calling her Squeaks, and she is still called that today. I think her father said her name was Rebecca.”

“Squeaks? Is she pretty?”

“No, she’s beyond that.”

“Oh, I see. Does the old Kipper have an interest?”

“Any man who meets her will have an interest. I may have the first edge because of these beauties,” Kip said, patting the horse closest to him.”

“You know; she’ll only want you for Soldier and Warrior. Can you live with that?” Marc laughed.

“Bloody right, I can.” Kip roared. He didn’t want his fresh emotions showing to anyone just yet. He played the game of men.

 

 

 

The Noble Coachman Chapter 7

The Noble Coachman 2.99 Amazon

 

Chapter 7
Twenty Years of Waiting

 

Clyde Dorset was still at a quite capable age for a driver when he fell climbing from the box because his boot heel slipped off a spoke. Squeaks jumped down from the bench. “Father, I think your leg may be broken.” After the doctor had left, Lord Stokes had a private talk with him. They spoke about half an hour.

Squeaks paced outside the door, hoping she would be given a chance to drive His Lordship. Finally, Lord Stokes left the room, and she went in to hear what her father was going to tell her.

“Father, I am sorry about your broken leg, really; I am, but I cannot help but be anxious to drive on my own.”

“Yes, I can see how broken-hearted you are over my injury,” Clyde smiled. “I must look at those boot heels and see if they’re worn. Remember that in the future. Squeaks, His Lordship has approved of you driving, but he has insisted you shall have a footman standing the rear for the first week. For that, I am relieved. You will not be alone. As you drive to areas where you will wait, it will be tedious unless it is some type of ball or meeting. There you will be with many other male drivers, that will wish to speak with you. The young ones will be immature and do stupid things to catch your attention. Most of them will swarm you since I won’t be there to flick the whip. That concerns me most, child, as it does indeed worry His Lordship. He believes you’re capable but a little gullible.”

“Father, we’re not going over that talk again, are we? Every maid in the house has told me about men and their needs. You are a gentleman, and I am a lady . . . of sorts. My behavior will respect the Stokes’ name. I want to experience more of life, but I will not be irresponsible with my conduct.”

“Squeaks, I am not worried about your behavior. The drivers are going to find you unique and highly appealing. You saw Kip’s interest in you. If you keep with the in-service drivers, I would feel better about allowing you out alone. I know all the ones that park at Parliament daily, but now and again there are independents, such as Kip. Their words may be crude and embarrassing; God knows, most young men are like that.”

“Father, this is the third time I hear the same words. I do not think you see me for the age I am. I will never put myself in situations, which would make either of us embarrassed. I am not your average naïve young woman. No one could be naive, living here with a staff of this size. I’ve slapped a few faces and felt my backside patted more times than you know about. And here I stand, still chaste. And I like Kip very much. You should be happy about that.”

“Is it him or his horses,” Clyde laughed.

“Who’s going to be my footman?” Squeaks quickly changed the subject.

“I believe Boots is being assigned to you. He’s looking forward to it, probably more than he should, if you ask me. At least, he’s big and strong.”

“Father, he can scare off anyone with that stern look he’s mastered. However, I don’t want him hovering. That will make me look scared. And I am anything but that.”

Clyde Dorset laughed. “You will be given your daily routes and times.”

“I think it is Lord Stokes’s normal routine. First, the House of Lords until midday, then it says ‘unknown’ after that.”

“That could be anywhere, Squeaks. Most likely in London, but you could have to drive through the rain or dense fog.”

“I understand that quite well, Father. Now don’t fuss. Start at this moment and begin to get well. Stay in bed and read. I brought you some books to choose from. I put them somewhere, here they are. Maggie should be up with your dinner soon. I have to go, Father. Don’t worry about me,” Squeaks said, kissing her father on the forehead.

“Good luck, Rebecca.”

Squeaks hadn’t heard her name as Rebecca for a long time. She really was on her father’s mind. Time would prove to him; she was capable of doing the job as it should be done, even with his constant counsel.

Squeaks went into her room and checked herself in the mirror. Although she had worn her livery for a long time, she would be alone, holding the whip and reins tomorrow, and people would look. She wanted to appear at her smartest. Feeling good about herself, she headed off to find Boots to talk about the route.

 

The following morning, Kip was at the House of Lords early. This time, he wanted to leave a note for his father rather than face him in public. Kip mounted the stairs and met with a reception desk attendant as he entered. He handed the note to the gentleman there and left.

When Kip was descending the steps into the yard, he had to wait for another coach to let its passenger out. He noticed it was Lord Stokes exiting his coach and then stopping to talk with his coachman. He carried a second driver standing rear today. Kip thought that a bit unusual, but then he saw why. Squeaks, the petite young woman in her livery uniform, with raven hair piled under that beaver top hat, held the reins alone. Kip rolled his hand into a fist and placed it over his mouth to cover the broad smile.

She looks proud and majestic. I shall chase her scent and indulge myself.

Squeaks took her instructions from His Lordship, curtsied and hauled herself up the wheel peg into the box, then reined the coach to the waiting area.

Kip returned to his coach and followed since it seemed she would be waiting today. He wanted to speak with her more and find out what happened to her father.

For the next half hour, she stayed on her bench, rather than on the ground. The footman was up and down several times talking to her or pacing. Apparently, he wasn’t a second driver at all. Kip knew her Lord outranked his father. He was not aware how long the Stokes had produced heirs, but it was more than several centuries. There was no getting away from the fact that all the other waiting drivers were watching every move she made. Most of the waiting teams were owned by the higher peerage who had their private stables. As an independent, he was close to being the odd man there. He knew she was admiring his coach and horses. Perhaps, she would speak a few words with him.

He pulled a horse’s comb from his bench seat and climbed down to tidy their manes. “Miss Squeaks, I hope all is well with your father today.”

“He fell yesterday getting down and broke his leg. He will be in bed for a few weeks; I feel.”

Kip could see she was repressing a guilty smile. “I am truly sorry to hear that. Such inconvenience for him. Please tell him Kip sends his regards today. If I can help him in any way, please allow me to do so.”

“Kip, that is most kind. I think father will agree and allow me to ride with you and your team.”

“I am well pleased. Are you no longer the driver regent?” he laughed.

She blushed. “That is correct. I am His Lordship’s first driver for some time to come; I hope. I mean . . . I believe.”

“And do you work seven days a week?”

“I don’t know. There is another driver, of course, plus a fourth in training. They mainly carry the family or do odd jobs that need a coach or wagon. At least once a week, my father was allowed to rest. I should think that will be available to me, as well.”

“Do you have any reservations about being alone with me, as we go riding with you driving my horses?”

“I believe I have no reservations at all with you, even if you are a man and independent.”

“I wasn’t aware I was being tested, but I think I have just been complimented. I’m not so sure I like a woman being comfortable with me. I want her to be excited about my company, and find me mysterious.” Kip laughed.

“I will be excited; I know,” she replied in a child-like way.

“Yes, but it will only be for my team of horses. However, I will allow you to use me just to get to them.” Kip heard a faint giggle from her.

“Hearing no rebuttal on that subject, I am a bit saddened. I thought it might be my horses and not me. Should you have a free day soon and you have been given permission by the Butler, your father, and His Lordship, the Prime Minister, the Queen, and The Arch Bishop, please send me a note. I will gladly set aside the day.”

Squeaks bubbled up with laughter at his remark. “No, you too, are part of the excitement. I just didn’t know if I should say that. I can’t remember talking with a man outside the castle walls. I’m afraid I don’t know what and when I can speak. You will forgive me and . . . and correct me?”

Boots, her footman, came from the rear and gave Kip a stern look. Kip was nearly half a foot taller than Boots.  Kip smiled at his attempted scrutiny. “With honor, Miss Squeaks, I will be glad to correct you. Look around at all these fellow drivers who will be your close friends someday.”

“Kip, this is Boots. He is a footman who will be in attendance with me this week. Somehow, I doubt my father will be happy about being good friends with all of them.”

“I must admit, I am guilty of those same thoughts. So, Boots, can you drive as well?” Kip asked, wanting to ingratiate himself to her overseer.

“I do not. I can do anything with the coach, such as change a wheel. I can saddle and ride a horse, but I have never driven a team.”

While Squeaks patted his horses, Kip continued. “Everyone at Stokes Castle must be proud of this young lady for her skills. By the way, what is your primary function at Stokes Castle?”

“I mainly serve at table and other odd jobs, such as assisting at the front door when guests arrive.”

“I know how important that job is, serving table. How many are on staff at Stokes?” Kip asked, catching a glance from Squeaks.

“Counting outdoor as well?”

“Yes.”

Squeaks held her whip horizontally by both palms as she bent her head and clicked her boot toes together. Here comes the embarrassment.

“Perhaps a total of eighty to eighty-five. They have lovely gardens and grounds.”

“Eighty-five?  That many, mm?” Kip let out a little sigh that only Squeaks could hear. He saw a smile being stifled as he noticed her profile.

“Miss Squeaks, would you care for my comb and brush, which I have been holding?”

“No, not at this time. It appears you have brushed them this morning.”

“I have. We, independents, do not have grooms or stable boys to do our work. We love our horses and prefer to tend them with great care. It bonds us to our horses.” Kip was getting so rattled at her looking up at him when he spoke, that he wasn’t sure if he made sense anymore.

“Tsk.”

Kip burst forth laughing at her response. She did not know her own unbridled charm.

“Who did you drive today, Mr. Kip, if I may ask?”

“You may ask, and I will answer, no one.”

“No one?”

“I came to deliver a note to someone inside. I have completed that. I stay to talk with you and keep you company.”

“But you are giving up fares, are you not?”

“I am. However, I have my priorities.”

“Am I one of your priorities?” Squeaks asked, in pure innocense.

Thankfully, one driver approached them under the guise of looking at Kip’s horses, so Kip introduced Squeaks to him. Then another walked over … and a third and a fourth. In little time, the peerage drivers were coming to meet Miss Squeaks of Stokes Castle. Many remarked on her name, and Kip heard the story repeated. She was being swarmed, so he took to his bench to watch and listen from overhead.

After another half an hour, “Excuse me, gentlemen, you are exhausting me with your questions.” She threaded her way through several men, hopped her wheel peg, taking to her bench.

Kip knew any minute she would glance his way, so he looked elsewhere, pretending to be unaffected by her popularity. The lads drifted away, suddenly not interested in his horses today. He laughed to himself.

“Miss Squeaks, it has been delightful seeing you this morning. I must be on my way. Don’t forget to watch for your master coming down those steps over there.” Kip pointed, in jest.

“I know where he exits,” she said, sporting a small frown like she had just been insulted. “It has been amusing seeing you, too. Will you be here tomorrow? Will I be a priority?”

“If you wish me to be here, I will be most honored to keep you company for a while.”

“I must admit; that gathering was a bit frightening. I was pleased you were near. I thought Boots was going to start growling.”

“He does have a face to warn people away.”

“Yes, if you do not mind, I would like your company until I can get used to this. I cannot pay you.”

“Miss Squeaks, I think I am offended,” he smiled, lifting his nose in the air. “If you think I would ever do such a courtesy for money, you have much to learn about me. And I hope you will want to do that, as I wish to do that with you. Until tomorrow then. Good day.” Kip tipped his hat and ruffled the reins, pulled away, allowing Squeaks to wonder if he was in earnest.

Kip was thoroughly entertained and immersed in emotions by the lady driver this morning. He pulled out of the yard, feeling he had acquitted himself well. Perhaps later, he might wait out on the street and watch for her exit. He would like to see how she reined.

 

Kip did not want to scare Miss Squeaks by following directly behind her, so he allowed several coaches to pass before entering the main thoroughfare. There were shouts for his service, but he was more interested in watching the young lady. She amazed him. He was stunned at her actual talent of turning that team. Several times she had to pass men calling to her when they recognized she was a woman. She paid them no mind. Nearing an ill-behaved horse with its frantic driver trying to calm him down, she negotiated her way around the disturbance without a pause and used a very deft hand to guide the team away without swaying the rider. Kip felt she was quite skilled in her craft. He planned more than hoped they would meet for a drive soon.

Kip veered off and looked for fares for the next several hours while waiting to meet his father in an outlying pub.

 

Arriving home with His Lordship, Squeaks felt very good about her first day out. The Butler saw to the coach door, but Lord Stokes stopped to talk with his new driver.

“Well, Squeaks, how did it go today, waiting with all those men?”

“Sir, I spoke with independent driver Kip for about half an hour. Then many drivers came over to introduce themselves. Although Kip could have been out taking fares, he stayed to watch over me along with Boots. I will say the drivers were very polite and friendly, asking if I needed any help, but there were so many of them. I finally returned to my box, and they left. Then driver Kip left.”

“Squeaks, do not ever become comfortable and think they are mates. You are a woman after all. I do feel, as your father assures me, that the drivers are polite. They are gentlemen, at least most of the ones in service. However, it is something I wish you would not totally rely on. Always be on your guard. Being a woman, you are a target for thieves; not knowing you do not carry money. Have you been trained in the use of a firearm?”

Yes, sir. I’m quite good, I’ve been told, sir,” she laughed.”

“I believe I was more nervous than you, today. Go see your father and let him know of your day and then find me in my study. I would like to talk a little further with you.”

“Yes, milord.”

Squeaks retired the carriage and team to the stablemen. She could do it herself, but today she was the driver in the box and not the staff on the ground. She had earned it. The staff was smiling, seeing that she was going to play first driver to the hilt. Anxious they were, to hear how the day had gone.

Clyde heard the coach coming to the back stable. He pulled himself up in his bed to a sitting position, waiting for his daughter to rush through the door, bursting with excitement. He was not disappointed.

She knocked and then did not wait for a command to enter, and upon seeing her cheerful face, her father said, “Did you not tend to your team, young lady?”

“But Father that is a stableman’s job. I am the driver.”

“Come here,” he said, holding out his arms to her. “You seem to have won the day.”

“I believe so Father. Well, almost, anyway.”

“What happened?” Her father looked more serious.

Squeaks told him how she had met many drivers today and how Kip stayed to watch over her. “There are so many, Father.”

“I have warned you, child. And that is the worst that happened, even though that could have been serious for you?”

“You would have been proud how I worked my way around a rearing horse with his driver on the ground, hanging on to the reins. I gently guided our team away from him. I don’t think His Lordship shifted at all. However, he does want to talk with me after seeing you. And Kip and Boots were conversing about the staff. I’m afraid Boots told him how many work here. I could only look at the ground.”

“Did His Lordship seem mad about anything?”

“Father, you know His Lordship. He’s concerned for me. He never gets mad at me, even when I was little. I don’t think he wants me to trust other drivers.”

“I see. Well, we have been over that a hundred times. I suppose he wants to know how that part went today.”

“Oh, His Lordship did ask me if I have been trained with a firearm. I told him I had.”

“All right, dear. Run along. Don’t keep him waiting.”

Squeaks kissed her father and hurried out the door.

 

As she left the staff area and headed into the family’s quarters, she tugged on her uniform jacket and checked her skirt. She wanted to look smart. She held her small top hat, having piled the long flowing ribbons inside. If Morgan, the Butler, approached her, she would hand him her hat and laugh. She was disappointed; he didn’t appear.

Squeaks knocked lightly on the door and heard the word “enter.”

“You wanted to see me, Your Lordship?”

Lord Stokes pitched his feathered pen on the desk, rocked back in his chair, clasping his hands behind his head. “Did you have any other issues today that we need to discuss?”

“I do not believe so, milord.”

“Nothing?”

“After an hour of men talking at me, I felt they should be doing other things, so I returned to the bench.”

“Oh, they should be doing something with their time rather than looking at you, is that what you thought? And you decided to climb on high, so they could go on about their business?”

“Yes, sir.”

Lord Stokes covered his laugh with a cough. “So far I hear nothing that should be confessed. This Kip chap, I believe I know who that is. Yes, he is a very well-respected independent driver. I have heard his name mentioned at the club. For evening affairs, he will dress in tails and bring his fine coach and horses. For normal fares during the day, I think he has another coach, fancy but not so elegant.”

“I believe he delivered a note to someone inside.”

“I called you in here to find out how you felt out there, and I wanted to compliment you on negotiating past the horse that was acting up in the street. Getting around that disturbance, you showed great skill. I was well pleased.”

“Oh, thank you, milord. I enjoyed my day. I will hope tomorrow brings a longer drive.”

“Perhaps it will, but I will be in Parliament longer.”

“I will be fine, milord. Will you send the footman with me?”

“Yes, Squeaks, all this week.”

“Yes, sir. Is that all?”

“Yes, that is all. A beautiful drive today, Miss Squeaks.”

She curtsied and left the room with a huge smile. Morgan stepped inside to pull the doors closed and saw Lord Stokes laughing to himself.

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