“Father, do you think I should see other men, so I can convince Kip that I know what I want?”
“Oh, I thought that might come up if he’s the man I think he is. Normally, I would have hoped you to see many eligible gentlemen before you settle down with one. I still think it’s worth trying. However, your mother and I had a good marriage without her seeing many men. Being in service, your choices are limited. But it did work for us.”
“Kip said something odd. He said only he knew what I would go through to marry him, and he wants to be sure that I know he’s the one. Do you know what he meant by that? He did tell me about his sister dying, and that’s why he left home. Do you know more?”
“I do, but I have given my word to allow Kip to tell you when the time is right.”
“Would you approve of him? Can you tell me that much?”
“I am not bothered that you are seeing him now. Let that be the end of it.”
The first day of the derby looked like it was going to be successful. Everyone seemed unsure of what to anticipate, but all expected to enjoy the camaraderie, good food, and ale.
The first event was that all coachman paraded around a very large ring with their pair and coach. Kip had entered in his daily clothes and older elegant coach. His horses out-shown all the others, however, he did not take first place. As it turned out the Caldwell coach, driven by Briggs, with the gold-crested letter “C” on the door, stood out strikingly with a hint of modesty. Many important people had been asked to be judges, where no speed or agility needed to be calculated. Other contests that were scheduled that day were trotting, galloping, stopping and fast starting by the coachman and his team. Kip did not enter those. The derby ended early, allowing the entrants to return to make their wages. Tomorrow was the final and biggest day.
“Tomorrow is the Grand Parade – the last event of the derby. Have you intentions on entering the Stokes carriage?” Kip inquired of Squeaks. “We never talked about being in an event together.”
“Tsk … You think to ask me now?” She hadn’t seen Kip for a few days and was unhappy that she didn’t know why.
“Can you attend me as second driver. I have someone without breasts to ride rear footman.” Kip smirked.
“I’m sure I have nothing appropriate to wear, Kip.”
“I have that well in hand. You will match me.”
“Tails?” Her face became excited.
“Yes, tails and a skirt to cover you to mid leg. It’s part of the Kipling line of fine Coachman Apparel. You will have a nice white crisp shirt with a few frills, which separates you from me, a feminine cravat and a velvet top hat designed by yours truly. This one will fit you.”
“You make that hard to resist, Mr. Kipling.”
“That was my intention. I have been busy with that for a few days now.”
“I will agree.”
Kip and Squeaks walked over to a shade tree where they determined times for dressing and meeting.
“I will bring your Kipling livery tonight. Check for any last-minute alterations and get the castle’s seamstress to fix you up.”
“Would you like to come to eat with the servants and me tonight?”
Kip broke out in a smile and started to decline. “Yes, I would like that, thank you.”
“I will see you tonight at 7:00 p.m. Good day, Mr. Kipling.”
“And the same to you, Miss Dorset.” He watched as she popped up and trotted off.
Squeaks drove her father and the Lord back to the castle. Clyde was having a grand time planning and watching, while Lord Stokes felt a bit of pride. He had no way to really tell the coachman how grateful he was for saving Squeaks life, and this felt like a worthy way to do it.
As soon as she exited her passengers, and took the coach to the stable, she informed the staff cook to set another place. Then she went to talk with her father. It was about time to explain her latest news, the relationship and the derby.
“Father, can I speak with you?”
“You know you can. Come in,” Clyde said as he settled into the rocking chair in his room.
Squeaks sat on the edge of his bed wondering where to begin. “Father, I don’t know who is the bigger fool but Kip …” The half-hour rolled past quickly as she explained how she couldn’t bring herself to accept an evening out with anyone else. “He feels I need to see other men to know my true feelings for him. He still can’t dismiss the idea that what I feel may be gratitude. He didn’t say those exact words, but I know he’s thinking that.”
Clyde sat patiently and listened. He understood what Kip was doing, and the very high cost to his heart.
“Father … Father! Were you listening?”
“Yes, dear. I was. He’s a braver man than I.”
“What do you mean braver? Surely he’s a fool.” Squeaks saw the pain in her father’s face.
“Father, what is it? Did you over-do today? Is it your leg?”
“No, Squeaks. It is none of that. I see now the depths of his love for you.”
“How? What do you see that I don’t?”
“He is sacrificing himself, his happiness, his future, all of it for you.”
“How is he doing that? I can’t see it!”
“Loves blinds you, Rebecca. He may lose you to another man, Squeaks. In your gaining experience and coming to know other gentleman types, you could find someone who means more to you. And he knows there is that possibility. That’s the chance he is taking to ensure you have the life you want and with whom you want it. He has searched past the blindness into cold hard reality. Kip knows you might be lost to him.”
“Well … we’ll just see about that. Oh, tonight, he will be here for dinner with the staff.” Squeaks had forgotten all about the Grand Parade.
Promptly at 7:00 p.m., Kip rolled into the stable area at Stokes Castle. A groomsman came to attend his team and coach.
“I know. You want Squeaks. She’s through that door. Just walk in,” said the young lad.
“Kip chuckled over him still not knowing Squeaks’ real name.” He went to his coach door and retrieved two boxes and some flowers. He was dressed nicely, but no tails, even though the staff would be wearing their proper attire.
Squeaks spotted him in the hall and came to him. She wanted to rush but held herself at bay. “If we were alone I would beat my fists upon your chest again for making me consider this ridiculous idea of yours,” Squeaks said with a smile on her face. “Oh, are these flowers for me? A peace offering?”
“No, they are not for you. I have had no answer, so they are for the cook.”
“That’s very kind of you. I should think that never happens in this house. She will be overjoyed. I will take you to her.”
Squeaks led the way into the kitchen, introducing many members to Kip as they scurried by with china tureens and bottles of wine. Squeaks finally caught a moment of the cook’s attention as she contemplated the next serving. She introduced Kip. “Oh, so you’re the young man who is stealing our Squeaks. It’s nice to meet you.”
“I’m not sure you are correct about me stealing her, but here are some flowers for the meal tonight and the lovely picnic lunch you made for us.”
Gwen slapped her hands to her face in disbelief. “My gracious. This is a very nice surprise. Thank you, Mr. Kipling.”
“Please call me, Kip. You are welcome.” Kip remembered his home life and knew that a cook was as equal in rank as a driver. They were both hired for their knowledge and would not have to climb the servant’s ladder. Others too were hired the same way – the gardener, governesses, gamekeepers, and nurses. If they did nothing wrong, they had a job for life.
“It was nice to meet you . . .”
“It was nice to meet you, Gwen.”
Squeaks was tugging on his shirt sleeve and pulling him into the servant’s lounge area.
“So, can I see inside the boxes?”
“Have you gotten permission from your father and His Lordship?”
“Actually, I talked with Father today about our big conversation.”
“You did? I had looked for some strange reaction by Clyde to me, today. Did he agree with me?”
“I was so wrapped up in the long conversation that I forgot to tell him about the final parade. Also, Lord Stokes knows nothing. It will just have to be a surprise.”
“That is as I wished it would be, but you haven’t answered my question.”
“I will tell you he told me things I did not know, and I could not see. Perhaps you aren’t the fool I said you were. My answer tomorrow.”
Kip felt his heart sink. Her father did agree with him, and he wasn’t so foolish when he asked her to see other men. He knew the sumptuous meal would last a long time, but he would leave for home soon after. He needed to gird himself for her answer.
“Here is your Kipling line of Elegant Coachman attire. It is the special feminine edition.”
Squeaks picked up the pieces and held them against her body. “These are the most beautiful clothes I have ever seen for a driver. Oh, I am going to feel so special. She whirled around the room holding the skirt out to catch the air. She was grinning from ear to ear.
Kip was ecstatic watching her so happy. Perhaps, he would try to draw that womanly bubbling humility.
Suddenly, she was back to the box on the table. “Where’s my hat? Where’s my hat? You didn’t bring it,” she said, frowning at him questioningly.”
“Miss Dorset, do you have to be so expectant?” Kip held in the smile wanting to break through his disciplinary talk. “That’s right. It will be a surprise to you tomorrow. It seems like tomorrow will be a big day for all of us.”
“Kip, thank you for this lovely livery. I don’t know how you did it without someone fitting me, but I think it’s perfect. I will try it on later.”
“You know I said I would want to do that for you. Oh, one more thing.” There was another box that he handed to her.
She opened it quickly and inside were a pair of tooled leather boots and soft leather gloves. “I wanted to ensure you didn’t wear your boots tomorrow.”
“These are beautiful with the design on the toe. I’ve never had fancy boots.” She sat down to try them on, and something was preventing her from sliding her foot forward. She backed her foot out, and felt down to the toe, pulling out a gold chain and watch. She was startled by the most excellent gift and began to whimper quietly.
“Kip, this is far too much. I cannot take this.” She handed it to him. “Please return it. You can’t afford gifts like this. I can hardly begin to think of what these clothes, boots, and hat cost.”
Kip took the watch back and slipped it into his pocket. “I will take it from you, but I had it engraved, so it cannot be returned,” he smiled.
“You did? There are pretty words engraved to me in there?”
“And you will never see them. I think I hear us being called for dinner.” Kip walked out of the room with Squeaks in a pout. The money spent was nothing to him. He wanted to give her the world. He would not sleep tonight, for tomorrow his future could hang in the balance.
Kip became aware that all eyes were on him and Squeaks during dinner.
What are they thinking?
He remembered the cook saying he was taking Squeaks away from them. They were sizing him for a husband and not just any man interested in their little Squeaks. It gave him a prickly feeling. They would all rush to her after he left and offer their opinion. How odd that felt – to have to pass muster with the staff. Nobility rarely encountered such attitudes. A title demanded respect. Within his coachman brotherhood, he was merely accepted. With this staff family, there was a genuine concern for Squeaks, and a test it seemed he had to pass. As much as he understood that concern, it was just so openly displayed that caught him off guard.
Finally, Clyde began telling them stories about Kip. There were many laughing around the table which eased his anxiety.
Kip could see the love for her permeated the room during the meal. How could he take her away from this?
Kip called the stable boy over and asked him to bring his team. Squeaks followed quickly behind him.
“Yes. It seems there is much to do before tomorrow. I must check with my footman. I will arrive in my regular coachman clothes and then change just before the parade. You may change in the coach if you wish or come fully dressed. Are you in any other events?”
“I was going to be, but perhaps I will forget about it.”
“The Steeplechase run.”
“You mean you can jump your horse? You never told me that when we went riding. I think you toy with me, young woman.”
“Tsk. I wasn’t on my horse. I still have secrets myself.”
“Indeed, you do. I want to see this. Perhaps I will enter the same race. When is it?”
“Just before lunch and the last event before the Grand Parade.”
“Wear what you will. I will have your hat ready and the drapes drawn by lunchtime.”
“Yes, my hat and my watch, if you don’t mind.”
“But you returned the watch to me.”
“Couldn’t I wear it for the parade and then return it to you?”
“If you don’t snap the inside cover open. Promise?”
Squeaks wrestled with what to say. Of course, she wanted to see the inside, and that was her purpose in asking. “I’d be lying if I promised not to. I can only promise that I will try.”
“Not good enough. Good night, Miss Dorset. I shall see you on the morrow.”
Squeaks’ demeanor drooped as Kip pulled away from the castle’s stable.
Kip arrived home bewildered. From their conversation, he concluded that Squeaks would be agreeable to his suggestion of seeing other men. However, her actions after that were slightly more positive. He found his sketching pad, charcoals, and sat down to draw the scene he was carrying in his head.
The room had little lighting at the time, and the corners were dark, but he remembered her movements and her expression. He would forget the room and just draw her twirling with her new livery held against her body. She had flared out the skirt as she danced around. Her smile lit his whole world. For one small moment, he wondered if she was attracted to him purely for his interest in her interest – coaching. It made him furious when he had that idea. Kip scratched across his drawing, ripping the paper from the tablet, and began again.
Kip spent most of the evening thinking of her, as was usual. She had not told him she could jump. That was exciting to him. He had looked forward to teaching her. Kip decided not to enter the race as his horses were too heavy for jumpers. What horse would Squeaks use? He had seen other horses in Stokes’s stable that one day, but she never mentioned any of them. Kip eventually finished his drawing, setting it on the mantel. He spent the next hour grooming his horses and the new one, Hero, a rare white Friesian, that was to be a gift for Miss Rebecca Dorset.