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?”
“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?”
“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 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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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.
His day was at an end. Kip looked forward to keeping company with Miss Squeaks tomorrow. As he began to undress for the night, he found a pittance of money in his pocket. This was a rare day for him, but it had all been of his own choosing. People were coming into his life, which held far more value to him. For a year, he had avoided his family because of his decision to leave home, but there had been no attempts to change his mind. His father was more devastated by his daughter’s loss than he had let on at the time. Why did nobility feel they could never show their true emotions? The peerage of the land seemed to have been taught to take the overwhelming news with composure. No one dared show weakness.
While sliding off his boots, he wondered what he and Squeaks would talk about. Kip had given no thought to his future since he left home. If he did find a woman, he wanted to spend his life with, what would be her opinion of his choice of trade or being titled?
Kip rose early, thinking of his dream and Squeaks’ magnetism. Was it the novelty of her being the only female driver? He knew it started there. He had never thought about someone to love who could man a team of horses. Nevertheless, she was there, almost in front of him. Never having seen her hair unfurled, it was black and shiny as jet glass. Little dimpling cheeks, rosy from the morning air, and no muscular stature for someone in that trade. He imagined her riding a horse. He pulled out his pad and began to draw; her head reaching just above the stirrup. As the charcoal in his hand swept across the canvas, he pictured her being boosted into the saddle by a groom from the stable. Perhaps they had a concrete step, as many riders needed those. Finished sketching his fancy, he donned his daily dress and harnessed the horses.
Kip was there early, ensuring they could park next to one another when she arrived. There were very few teams in the yard as he pulled in. He didn’t care what the others thought when no passenger disembarked. He rode straight to the waiting area and parked an hour before the Stokes’ coach arrived. Kip watched from a distance as her rider exited. She headed towards him looking like a child on the bench. If she wasn’t known, one might be prompted to rescue the little boy on the runaway carriage. Seeing the black ribbons from her hat flapping in the wind, made his heart soar. Squeaks would look magnificent in a rain cape that billowed out behind her as she raced the team to shelter. He started to analyze his own reactions to seeing her. His pulse quickened; heart raced, and a strange nervous state came over him. If she turned from him, it would be a serious disappointment. I think I am falling in love.
As she pulled around behind and came to rest beside him, facing the building, she smiled.
He tipped his hat, “Good morning, Squeaks. I watched you trotting in. You are so petite that one would think you live in a dollhouse.”
“Good morning to you, as well. May I come aboard?”
“You may indeed.” Kip gave her a broad smile. “You know you’ll get a reputation sitting with me.”
She said it again. She makes me laugh too easily.
“They will get to know me someday and know the way I am. I merely wish to see your harnessing.”
Kip feigned an arrow through his heart by clasping his chest with both hands. “You wound me, young woman. I thought it was I who interested you. Alas, I am but the humble servant of these horses and tack. You bestow us your presence at a price to my very soul.” He smiled.
“I hope not. I wish to know your heart and soul someday, not the cost to it.”
Kip was momentarily stunned. Did she really say that? “You know Squeaks; you cost every man here some form of restraint.”
“What restraint? What do you mean by restraint?”
“Miss Squeaks, could I caution you to resist applying a scent before working? The control these men are putting forward will become even more burdensome. I know what they tolerate and have a concern for your welfare.”
“Tsk? Don’t you know your own attraction here?”
“Not really. Novelty maybe. Nevertheless, I am not wearing any scent.”
“Dear God,” Kip sighed.
“I think you are having fun with me.”
“I wish that, but I am serious about the scent and the restraints.”
“I would like to accept your offer to ride the next time I am available; when is not clear yet.”
“Squeaks, I am in anticipation of the day.”
“If I wasn’t on the Stokes estate, I was riding with my father. I have only seen London from up here. It would be a delight to get out of the city. Shall I pack a lunch?”
“My very thoughts. Speaking of reading my mind, let me show you something I did last night.” Kip reached under the bench for his folio. He opened it and flipped a few pages until he came to the sketch of her standing next to a large horse.
She clapped her hands as she giggled. “I am most impressed by your drawing ability, and you have caught me utterly. Oh, Kip, this is grand. How did you learn to draw?”
“It was something I picked up during my waiting times. Eventually, you will find something that entertains you. I have little talent.”
“I think you are wrong there. I believe this is exceedingly well done. It isn’t a masterpiece, but quite accurate. Could I borrow it? I think His Lordship and my father would enjoy seeing it. And you say you did this from memory – well, of course, you did. I didn’t sit for this.”
“Would you mind if I sketched you on our day out? I would like a picture of you.”
“Me? You would?”
“I think you know I would, as any man here.”
“Can you not speak for yourself, Kip?”
Confused, Kip asked, “Am I not speaking for myself?” Quite in doubt of her meaning.
“Not really. When you want to pay me a courteous remark, you add that all the other men would feel the same. I would rather hear your own thoughts.”
“You astonish me. I knew I was doing that but never suspected it to be seen through. The truth is, I do fancy you, and every time I see you, it becomes harder to leave. I fear it is too early to say words like this, but you have forced me into this admission with your astuteness. I hope you cannot read my mind.”
“Give me time. Your face is starting to tell on you. It is you who I cost restraint, is it not?”
Kip was grateful it was only his face giving him away. “Please, do not make me admit that. I am one of many men who you will make the acquaintance of, and I daresay, most will react the same.”
“You like saying that. You dismiss any warnings that I give you. Why is that? After all, you have forced out of me this morning, you must know I have an interest in your safety.”
Squeaks is the most un-noble woman I have ever met.
“Am I not among gentlemen? I have you here and Boots for the rest of the week. Let me enjoy this time before I start to worry for myself. My father and Lord Stokes do the worrying for all of us. I do carry a pistol and am skilled in its use.”
“Do you have it with you? May I see it?”
Squeaks took the wheel peg down and ascended to her bench. Under her seat, she extracted an antique pistol.
Kip, taking it from her lifted hand said, “This … this is what you were trained on?”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s a relic. It belongs in a museum. It has probably been on the Stokes property for a century or more. It’s a flintlock. I will get you something you can handle. They actually have firearms that shoot more than one round before reloading,” he laughed. “I’ll show you mine someday. I can’t believe this is what you and your father have been relying on should the time come.”
“Back to my drawing. Yes, you can borrow it or have it if you like, but would you sit for me when we travel into the country? I mainly want to sketch your face. I am just starting to try my hand at portraits. Everything has been landscape until now.”
“I will consider it an honor to sit for you. I would imagine it shall be within a few days. You will come to pick me up?”
“Which coach do you wish: The Queen Mary or this one, The Butler?”
“I think this one. Should some accident befall us from my driving, let it be in this coach.”
Kip hardly noticed the yard filling. A footman from the Parliament building was heading his way. He thought it awkward when the man handed him a sealed missive.
He opened it.
Your brother will be here today. Come dine with us at 7:00.
Kip closed the message and placed it in his coat pocket.
It wasn’t long after receiving his note that drivers were descending on his horses and guest. Warrior might be put out if he knew he was now the second favorite. Kip rolled up his sketch and handed it to Squeaks.
“I guess I should withdraw to the ground like all the other drivers,” she said.
“I will join you for a while. I forgot to tell you that we will meet on Saturday night at a gala that my rider and your rider will be attending.”
“Do you mean in the dark?”
“Do you fear the dark or could it be me?” he smiled.
“No, but I have rarely driven at night using the lamps. Could I beg your company for a brief time tomorrow, so you can explain any tips? I will ask my father, as well. Perhaps His Lordship will not allow me to be there alone in the dark,” Squeaks said, as she placed the sketch in the coach.
“Yes, I will be here tomorrow if you wish it.”
“Yes, I do wish it of you, along with the other hundred women waiting in line for your charms.” The inclination in her voice sounded far more than asking him to be there for night-driving tips. She wondered if what she felt that moment was called jealousy. It was a new and very uncomfortable emotion.
Kip felt a thrill run through him. He wondered how she saw their developing relationship. She couldn’t feel as he did. Right now, because her father knew him and liked him, he was her safe haven. If that’s all it was, he would be happy to have that. For a moment, sadness crept through his mind as once someone else counted on his safety, and now she was dead.
As Kip’s feet landed on the ground, he began conversations with the others. He did not want to draw any more attention to people thinking they were a couple because they weren’t. He purposely had his back to her, as he didn’t wish to see her being ogled. Kip heard someone talking about her livery with the skirt and top hat. Many of them wanted to know how it was to work for Lord Stokes, but she never gave them any information. On his wait times today, he would begin a list of important facts to know about night reining. An hour later, Kip left her with the others talking about their jobs.
Kip spent the balance of his day picking up standard fares, thinking of Squeaks, wondering if he should come to the front or back door of his father’s suite, and thinking about night driving. Tomorrow night he had a special fare for an evening event. He would wear his tails and drive the Queen Mary. Then, if his luck held, he would see Squeaks at the Saturday ton. The full moon was just beginning to wane.
Squeaks spent her morning getting to know the other drivers and who they worked for. Several times she heard an apology for their language, but this was the life she had always wanted, and words like that came with a gathering of men. She never heard any talk about women, of which she was glad. As much as she wanted to know the sincerity of men loving women for more than their bodies, she wasn’t willing to learn from overhearing conversations and boasts.
Lord Stokes hailed her near 1:00 in the afternoon. Squeaks drove him to a nice restaurant. Entering the coach, he saw the rolled-up heavy paper and had a look at it. His first impression was laughter. After that, he wondered when that was done and where was she. As she matured, he had struggled to stay out of her private life, but it hadn’t been easy. He had only one son. They never bore a daughter, and he had wished to have had one. Squeaks filled his want of a daughter, but she was an adult now, and there was little he could say. He would wait to see if she told him about the sketch. He hoped she had packed her own lunch. For some reason, along with the thought of her meal, he wondered about her personal issues while out on the road. Men had no trouble taking care of that function, but she would need to seek privacy. He decided to ask Clyde, about such problems for her. Stokes was still hearing from his fellow Lords about glimpsing his new driver. “You Lords, are just jealous,” he told them.
Lord Stokes was returned to Parliament for the rest of the day and did not leave until near dusk.
Squeaks lit the lamps with the help of some young man lifting her instead of doing it for her. This would be her first drive this late. It wasn’t dark, yet, but the sun was going down. The tall buildings in that part of the city allowed little twilight to filter through. It seemed easy to tell how close to the road edge she was but found herself coming up on a coach ahead of her a bit tricky. It was hard to tell if they were moving or stopped. What would she do when she drove where there were no gas street lamps?
Kip arrived home, bathed and changed into his tails, which was expected at his ancestral home – one always dressed for dinner. Arriving at his father’s suite of rooms, he could only park in the rear. That was settled, as he would not leave his team on the street. A groom ran over and took the reins. “Water them, please,” Kip asked. “How do I enter this building?”
“Sir, it depends on if you want the front door or back door.”
“I’ll use the back door.”
“Yes, right through that alcove, into the courtyard. You will see steps to the back.”
“Thank you, my lad.” Kip wondered where his father’s driver was. He knew that he would recognize him. This was going to be an exciting night.
He walked from the below stairs area to the upper hallway, becoming Lord Trevor again, Chandler was there to greet him.
“Lord Trevor, I am most happy to see you. I hope you have been well.”
“Chandler, I believe I am improving. Do you know what I do these days?”
“Oh yes, sir. We know it is to be confidential at your request.”
“That would be Briggs and me, sir.”
“Thank you, Chandler, and Briggs, too. No doubt our coaches will pass someday.”
“Sir, I believe that has already happened. This way, sir. Your brother is anxious to see you, as we all are. Your usual scotch, sir?”
Kip smiled, “You remember!”
“Oh, yes, sir.”
As Trevor Caldwell entered the study of his father, he saw his brother rushing over to him. At first, there was a handshake, followed by a hug, with back-slapping. “Good evening, milord,” Kip greeted the title first, with a head bow. Then turning toward his brother, “How are you, Gus?”
“I believe your brother has some disturbing news from home. Sit down, sons. Here comes Chandler with your drinks.”
Kip flipped his tails up so as not to crease them, crossed his legs, taking the crystal glass that was handed to him. The large study was that of a working Lord, and warmth billowed from the hearth near his desk.
“Thank you, Chandler,” he said.
Chandler bowed and left the room, closing the double doors.
“Trevor, you look marvelous. Getting much of the sun, I see. When we have a long time, I would like to hear what lures you to this trade of coachman. There must be something for you to settle for a profession like that.”
“Gus, I am not ‘settling’ for anything. I am happy with driving. Yes, we will talk more, but what is this news you have from home. Is it about, Mary?”
The room grew quiet. Gus shifted in his seat and pulled on his scotch glass before starting.
“Trevor, I think Mary may be haunting Caldwell Hall.”
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.
“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.
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?”
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.
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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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?”
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.
“Lucy, you stay here. I have no idea how long this will take tonight if she has not returned home. Lilly has always been a well-behaved child as she’s grown. I cannot think of any situation where she would leave her cousin and a ball behind.”
Sir Blevins looked at Kip. “Do you carry a weapon, Kip?”
“Not on my person tonight, but there is one in my bench seat.”
“Fine. Give me a moment.” Sir Blevins walked to his study and closed the door.
“Kip, you have a firearm with you? Is that all the time?”
“Yes, Miss. We are likely targets for theft all the time. Our customers are often responsible persons of great value within the realm, too. I carry several weapons if the truth be told. That is supposed to be a secret.”
“I understand. I feel protected in your presence.”
“Perhaps that is not a noble assessment of me. Miss, as I said, I am a man and a coachman. Do not become all too familiar to me,” Kip laughed.
Lucy smiled. “Do all drivers carry weapons?”
“I cannot say. Most that I know, do. We have countless ways to defend our person and our rider.”
The study door opened, and Sir Blevins came out with a slightly bulging jacket. “Let us go, Kip.”
“Take care – both of you,” Lucy said as she watched them to the coach. It seemed her uncle wanted to ride atop with Kip. She laughed, seeing him struggling to lift his increasing bulk up the wheel peg.
A few moments later, Sir Blevins spoke. “Turn left down that street, Kip.”
Kip reined the team up the short circular driveway, pulling to a stop in front of the door. “Do you wish me to wait here?”
“Yes, I will call if I need you.”
Being near midnight, it took a few minutes for someone to come to the door. Most of the second-floor lights were unlit. Sir Blevins entered the residence, and Kip did not hear from him for half an hour. Could this other young lady be missing? A sick feeling was creeping into his gut. “Mary, are you here?” Kip called out to her, but nothing was heard except a sudden gust of wind rustling the trees, on the quiet night.
Sir Blevins returned to the coach and waved Kip down from his bench.
“Yes, sir?” Kip asked.
“Her uncle is not surprised that she is not home yet. It isn’t often that she is out this late, but it has happened. However, he was taken aback to hear that she left the ball over an hour ago without Lucy. I am going to stay with him until there is some word. Do you have a card?”
Kip flicked his calling card out of his inside pocket. It always happened so fast, it appeared magical. Kip worked on that little aspect of his job while in his times of wait.
“I imagine before the night is over, we will be at the nick. They could want to speak to you if we’re looking at something horrific here. Thank you, Kip. You have been a valuable help. Heaven knows what might have happened to Lucy had you not waited.”
“Good evening, sir, and the best to all of you. I will make a return stop at the ball grounds. Should there be any significant news, I will return here. May I visit in the morning?”
“Kip, what are you doing back here?” Asked Marc.
“There is a young lady, Miss Blevins’s cousin, who has not returned home after leaving here with two gentlemen. Before retiring for the night, I wanted any further knowledge known about one woman and two gentlemen, or the coach. Have there been any strange rumors? Do you know?”
“I know they have not returned. I think Kyle saw them. Is there worry among the family for her safety?”
“Possibly. They may seek help from the Met before morning.”
“I see. I will canvass the other drivers and determine who knows about an unknown coach in which she could have arrived. We will all keep an eye out for it.”
“That would be of great help to the family. Thank you, Marc.”
The next morning, as promised, Trevor Kipling, visited the home of Sir Blevins. He was shown into the study.
“Thank you for stopping by, Kip. I wish I had good news to report, but I have not. Lilith Caldwell did not return home last night, and we called upon the men at the Metropolitan several hours ago. Miss Lucy is naturally upset and has not risen from her bed as yet. The police may look for you, but I doubt it, as you saw no one yourself.”
“Did you say, Caldwell, sir?”
“Yes, do you know the name?”
The shock of hearing his family name associated with the disappearance of a young woman was too much of a coincidence. “There is Lord Caldwell, I believe. I may follow up at the Met, so they don’t have to hunt for me. Is Lilith Caldwell a relation to his Lordship, do you know?”
“I believe there is some type of distant relationship.”
“Please, allow me to be of any service that I can. Good day, sir.”
“Thank you, Kip. And thank you for taking care of my niece. She said she felt well-guarded with you.”
“It was my honor, sir.” Kip turned and walked to the door. As he received his top hat, he saw Miss Lucy watching him from the balcony above. He looked at her while fitting his hat, then walked through the open door.
His knees were shaking as he pulled his carriage home. “This can’t be happening again, and I don’t believe in coincidences,” he reflected aloud.
Kip arrived home and changed. Pacing the floor, wondering if there is any association to his Caldwell side of the family. He remembered that eerie feeling he’d had late last night. Dressed in his finery, he decided to seek out his father before the police. He could only start at the House of Lords. It was early. The members were just beginning to arrive. Kip would park his team with the others until he saw Briggs pacing in. Team after team of coaches rolled in bearing the noble lords of the land. He became fascinated with the coaches themselves and felt his stood proud against any of them. Finally, he thought he saw a coach arriving with a crested, gold painted “C” within the coat of arms on its door. That has to be father, he told himself. He tied the reins to the brake and jumped down. The gentleman was about to climb the steps when Kip shouted, “Lord Caldwell!”
His father stopped, looking for the voice that had called out to him. Suddenly, Kip saw his father recognize him. After almost a year, his father looked much older. Kip was not quite the picture of the Lord apparent either, but still, his father turned and walked towards him. They shook hands.
“It is good to see you, Father.”
“Son, I cannot believe you are here standing before me. Never knowing where you were, I have worried this past year.”
“Father, I know you have to be inside, but I must speak with you as soon as possible.”
“Certainly. Is this an emergency?”
“I believe it could be.”
“Wait a minute, Son.” William Caldwell ruffled through his brief to see what was on the floor today. “I believe I will be needed for two hours this morning. Shall you return for me?”
“Yes, but we need privacy for what I wish to ask you.”
“I know the very place, but my driver has gone on. You will have one when I leave this building?”
Kip smiled. “Yes, I will, Father.”
He returned to his coach after watching his father climb the stairs. Before he could pull out, the Stokes driver, Clyde Dorset, and daughter happened to rein their team in next to his. He couldn’t resist a broad smile, and the young lady saw it, to his embarrassment. Kip thought, he just might wait on his father. She was an exquisite pixie.
“Good morning, Dorset,” he called out. “I see you have a helper today.”
“Yes, Kip. This is my daughter, Rebecca, whom we all call Squeaks.”
Kip tipped his hat to her. “That is an unusual name,” he said looking at her. “May I ask how that came about?”
She blushed modestly. “His Lordship started calling me this name when I was not yet one year old. I understand the staff carried on with it, and here it is with me, twenty years later.”
“Squeaks, Kip is an independent driver,” her father mentioned.
“Oh, he is the type to avoid, is that what you told me?” She said it purposely to tease her father, which embarrassed him.
Kip found it amusing. “Yes, miss. Your father is right. We have no higher authority to answer to, as you do, for our behavior. However, we do have to rely on our honor and reputation as gentlemen drivers if we wish to make a living in this trade.”
“Kip, my daughter, is speaking out of turn and jesting, I believe. I am sorry.”
“There is no need to be sorry. I have heard rumors that your daughter hopes to drive one day. Should that be the case, she will be smart to learn the other drivers while you are with her.”
“Squeaks, since you have put me in a rather uncomfortable predicament, I will say that driver Kip has one of the best driver reputations in London. I will tell you more when he is not beaming with pride as you see him now.”
“I never beam, sir,” he said through a grin.
“May I have a closer look at your horses?” Squeaks asked. “They are magnificent?”
“Please do, miss. I am most proud of them.”
“I prefer not to be called miss if you do not mind. Hoping one day to rein for His Lordship, and be accepted among the drivers, I would prefer Squeaks or Dorset.”
“Then Squeaks, it is.” Kip found amusement in that and laughed a little too loudly.
Squeaks laughed at his laughter. She climbed down the wheel.
She looks most fetching in her livery and tiny top hat with a bow. Kip thought. “You have a very striking livery, Miss Squeaks.”
“Thank you, kind sir,” she said as she curtsied, causing more laughter. “His Lordship had a special livery made for me when I was old enough to ride on the bench.”
“Is that so?” He was beside himself, feeling guilty for being happy. His smile just wanted to burst forth and be seen. God, I can’t stop smiling.
“Kip, she has been the apple of his eye since she could run through the castle, squeaking noises at the dogs.”
“One can see her being the apple of many eyes.”
Did she just blush?
Clyde came down out of the box, and the three of them discussed his horses and their history.
“These must have set you back a considerable pound or two,” said Clyde. “And this coach, too.”
“The horses have a brisk high-step, which makes them look elegant. Nearly all are true black with a few chestnut-colored ones that pulled in a reddish color from previous breeding lines. Yes, sir, they did cost a pound or two. I wanted to offer the best possible ride that I could.”
“You have achieved that, I can see. I believe you provide a decent ride for more than a lot of Lords parked here.”
“Not as many as you think. Most Lords have their own stables, but occasionally I come here. Miss Squeaks, you may rein them anytime your father permits.”
Her eyes grew big and bright. “I am of age, sir. I need no permission. However, I do need the time.”
“Squeaks, watch what you say.”
“Yes, Miss Squeaks. If I were to take you riding on the bench, I would feel better with your father’s permission.”
I can’t stop staring. Where are my manners?
“She leaned closer to Kip, “I will get his permission. I will storm the battlements of Stokes Castle to drive this excellent attractive team.”
Kip laughed. Their eyes met, and the smiles slowly disappeared as something else overtook them, emotions, perhaps. An image of his sister flitted through his mind and was gone. Mary?
“Being an independent, my time is my own. Here is my card,” Kip said, doing his magic card flicking trick. “I will be available when you are. Furthermore, I should tell you that these horses are brilliant under saddle, as well. Do you ride?”
“Since I was four, sir.”
“You are apt to put me to shame,” Kip quipped.
“I believe I will, at that,” she smiled.
Clyde Dorset could see his daughter was enjoying herself as a woman, a stage he feared she would never feel comfortable with. He climbed into his box and let them talk.
“Miss Squeaks, do you realize I am the envy of every driver here right now? They are all looking at you.”
“I beg your pardon, miss. I am that, but only when it is true.”
Squeaks cast her eyes slowly over the waiting teams, and everyone was looking her way. A sudden thrill ran down her spine.
“Do you think it is because I am a female driver-in-waiting?’
“In-waiting?” Kip laughed quite loudly at that. “Are you the Driver Regent?”
Now she laughed loudly. “I think that is a good phrase for what I am. His Lordship will believe that to be very amusing.”
“You speak with His Lordship often?”
“Almost daily. I do many things for him. I read to him. He discusses his matters of Parliament with me – wanting to get the Commons side of thought,” she smirked.
“That’s piffle, and we both know it,” Kip replied with a laugh.
She is enchanting.
“Yes, you are correct. I read to him little anymore.”
They both chuckled with delight. Kip could feel it happening. She was creeping round his heart. He felt it hammering against his chest.
Please, cast your sweets in my direction, small lady.
“Getting back to the envy of me – yes, there is interest in the Driver Regent but also the lady driver.”
“I am no lady, sir.”
“Woman, then. You are most definitely a woman. Even with all the heavy livery, a man can tell these things,” he smiled.
Thinking she would put him on the spot, she asked, “And how does that manifest itself?”
“Why, Miss Squeaks, you should know the answer to that. Of course, it is your … ahem … um … sweet little top hat with the big black bow. Men do not wear bows, you know.”
“I thought mine looked different,” Squeaks laughed.
Oh God, I am dissolving into mush and cannot stop it. I want to keep her and put her in my pocket.
Her father, overhearing all the conversation, was happy for his daughter to find her femininity. She seemed to be captivated by Kip, and Clyde did not think he was too worried about that.
“Do you carry a comb and brush for your horses?”
“A driver is never without his comb and brush, milady. If you wish to use them, you only need ask.” Kip started to his jump peg but waited for her to ask. She didn’t. She was playing a game with him; it seemed. Such a tease … how amusing. I see I will be challenged with her.
“Ahem … it appears you wish to practice those feminine wiles on me. I must admit to being very susceptible to those. Please be gentle with me. Do not assume that I know when you are jesting. I just may have to kiss you to get you to stop.” Kip looked at her father and winked. Down deep her father knew he wasn’t kidding. He understood the attraction of his own daughter.
“Driver Kip, I have been raised by my father, the staff and His Lordship, spend most of my time at the stable and paddocks, leaving some lessons unlearned about these wiles of which you speak.”
“Just how many are staffed at Lord Stokes’s small, unassuming castle, if I may ask?”
“The truth, madam, if you would, please.”
“I would say … many.”
“Many … as in fifty? How many men would that be who work there? Plenty of women teachers I would think. It’s like living in a small town where you were raised.”
“You seem very knowledgeable about the women,” she started to giggle.
“I drive many women who are alone but wish to visit or shop during the day.”
“What, may I ask, do you see?”
Squeaks was stumped for words. “Do they ever ask you inside the house?” She was serious with that question but did not let on.
“Do I detect a bit of jealousy? And we have only just met. I must be making a good impression on you. A driver never discusses his rides, unless he is to warn others. And on no occasion, speaks of a Lady.”
“My father keeps reminding me all the time.”
“I would like to add my own caution to you in this trade. If you come to know me, and I hope you will, you need to persuade me why you have come to select driving as your profession. I will worry about you. You will not be safe.”
“You won’t talk about it all the time, will you?”
“No, but don’t be surprised if you see me following you one night.”
Squeaks was surprised that he was so open with his words to her in front of her father.
“Miss Squeaks, it has been a real pleasure to meet you for the first time. I hope there will be other occasions. Perhaps your father will permit you to ride with me. However, I must leave now. I will be back in two hours.”
“I doubt we shall be here. Thank you. I have liked meeting you, too. I hope I will be driving those … ah … elegant high-stepping horses someday soon.”
“Good day to you both,” Kip said, tipping his hat, hopping the wheel, and pulling his team out of the yard.
“Father, I like him.”
“That was obvious to both of us.”
“Obvious to you and me?”
“No, obvious to him and me.” Clyde laughed.
“You must like him, too. I would have expected a ‘talking to’ after that conversation.”
“The one thing everyone knows about Kip is his honesty and honor. Somewhere in his life, he has been educated, and honor has reigned heavily within his family. You do not have to be noble to be honorable, you know.”
“Yes, I guess you are right, Father. So … will you give me your consent to ride with him one day? You know I do not need it, but I would like to have it regardless.”
“Squeaks, I have waited several years for you to begin to feel and act like a woman. Today I saw it. If it is because of Trevor Kipling, I am fine with that. I was serious when I told you he was one of the finest and most sought-after drivers in London. Perhaps, he would allow you as a second driver one night in his coach. He may even let you drive it, and he rides rear footman.”
“Oh father, I cannot believe that. That is too much to hope for.”
“You couldn’t see how he was looking at you, as I did. Even seeing his face, you could not read it. I believe only another man could.”
“What are you trying to tell me, father?”
“I believe he may be a serious suitor somewhere in your future.”
“Suitor? Have you ever actually explained what that means? Does it mean marriage?”
“Perhaps. I do not know him that well, but I am sure there is much interest in you, as there will be from many others. Take your time. Do not make any decisions about any of them. Spread your friendship around to many men, as long as I can know who they are, too.”
“Father, it sounds like you are trusting me now.”
“I think you handled yourself fairly well with him. You almost stood all of your ground. I think he had you with the staff at Stokes Castle.”
Clyde saw her sigh with a happy smile. It was a different look to her. He hoped Kip was in earnest, and he had no reason to think otherwise.
Kip could hardly believe the whistling that he heard coming from his own mouth. In the glorious days of his youth, until now, he never remembered doing that. Nobles didn’t whistle, except for their horse, perhaps. His mind began to swim, causing light-headedness. Quickly, he turned a corner and pulled his rig to a stop. He sat for a moment with his elbows on his knees holding his head, trying to come to grips with the situation he was enduring. If this was love overwhelming him, Kip wasn’t sure he would live through it. Closing his eyes, Mary swirled around and around as if on a carousel. Once again, he felt she was with him. But how did she feel about it all?
Arriving at Blevins Manor, Kip watched Sir Blevins escort a young woman to his coach. He jumped to the ground to meet her.
“Kip, this is my niece, Lady Lucy Blevins, who is staying with us for the season. I trust you to see that she arrives at the ball and is escorted into the hall. There she is to meet her cousin.”
“Sir, I will see to it that she is delivered safely. Am I to wait?”
Sir Blevins looked at his niece, wondering if she had further plans.
“Uncle, if this driver would not mind waiting an hour, I would appreciate that. I may not wish to stay. Otherwise, Lilly said her driver would return me here.”
“Very well. Kip, you will wait for one hour.”
“Yes, Uncle,” Lucy said with a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”
“Yes, Sir. Understood.”
Kip assisted her into the coach and was on his way. Upon arrival, he did not feel comfortable leaving her at the door with only the ball footman. She would be alone, once out of the coach. He pulled under the covered entrance; the event footman opened his coach door and exited Lucy Blevins. Kip jumped down, against protocol, and walked her inside the door.
“Miss, you are inside the door as your uncle instructed, but I feel uneasy with you here alone. I will park my team and return until your cousin arrives.”
“I believe I am asking too much of you, sir.”
“You would be doing me the service of not worrying about you. May I?”
“Yes, all right. Kip, is it?”
“Yes, Miss. One minute.”
Kip pulled the coach to a vacant spot, handed the reins to another driver friend and told him to tether the team, he would be back.
Kip approached Miss Blevins at the entrance into the hall.
“This is most kind of you, Kip.”
“It is my honor.”
“Oh, you certainly don’t mean that,” she smiled as they entered the foyer.
“I do, Miss. This is not just a courtesy.”
“I see. Well, it is more than generous, I should say.”
“You should say exceedingly little to me. I am but a driver.”
“I sense more to you than a driver. I cannot quite place it.” Lucy Blevins scanned the faces of all she could see. Her cousin was not there. “I am sorry you feel as if you have to wait. I do not see her.”
“Would you like to walk further into the actual ballroom?”
“Lilly said she would be by the doors.”
“Very well, Miss.”
“I see you are dressed in tails. Do you always drive in such evening elegance?”
“No, Miss. Only on particular occasions such as this.”
“I suppose I will allow you to walk with me into the ballroom, so I can see for myself if she is here.”
“If you wish it. I could stand at the hall entrance and keep an eye on you. Whichever you prefer.”
“I do not know anyone here. She was going to introduce me. Yes, I would appreciate it if you walked with me. At least, you do not look like a peacock.”
Kip chuckled, which caused her to smile.
As they entered the room, Lucy Blevins slipped her arm through his, surprising him. He accepted the honor and walked as the gentleman he was. It felt lovely to have a woman at his side. More than a year had passed since he was in the company of a fashionable lady.
“Kip, you look quite comfortable walking among the classes.” She smiled.
“I believe it to be my charm and good looks that help me pass for your lot.”
Lucy laughed. “My lot? As in upper society? If you only knew!”
“Are we both passing ourselves off as highborn types? How are we doing?”
“You are full of humor. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I am a social climber, but I do belong to the more common side of the family. I think my cousin is being kind to me.”
“Could your cousin think, ‘I should ask little Lucy out. She will never meet eligible men any other way’?”
“In my mind, that is what it feels like. That is why I asked uncle to allow you to remain another hour. I genuinely feel out of place.”
“May I have this dance?”
“Sorry. The music made me forget myself.” I must be more careful. That just slipped out.”
Lucy was being overwhelmed with this driver in tails. He was amusing her immensely.
“Do you happen to see your cousin?”
“I do not, but I cannot see across the floor.”
Kip faced her and placed his arm in the middle of her back, took her hand and waltzed her to the other side. “Here we are – the other side. Does this help?”
“Who are you? Has my cousin planned this whole evening? Are you the gentleman she wanted to introduce to me but felt I would run away? She slips you to me on a silver platter?”
“Brass, Miss. I would be slipped to you on a brass platter. I do think I shall put that on my calling cards. Being a gentlemen escort is rather appealing. It looks like I am quite proficient at it. What do you think?”
“I cannot believe the liberties you are taking if you truly are a driver. You are too amusing.”
“Now, you see; you have begun me to think that I could sweep you off your feet. You would be flattered. I would be honored, and it would be all innocent fun.”
“Will you kiss me goodnight, too?”
“Miss, you are not nearly ready for my fervid attention.” Kip kept his composure with a decidedly staid look while Lucy Blevins’s eyes twinkled with delight.”
“There she is! Lilly sees me.”
“Miss, you have been charming. I will wait outside until the appointed time. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to regale you.”
“I thoroughly was that I must say. Thank you. I still have a feeling I will not stay.”
“I will be waiting if that becomes your decision. Good evening.”
Kip bowed to her approaching cousin and left the area.
“Lucy, who was that handsome gentleman?”
“I do not think I will tell you, Lilly.”
“I have not seen him before. Here, I was going to introduce you to my gentleman’s friend, and you found someone.”
“Would you believe; he is my driver tonight?”
“No, I would not believe you. Coachmen do not come that handsome. And how many of them wear tails and walk ballroom floors?”
“You haven’t even seen the coach. I am living a fairy tale; I think.”
“Have you had any wine, yet?”
“No, but I feel as if I have.”
“Come. Let us find our gentlemen who were just behind me. I’m afraid I scurried over when I saw you.”
Miss Lucy Blevins was pulled merrily along by her hand toward two other guests.
Kip returned to his team and, as usual, found drivers milling around his horses and coach. Other drivers were looking to see what he was doing differently to attract more riders.
“Whom did you drive tonight?” Marc questioned.
“A Miss Lucy Blevins, cousin to someone named Lilly. She is a niece of Sir Blevins.”
“Dunno her, mate. Is she young and beautiful?”
“Yes, and quite.”
Kip took the wheel spoke to reach under the lid of his bench seat and pulled out a brush. He began raking one of his horse’s long mane and tail. “Are the other apostles here, tonight?”
“Mathew is across the way. Lucas is still expected, and I think Jonathan has another ball.”
This was the world he was coming to love. The camaraderie was always good fellowship. They spent many hours together and relied on one another. All of them were like a team of brothers. They were gentlemen drivers with souls of gold. He could never thank them for pulling him through some terribly rough emotional times that he had hidden from them after his sister’s murder.
Matthew approached the pair and patted down the other horse which was not being brushed. “Evening, gents. Is this Warrior or Soldier? I can never tell them apart even in the daylight.”
“That is Soldier. The three of us were rescuers late today. A woman came running to the coach, fleeing from a man. It appeared the young lady did not want to marry him, and they had had a heated discussion.”
“Do you know who she is?”
“No, I know where she lives, which I will not speak, but she was visiting near Hampstead.”
“Did you know the man?” asked Marc.
“No. I did go back later to see if there was a name on the house but there was not. In a few days, I will return to the young lady’s home and see how she is. I believe you are jealous of me, dear friends. Who among us does not enjoy the benefits of driving a young woman who is alone?”
“You keep telling us that, but no one seems to have your flair.”
“I have no flair, mates. I love women, as we all do. They are quite helpless against any man. You’re a hard lot, you chaps,” he laughed. “Anyone bring cards, Willy?”
It was nearing ten in the evening when Kip saw Miss Blevins exit the front entrance. He quickly scurried to meet her.
“Are you out for the air, or can I be of assistance?”
“I would like to leave, but not return home just yet. I feel quite shaken with my cousin and her guests. I think something is wrong.”
“I hope there is nothing amiss. Where may I drive you?”
“I know little of London. Can you choose a place for you and me to sit and talk? I do not mean privately; you understand.”
“Miss, are you quite certain? It is not my place to be a companion or socialize.”
“I do understand that. I had enjoyed your company before my gentleman was introduced to me. Is there no proper place?”
“Yes, there are benches in front of the courthouse. It is quite a public area, even at this time of night. If you wait here, I will bring the coach.”
“No matter. I will walk with you. Will you be shamed in front of the other drivers?”
“They may take to teasing me, but I will be admired,” he smiled.
Lucy felt her own smile return.
“Shall we go, miss?” Kip extended his arm, mostly because it was dark, and where he was headed was wheel-rutted.
The drivers moved away from Kip’s coach as he, and the lady appeared to head towards them. He purposely did not look in their direction as he handed Miss Blevins into his coach. Kip stepped on the wheel peg and lifted himself onto his bench. His fellow drivers were huddled together watching intently since he had brought her there on his arm.
Kip wasn’t sure what he was doing. He had done what he could to dissuade her, which failed. They arrived at the courthouse without much ado. There were the gas street lights and a dozen lighted windows in the Court House. He parked his team on the main street and attended Miss Blevins to a bench.
“You will sit with me, will you not?”
“Yes, Miss. Did you not enjoy your evening tonight?”
“It isn’t that which has me upset. It is my cousin Lilly.”
“Miss, this is not my business. Although whatever you say to me will remain private, reconsider that you are talking to a coachman. Perhaps, you should discuss this with a family member.”
“I am not sure what to do. I believe she is being coerced into something or blackmailed.”
Kip found his seat on the bench. This was far and away never the troubles he thought her cousin could be experiencing. “What makes you think that, Miss Blevins?”
“Twice she and her gentleman seemed to be having harsh words while they danced. I saw her frowning and shaking her head. She returned with watery eyes one time. The two of them kept taking short walks onto the back veranda. The gentleman who was with me observed that I noticed something was amiss. He became overly attentive to me at that time.”
“You do not think it was lovers quarrel?
“As they neared the table, returning from the veranda, I faintly heard her say, ‘I do not think I will do that.’”
“That could be a reply to any number of topics.”
“She and I are not all that close for her to openly confide in me. They wanted to leave early. I told them I would prefer to go home, so I left to find you. I did not want to stay with the friend, and he seemed anxious to go with them.”
“Do you know if they were taking her home?”
“No, I don’t, Kip,” Miss Blevins said as she leaned against his shoulder and began to weep.
Kip was not making any progress stemming the flow of her tears or her grip on him. “I feel you should be home explaining your observations to your uncle. He may have thoughts on this unusual situation. One woman and two men in a coach could signal … umm … improprieties.”
“Yes, I am sure you are right.”
“Splendid. Let us depart.”
Kip pulled his coach to the front of the dwelling where he had started. Miss Blevins was stepping out before he could reach her.
“I will walk with you to the door. Do you wish me to enter?”
“Yes. I will go find uncle.”
Lucy found her uncle, who was in his dressing robe and asked him to come speak with the driver. As the two walked towards Kip at the entrance, Lucy told him what had transpired during the ball.
“Good evening, Kip. What’s this Lucy is trying to tell me?”
Kip, clasping his hands behind his back, began his narration of events as he knew them, which was less than what Miss Blevins had told him. He mentioned he would have conversations with the other drivers.
“Please, wait until I dress. Kip, I’d like you to drive me to Lilly’s home. She is my sister’s niece. I wish to be comforted in the fact that she is home.”
As Sir Blevins left for upstairs, Miss Blevins approached him, took one of his hands, and kissed it. “Kip, I do not know how to thank you.”
“Miss Blevins, this type of gratitude is not expected nor earned. Please know your place.”
Lucy looked into his green eyes intently, “I think I do know my place.”
Kip felt the undeniable pleasure sweep over him, but all he could see was a black-haired cherub sitting atop a coach bench.
“Miss, you are charming and quite endearing but do not let your imagination take hold. This may be a serious situation. My help does not require payment. I desire that you refrain from complimenting me. You are putting me at a disadvantage, which is hard to resist. I am but a man as well as a coachman.”
Rebecca Dorset called Squeaks by Lord Stokes, and his staff was excited as today was the first day she would take the coach and reins though her father would be beside her. Born into service, Rebecca had always been the apple of His Lordship’s eye. As a baby, she did more chirping than crying, and Lord Stokes began calling her Squeaks. The household adopted the term, and the name seemed hers for life. As she grew, she accompanied her father most days and learned his trade. As the years passed, she pleaded with Lord Stokes to allow her to take the reins when her father could not. Finally, worn down by her giggles and smiles, he acquiesced, never thinking she would want to do the same when she grew into a young woman, but he was mistaken. She took his promise as a gold-crested agreement and undertook her future career with sincerity and vigor.
Squeaks took to horse and carriage as no other woman known. She was unique and had grown into a beautiful, spirited, and intelligent woman. His Lordship allowed all the children born into his service to have a limited education. Squeaks was twenty years of age, neat, trim, and 5’1” with raven-black hair and light blue eyes, tinged in black. Her head was typically covered in a woman’s riding top hat. It, too, was the same royal blue matching her uniform; a dyed beaver hat with a large black bow to hold it on her head. She also had a silk hat for specific outings when rain was sure to stay away. The beaver hat could weather anything. Her hair was long, but she kept it braided. If it weren’t for the wide ribbon, tied into a bow at her neck, she was thought to be a small male until one looked closely.
As her father and Lord Stokes aged, she became more useful to their needs: fetching things and reading to them quite often, keeping them company when they asked. Squeaks knew she would draw attention, not all of it favorable, in her chosen profession, but she did not care. It was her first love, even with all His Lordship’s and her father’s admonishments. She was thankful for what the household had done for both over the years. They raised her. She was rarely treated as staff, running and playing inside the castle until regrettably she was urged to realize her place in life. The house became quiet, as she kept in the kitchen or stables, at the age of eleven. His Lordship missed her smiling face but knew it was time to prepare her for a more realistic life. And she still wanted to drive for him. To help her through the crisis of leaving His Lordship’s private quarters, he had a livery made for her.
Kip sat in the shade of a large oak tree watching his hand flow across the paper, sketching the scenery around him. He liked it when he was asked to drive to one of the parks. Being an independent coach driver in London rarely permitted him a customer who wanted to be driven out of the crowded and congested streets to more open landscapes. Trevor had settled in a profession that kept him among the inner circles of society, a place to which he belonged, but he would forgo for some time. Not yet, at any rate, although his self-imposed feeling of culpability for his sister’s death was begrudgingly dissipating.
Kip was lost in thought as he blended the shadowed trees on his paper. He began thinking of his life of wealth and privilege, nearly a year ago. His murdered sister was always with him, but seeing her through his dream states, kept her alive and eased his soul. Many times, he wondered if he was suffering some form of madness, after all. However, his brethren drivers lived a full and interesting life, which he slowly learned to incorporate unto himself.
Fully engulfed in his past, Kip snapped his charcoal pencil in half, unaware of the stress he had put on its point. “Damn,” he whispered loudly, seeing the mess he had made of his sketch. Brushing the small bits of charcoal off the page, Kip looked toward the carriage to see if he had been overheard. Apparently, his client and guest were not interrupted. As Kip returned to his drawing, he smiled to himself. Today he was a coachman. Who knew it had been the right choice for him when he left home? He had lost himself in Kip, the driver, but wasn’t so sure he had done much about finding Trevor, the heir.
Out of the corner of his eye, Kip continued his drawing but could see his coach swaying. The couple seemed to be mutually engaged in one another. This happened often, but he always kept his ear attuned to any calls of distress from the woman. If it were two men, he had to walk further away, as the images conjured rankled his male pride.
He looked on as his two horses nibbled at the grass. Today he wore his tailored livery and drove his daily carriage, which had particularly elegant lines and structure, but it didn’t hold a candle to his “Queen Mary,” as he called it. Kip’s entire driving wardrobe was designed by himself and tailor-fitted. His high-valued clients who wanted the best in a driving experience received the full complement. Having the funds, Kip made the most of his new world, and it comforted him. He needed to feel proud of something – to be a success throughout his life, even as a coachman. And he was achieving that. Kip knew he was still an enigma to his fellow drivers, but they soon acclimated to his way of doing things and accepted him as a qualified brother coachman.
Kip heard a whistle from his client and assumed that their matinee was completed. He folded his sketching pad and returned to the coach.
“Where to, milord?”
“The lady’s home, if you will, Kip.”
As Kip climbed to his bench, he felt the man must be known to his father, Lord Caldwell. He wondered what his father would think if he knew this Lord was not keeping true faith with his wife.
Kip prepared for the harshness of the city. He navigated the most scenic and clean routes he could find, arriving at the lady’s home with an easy ride. Jumping to the ground, he waited for a signal to open the door. Often there were last kisses or soft words to be finished between the couple. Usually, the gentleman would knock at the side door when Kip was to appear and open it.
Opening the door, he folded down the step. If the lady exited first, he would extend his hand, and she would take it if she wanted. More often, the gentlemen exited first and took the honors. Quite often during the earlier part of the day, a lady would wish to visit some function or shop, and she would be alone. He would hand her in and out of the coach and offer to attend her and her packages if she desired. All these courtesies came from his own remembrance of the Caldwell coachmen. Whether it was the Caldwell’s’ expected courtesies or not, the practice had held him in good stead. He added his own standards for highborn people, and all his customers received it, reduced circumstances or not.
His client exited the coach, escorted his lady to her door, and returned.
“Kip, take me to my club,” the client instructed, as he came back.
“Yes, milord,” Kip replied. Even though there were several men’s clubs in London, it was his job to know his clients’ preferences. One or two drives for someone made him or her a patron; more than three, and he or she became a client. Rarely did they switch to another driver once driven by him. His elegant livery was better than most peerage in-service drivers. Kip was projecting an air of sophistication and style, which brought him higher fares and the most influential of people. For special occasions, he offered a second driver or the back-footman service so the client could feel envy. Changing from daily fares to evening balls was never a problem. He had clothes and coaches for both.
As Kip traveled back into central London looking for his daily hails, he passed driver Clyde Dorset, in-service driver to Lord Stokes. They nodded to each other as a greeting. His daughter was beside him on the bench. Everyone had heard a rumor that she wanted to be a coach woman and succeed her father. All the elite independents and the in-service teams, who waited at Parliament for their Lords, had been watching her ride with her father. Along with Kip, not one of them thought the day would come that Lord Stokes would allow her to take the reins of a team. It took great strength to turn a team of two, and Miss Dorset looked too young and small to handle the job. She was thought most likely to greet and open the door for His Lordship.
Today she was holding the reins aside her father. She sat proudly, almost bursting those cherub dimples with pride. Kip was earnestly amazed but assumed the coach was empty, on its way to fetch Lord Stokes where her father would then assume the reins.
“I’ll have a beef sandwich and a pint,” said Kip wandering over to sit with Marc, who had arrived at the pub before the others. I see Driver Dorset’s daughter is holding the reins today,” remarked Kip, restraining a smile. “She looks quite young.”
“Is she now?” Responded Marc with a laugh. “I’d suppose the coach to be empty if she were heading towards the House of Lords at this time of day. I know His Lordship is worried about her, but she’s determined.”
“I think she looks quite charming sitting up there with her father in her livery.
“You and every other bloke driving. We’ve all been watching her.”
“So, what can you tell me about this bewitching young lady. She’s small; it appears.”
“She was the age of 11 when Lord Stokes had a livery made to match her father. I’ve been told this because she’s about 20 years old now. I haven’t been around that long. The word is that Dorset lost his wife early in his daughter’s life. Lord and Lady Stokes looked kindly on their driver’s plight of raising her. They had no daughter of their own. I hear that her father, His Lordship and the staff have been raising her. She used to have run of the Castle, Dorset has told us.”
“I had a good chuckle over her small matching beaver top hat being held on her head with a large black bow. It endears her further to onlookers if that is possible. Being an independent, it is unlikely our paths will converge. I rarely have a call to Parliament. Seeing her today, holding those reins, beaming like the morning sun on a spring day, encourages me to be introduced to her. Is that possible?” It was a year since his heart felt a stirring of activity. “I’ve had my share of invitations from Lady customers, to which I decline, but a female driver is different. Her interest in horses and coaching is exciting my fancy.” A long-lost feeling of lust engulfed him. It was a raw and primitive urging, which never in his life had he felt to this extreme.
Lucas and Jon arrived at the table after ordering.
“Kip, here, would like to be introduced to Miss Dorset. Can either of you arrange that for him?” Marc howled. The other two joined in.
Kip felt embarrassed. “Apparently, I have asked for the impossible?”
“Well, yes, I say. It may be possible, but we hardly stand on having someone known to both of us to introduce one to the other. Only nobles are that principled.” More laughter from the table and Kip joined in the fun of being mocked.
Using polite society protocols had snagged him several times. Occasionally, he had to sand off the veneer of nobility to blend with the Brotherhood. All-in-all, his politeness carried a lot of reputation which was starting to reach far and wide. “I guess I’ll just have to outwit you blokes and accidentally meet her at the House of Lords.”
“You know Kip; your fares have been picking up considerably of late. Don’t think we haven’t noticed. We’ve passed you on a few of these night affairs and see you in your tailored tails and velvet top hat. Are you playing God to us, Apostles? You’re certainly doing something we don’t know about. I think it’s time for you to train us. You owe us that much.” Lucas cajoled.
Kip was rocking in his seat with laughter. “Lads, go another step with your uniforms, and you can raise your fees. We all know the gentry need pampering, and that’s all that I am doing.”
“I guess those green eyes, brown hair, pulled into a horse’s tail with a ribbon have nothing to do with it,” Lucas chided.
“Look!” Kip pulled out a couple of introduction cards. “See here. It has my name, Trevor Kipling, lists my services and address. I have been getting requests for my unique service, well in advance of events. It may work for you, too.”
“What are your special services?”
“Naturally, it’s my best bib and tucker, best coach and flowers for the coach vases. My coach is always cleaned, and polished. My boots are like mirrors. I can hire Ioan, you know Ioan, to ride second driver or footman. We can make an unusually rich look for being independent.”
“Damn, Kip. That’s brilliant.”
“Now will you introduce me to Miss Dorset?” Everyone clinked their beer mugs, roaring to the rafters.
It was nearing six in the evening, and Kip headed home to clean and wash the coach, and himself for the Lady Blevins fare tonight.
To accommodate his stable and quarters, Kip selected a residence with a large stable near the edge of outer London. His reputation was growing, causing him to check his in-town post often for reservations being asked for in advance. The name “Kip” seemed to be on the lips of many people wanting his premiere appearance, and he was being recommended among the gentry of society.
A quick look inside the Queen Mary revealed only bits of boot sand to sweep out. He dressed in his handsome, understated but elegant livery with tails. It was unlikely that any driver could match his coach, and they certainly never would match his horses, costing a driver five year’s salary for one of them. Kip at no time meant to laud his superior team and coach, over the others, but he wanted the best for himself. They had become the only spark in his life until he anticipated a way to meet Miss Dorset.
Before leaving the estate, Trevor walked into Mary’s room, absorbing the last essence of her. It was chilled as no fire had been lit for the dark and damp nights. He strolled the room, drawing one final scent of her before it was gone. Spotting on her dressing table, a favorite cameo ring that she loved, he slipped it into his vest pocket. Father had two cameos carved, in Mary’s likeness, when she was younger. One was a ring for her finger, and the other much larger piece was a brooch for his wife. Tears traveled down his chiseled patrician face.
Returning to his own room, he opened the wardrobe where his finery, top hats, and boots lay in wait for some grand event. He pulled a small satchel from a cabinet, packing his razor, a few pairs of hose, undergarments and one set of riding clothes. Walking the room, things once meant much to him, held little interest now. He did take the watch that Mary had given him for his birthday. Trevor ran his finger along his bookshelves looking for anything that he might want to take. There was nothing. His heart seemed dead. On an easel in the corner was the beginnings of a portrait that he was trying to paint. Mary wouldn’t sit still long enough for him to continue. The canvas had sat there for several years, with Mary promising to return until it was finished. It was always, soon. Packed light, he said good-bye to his family, valet, and horse before having Brigg’s carry him to the train depot.
Dressed in riding clothes, carrying his small satchel, he boarded the next train. He was heading to where people wouldn’t know him. Laying back on the cushioned seat he drifted off. Dreams of Mary and his mother came and went. Both females, fragile, flooded his mind, Mary, especially. Why did God make them so helpless? “Kipling! Kipling, that’s it,” brought him out of his sleep. He would become Trevor Kipling, naming himself after his mother’s people. Having no one knowing his face, and a name such as Trevor Kipling would hardly draw any particular interest. He fell back to sleep.
LONDON! Next Stop LONDON!
Suddenly the dark stormy clouds that Kip had been sketching in his mind blew away. He sat up, surveying others that had entered his coach while he slept. It embarrassed him as there was no one in the coach when he left the depot. Kip, heard the coach Porter calling “LONDON” again and set off to find him.
“Can you tell me which stop is closest to the Metropolitan Police Station?” Having his answer, he returned to his seat and collected his satchel. Eventually, the train slowed down to his destination surprising him with the mass of humanity waiting to board while his coach mates were standing ready to leave. What a spectacle he was witnessing. He exited last from his coach and began his pilgrimage through the crush of top hats, bonnets, and umbrellas. He saw people kissing and crying, men shaking hands, businessmen with portfolios under their arms alongside parents with wailing children. He breathed a sigh of thanks for not having to go through hours listening to the din of voices every day. As Trevor emerged, a beautiful sight met him. Gleaming horses with polished brass fittings and coachmen wearing fine clothes waiting to carry some wealthy person to a destination. He saw two livery-clothed coaches, each with two drivers waiting on their noble masters. Only one had a crested coat of arms on the door.
“What I wouldn’t give to be the driver?” The thought surprised him. “Why can’t I become a driver.” I’ve always had a great fondness for horses and riding.” His mind began swirling as he approached a smart-looking driver with a polished look.
“May I ride atop with you, driver? I have some questions.” Trevor literally felt his spirits rise from the bottom of wherever they were dwelling. He may have found his new life which he had not forced on himself.
The driver looked him over before replying. “Sir, we do not permit …” The driver noticed the coins in the gents’ extended hand and readily acquiesced. “Yes, sir. Where can I take you?”
“Please, if you will, just drive and allow me to question you about the service you perform.”
The driver stowed Trevor’s satchel and invited him to the top.
“Drive where you will, but I am hiring you for the rest of the day. You may pick up fares while I remain to watch.” Trevor couldn’t remember the last time he had come to London. The architecture fascinated him. There were buildings he would like to sketch one day, but he was taken aback by the sheer volume of people, coaches, and horses. His driver was regularly hailed, as they thought Trevor was the second coachman. A smile broke through his defenses, and it felt good. It was so unexpected that the moment stood out to remember.
By nightfall, he hired the coachman, Marc, for the next two days, paying him exceedingly well. He was taken to a pub, which catered to coachmen, offering food and a room until he changed dwellings. Loving his own stable of horses at home, the novelty of experiencing this career drew him to its bosom.
After a full belly, hot bath and a real bed, Trevor fell into a deep sleep. Mary’s activity in his dream was most assertive tonight. This was new for him. He would often see her in his dreams, but these images flashed during the night, causing his tossing and turning.
Is she warning me or encouraging me?
Trevor always invited her into his nightly fantasies, never running away in his thoughts or waking due to fright. Tonight, Mary was in his coach. The horses had their heads, even though he held the reins.
“Where is she taking me?”
Coming down to breakfast the next morning, Marc was sitting at a bench table with a few other lads. Trevor was welcomed over and introduced. He met Jon, Matthew, and Lucas. He was introduced as Trevor Kipling, but in short fashion, they started calling him Kip.
Smiling as he shook hands, he responded, “You chaps are having one over on me, are you not?”
The young men were startled at his words. “Sir, are you offering offense? Marc has told us of your interest. We wish to help you learn our trade, but you laugh at us? Not a pleasant beginning.”
“Has no one called you ‘The Apostles?”
Although it didn’t sound like an insult, they chose to remain affronted.
Kip laughed. “You’ve heard of the four Apostles, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, have you not?”
Finally, the fog lifted and a rousing laugh ensued. He was invited to sit down with them, and the education began with … “We are a Brotherhood of Gentlemen Coachmen.”
Over the next two months, Kip learned their ways, which he would improve on, but most importantly; he learned London. He came to know every restaurant, prominent person’s address, gentlemen’s club, theater, train stop, hotel, business, and every brothel that London could offer. He was told of confidences, which he would swear to take to his grave. During that time, Kip purchased two matching Friesians, one magnificent coach and one significant coach for every day. He wanted the very best he could have, no matter the jealousy of the other drivers. He was happy. The drivers talked behind his back about the expense of his horses and coaches, and others remarked about his polished accent. He pacified them by saying that his father had been a prosperous merchant, recently dead. As he was not disposed to follow in the business, he divested himself of it and sought this career for the love of horses.
Each of the Apostles took an added week with Kip, showing him shortcuts, explaining the rumors of many of his prospective customers. He realized quickly that this brotherhood which policed itself was the elite of London coachmen. There were more than a hundred of them, which did not include the in-service drivers. Often, he was told of the nobility that he would carry and protect. Many tricks of the trade were mastered in short order. He knew well, his home’s liveried staff and how he was treated as a noble. He would build on that and develop his own style. The horses and coach had come first, but he could see sizable tipping if he improved his clothing and conduct. He wanted to knock London on its ear. Kip knew he was ready, but the Apostles insisted on spending a week with him as he received his customers and drew them to their stops. Their honor was at risk, and Kip knew he must pass muster before they turned him loose. Otherwise, he would be forced further down the financial and respected chain of customers.
He finally understood why they called themselves a Brotherhood of Coachmen.
The months rolled by, and he began building his reputation as a high-class ride. He was noticing a particular in-service driver, always heading to Parliament, but he chaperoned a female who sat beside him. She was in livery and possibly 12 or 13 years old. The Apostles would know the story as he was finding that in-service and independents often waited together at balls and private parties. Matthew would surely know this driving combination.
Just a video to show you why I love Friesian Horses and selected them for my book
These horses carried knights into battle, drove noble coaches and today know dressage. They are naturally high-steppers (not trained) which means they don’t leave clods of grass or dirt to be repaired.
Viscount Trevor William Hamilton Caldwell, son, and heir to his father, Earl Grant William Hamilton Caldwell, the Sixth Earl of Norcaster, smiled as he greeted the guests of his sister, Lady Mary’s, ‘Coming Out’ weekend gathering. Trevor knew the next two days would bring, him and his brother, challenging but experience in social matters for their sister.
“Gus,” Trevor spoke in concerning tones, “Father gave her permission for this party on our estate, yet he somehow managed to find reasons to stay in London. Mother would have been the perfect hostess for this type of an affair, were she living.”
“Trevor, there is no sense getting anxious about this. I think it shall be quite full of enjoyment for our sister. I am sure father believes the realm will disintegrate if he wanders 80 miles away from the House of Lords. I’m sorry old man,” Gus laughed, slapping his brother on the back, “but you’re the senior and heir. These matters are a peek into your future.” Gus walked away smiling, strolling among the lovely women who were beginning to huddle.
Trevor mumbled to himself, “Old man, am I? When did 25 become old?” Watching these young toffs and gents, swagger in, ready to swill spirits and press ladies against their chests, reminded him of a man he could never be. Being a noble heir prohibited his young male fancies from asserting themselves as often as his body asked. “I am an heir while these randy young nobles may have lineage, but few, if any, will be titled. They will be bolder, having little reputation to worry about.” Trevor was cognizant that his randy years would lead him down a path, less seasoned, than other males his age, but he accepted his noble proprieties, readily.
“Hello, Lady Eliot. Very gracious of you to attend.” Trevor bowed.
“Trevor, I have been waiting for an invitation from you, asking me to a ball. I can’t let a tall, chestnut-haired single man miss any of the seasons in London,” she smiled, patting his chest with her closed fan.
“You are most complimentary, Lady Eliot. I am but a humble servant to my people and sister,” he smiled. “I will be most anxious to place your name somewhere in my appointment book. I see you laughing. It is a most coveted honor to be penned there.” Seeing her smile, Trevor exhaled his breath as Lady Eliot passed on her way.
With the next coach far in the distance, Trevor pulled a folded note from his waistcoat pocket. “Hmm … dinner to be had tonight. Breakfast, riding, lunch and a scavenger hunt, before the banquet and ball tomorrow night. I suppose Gus, and I can keep an eye on the men hovering too close to Mary.”
Gus slowly walked back to his brother, as he eyed a suspicious-looking bloke. “I already disapprove of that one with the full mustache. He looks a bit aged for this soiree.”
“He is, Gus.” Trevor laughed. “I’m not sure about his name, but Duchess Pitt insisted on her daughter having a chaperone. He’s not here looking for a wife.”
“I’ll be her chaperone,” Gus smiled.
“And who will be yours? I understand she needs a chaperone to protect some unsuspecting lad,” Trevor grinned.
“Gus, if you were ever to become the heir, you would learn the secrets that father has passed on to me.” Trevor walked off with his head in the air, leaving Gus laughing as the next guest pulled to the front of the manor.
“I believe it is your turn to smile and greet,” Gus heard from his retreating brother.
Trevor slipped into his study, away from the merry-makers, and practiced smiles. Sitting at his desk, he fondly remembered having to rear Mary after his mother died. He loved his sister greatly and bowed to his father’s wishes to let her enjoy her unfamiliar maturing life. She wanted to show off the estate to her new friends.
Now pacing the floor, Trevor talked to himself. “I suppose the day will come for me when I must choose a wife. Fortunately, I am not like some first-born sons who must marry for wealth or property. But still . . . the thought of having to select a wife who will benefit my position and not embarrass it applies a pressure I do not care for. How lucky a noble was if he or she was permitted to find a life with someone they could love. I know many nobles near my age, however, seeing one still in love was rare. Marry the best and then take a mistress seemed to be the sage advice from the elders.”
“This is a big weekend for her. As a Caldwell, she has wealth, nobility, and beauty. She is a perfect example of any man’s dreams for love or financial gains. She is endowed with much to recommend her. Nevertheless, I feel utterly ill-at-ease with this horde of youthful men clamoring for her attention. With all the unknown visitors, Gus and I need to observe the activities of eight young male nobles. Mary is wrestling the control in her life away from me. Her naivete and not knowing men will overwhelm her during their stay, but I cannot follow her everywhere.”
May they all be real gentlemen. God, help me.
Since Mary was an eligible lady of wealth and title, flitting from guest to guest, Gus and Trevor would divide the task as chaperones. Trevor offered to oversee all the males while Gus remained at her side and watched the men who directly approached her. Wanting her safety and happiness; their protective instincts were accelerated. During the evening, Trevor often found himself watching through the outside veranda windows at his brother, ensuring he didn’t wander off, yet, still, give her, her personal space.
The evening went unexpectedly carefree.
“Good morning, brother Gus, anything to report?” Trevor asked as he sat at the kitchen prep table, eating breakfast away from the crowd.
“I’ve been looking for you. Where have you been all morning?”
“I helped organize the horses for the few that wanted to ride this morning. I’m happy to see our sister decline. Most of the men took to the saddle. Thank heavens for that. I did get a moment with Mary. She’s thanking us for being invisible. If she only knew we were peeking through bushes and keyholes, faces pressed against windows, and ears pressed against doors.” Trevor laughed. “I’m starting to feel like a detective, and you?”
“I’m starting to feel like a pervert.”
“A pervert! I think there are two young men we can rule out as chasing Mary for her money or title.”
“Gus, I think our most difficult time is going to be this afternoon when they form groups and begin the scavenger hunt. That’s 50 acres of prime hunting ground. We can’t watch her every moment. She will be upset with us.”
“Trev, I think you have arranged the event skillfully. What do they have to find? The old water-well is one, the ice house that is covered over by brush, the tombstone, and the tree fort. Mary may remember where that is, but she was very young when we played in it. Are you still in agreement that we wander the grounds on horseback looking for anything untoward?”
“We must. We will tell them we’re there if they get lost. Yes, that’s it. How many are there? Let me think. With Mary, I believe there to be 16. That’s four groups, each with two males and females. Point those two perverts out to me and make sure they’re on Mary’s team,” Trevor chuckled.
“Indeed, your Lordship. I think they will find little interest in the ladies.”
As the sun rose over the manor, lunch was served on the terrace, while Trevor explained the scavenger hunt.
“Can I have everyone’s attention, please. Maps are being handed out with paths drawn, along with compasses, a list of the four areas to find, plus a piece of chalk to mark that you have been there. For emergencies, every group will be given a fox horn to be blown if help is needed. A gunshot will be fired when the time is at an end, or one group finds all items and has returned to the manor. Gus and I shall be on horseback should anyone get lost, injured or need directions. Over here are canteens of water for each team. Everyone is to have fun. You may begin when you have your party assembled. Winners get season tickets to all of London’s theaters. Good luck to all.”
Trevor sat down at his luncheon plate and began to nibble at his chicken. Watching the guests scatter was like the autumn leaves scattering in the wind. It was sad to think that his youthful sister was at an age where some young man could hold her in his arms. He knew he would be a gentleman were the situation reversed, but he had little confidence in all men.
“We can only go so far,” Trevor mused. “It’s been quite an experience to watch our sister grow into a young woman, don’t you think? Watching her countenance, frailty, her emotions and vulnerability have opened my eyes to women. They’re such soft, gentle creatures. How rightly they need all the protection; we can give them. Just from playing with Mary when we were younger, I could easily see the damage a grown man could inflict on a female with very little effort.”
“Indeed, Trevor. I remember realizing that when I was quite young as Mary was unable to do many things that you and I were doing. I recall you taking the blame for most accidents that were her fault. Seeing you teach and shelter her opened my eyes early. As lust grew in my body, I became painfully aware of what some women must have to endure. Sometimes, I look at our Mary and fear she will break.”
“That is our task this weekend. We may not choose her mate in life if he is here, but we can intercede if she falls for someone who will treat her ill. Are you done eating? The groom is bringing our horses. The guests have disappeared into the woods. Ready?”
Gus and Trevor split their directions heading toward the forest. There were many trails for people to follow, but most of those were riding and hunting paths, leaving the old roads overgrown, and the goals well hidden.
Trevor headed down the first path he had planned to observe. In the distance, a group was heard laughing with each other, as they wove through the tall stand of oaks. A second group nearby was studying the map. Soon the teams would hit the trees and brush lines where the hunting game thrived. He felt a bit melancholy for a hunt which they hadn’t hosted for years. He remembered charging his horse as the dogs smelled the fox, followed by being blooded at the age of 11. It was quite a ceremony the first time he tracked the fox. His face was smeared with fox blood, and alcohol poured down his gullet until he was sick. His father was proud. His mother was disgusted. However, he felt like a man.
“Hello,” someone behind him called, pulling him back from his victorious memories.
“Say, have you seen my group? I’m afraid it’s the one with only three people.”
Trevor laughed. “There is one group farther north, but they have all their people. I do hear a group down that way,” Trevor pointed. The young man, still in his riding clothes from the morning, started plodding in that direction. “Thank you, milord.”
An hour elapsed. The woods seemed eerily quiet, too quiet, thought Trevor. He took a new path until he heard voices. Someone was calling for Mary. Then a second voice was heard, calling for Mary. His stomach lurched, and the sweat began flowing as he spurred his horse toward the callers. He spotted a young lady and gentleman wandering through the brush. He raced to their side.
“What is it? Where is Mary?” He asked excitedly. “Why are you two alone?” Barely giving them time to answer.
“Lord Caldwell, we don’t know where she is. She’s been missing for nearly 30 minutes. Colin went that way. Brenda and I came this way. Could she get lost on her own property, do you think?”
“No, I do not think. Where were you when you last saw her?”
“I’m sorry, Sir. I don’t know. We had found the old well with the bucket on a rope and then traveled on from there. I think the sun has been behind us all this way. I would say that way,” he pointed behind him.
“Why by the name of God are you walking this way then?”
“We finally assumed Mary had gone ahead of us. What can we do to help?”
“For now, if you find others, stay with them. Collect yourselves into one complete group. Stay on the edge of the forest where you entered, and I shall organize a search.”
Trevor raced down the path, before pulling into the low-growing brush.
“Damn! One of the gents must have led her off for a bit of romance.”
With fear rising inside him, Trevor began to prepare for some unlikely event. Gus called his name as he galloped toward him.
“Trevor, have you heard Mary is missing?”
They were alarmed hearing a fox horn split the air with its unique sound.
“I think that came from the direction of the ice house.”
Trevor reared his horse, striking off toward the sound as his heart started pounding like a caged bird, slamming against the sides. As he drew closer, an almost unbearable pain shot through his upper torso. Seeing a somber group standing outside the ice house door, he clutched his chest as more pain gripped him. Jumping from his mount, the faces on Mary’s guests revealed his worst fear.
Mary can’t be in there. Dear God, help me face this moment.
Slowly, he walked through the door, hearing Gus coming in behind him.
As they entered, Gus cried out. “Oh, Trevor. Dear God, what has happened to Mary?”
Trevor was still silent, unable to speak words meant to be heard. His mind was full of horrific scenes of what must have been her struggle against her attacker. “I thought we might find trouble this weekend, but never this. God. Never this.” He stood there looking down at his sister splayed and twisted on the cold, damp floor.
God, know now that someday Mary will be avenged.
Trevor’s tears began as he knelt and quickly pulled her shredded dress down, which now revealed the beating to her face. Blood was still oozing from her mouth, nose, and hands. Mud and leaves tangled her hair; her legs and arms were scratched.
Gus left, embarrassed to be sick, as the onlookers watched. Cleaning his mouth with his handkerchief, he asked, “Did anyone see what happened here? Hear anything? Does anyone know who was with her?”
The girls wept; the huddled men grew pale. Two of the young men had been inside and relayed the disaster to those outside. Most of the men knew they could be suspects in this tragedy. They hardly knew Mary and thoughts of themselves came first.
For the first time during his life, Trevor had to lead everyone through this adversity.
Where will the courage come from?
He walked outside to the crowd that was gathering. “You,” he said, pointing to someone, “take my horse, ride to the manor. Tell the Butler to send a cart, horse, and driver with a blanket. Stay there to direct him here. Ask to have the Constable sent for immediately.”
Unable to view his sister’s body again, Gus waited while Trevor went back to his sister.
Startling Trevor’s now fragile bravery, Mary made a small movement showing life remained. He knelt and cradled her head, speaking soft, soothing words of encouragement. Her eyes fluttered then closed. “Gus, she still lives!” He shouted to his brother.
“What is it Trev? I can’t look anymore.”
“She still breathes. Ride for the doctor! Now!”
As Gus turned to leave, Trevor had more to say. “Tell the guests to gather at the manor, no one is to leave. Have Chandler keep everyone outside until the constable arrives. I do not want anyone changing their clothes. Now, go!”
Trevor looked down at Mary. Inside, his heart was splintering into fragments. Every moment with her seemed to be flitting away. Until now, he felt some pride in raising her, but that rapidly spiraled into oblivion. He failed her in the most ultimate way possible. Lightly rubbing her forehead, he tenderly spoke. “Mary. . . Mary.” Agonizingly, he felt the pull of her soul on his. He knew she was dying and his own life bled into her, protecting her in her next life. He wanted to lift her and hold her in his arms, but he feared he could do more damage. Bruises were becoming more visible on her arms and face. One shoe was in the corner, and her dress was ripped down to her breasts. “Mary, why you? This should be me lying here. Mary, please do not let us live without you.”
He pleaded to any God that was listening. “Save her, please. Save us both.”
Only the sound of scuffling feet pulled him back from his prayers. “Yes, who is it?”
“It’s Roger, milord. Here’s the blanket,” gasping as he handed it to Trevor. “Our Miss Mary is hurt badly.”
“Yes, she is. Who’s outside?”
“Only I and the gent who came for me, milord, but two of the constable’s men are close behind.”
“Please wait outside and then bring the constable in when he gets here. Tell the gentleman to return to the manor.”
“Aye, milord. Can I do anything else, milord?”
“No. Even I do not know how to help her.” Trevor held out little hope. He prayed she was unconscious during the rape. He wondered how someone could come back from an attack such as this. The inevitable guilt began to bear its weight. Something was changing inside of him. He knew he would never be the same man again, and didn’t think he should be. Trevor wanted to die, himself.
The constable’s deputy called into the ice house, warning of his approach. The other officer remained just outside the door.
“Back here,” Trevor acknowledged, as he swept Mary’s hair from her face and checked her dress once again.
“This is Lady Mary, Lord Caldwell?”
“Yes,” Trevor despairingly responded. “This is just the way she was found, although I believe one of the guests discovered her here and blew the fox horn for help. I want to get her home immediately.”
“I am terribly sorry, Sir.” The deputy knelt beside Trevor. “She has suffered a most savage attack.”
“She is breathing rather shallow. I want to take her to her room. There are no words for this torturous rape and beating,” he stammered. “Why didn’t anyone hear her?”
The deputy had a quick look at the surroundings. “Let’s get her to the house.”
The two of them lifted her gently and laid her in Trevor’s arms to cushion the ride on the cart. The second officer remained on the scene, ensuring nothing was disturbed.
Arriving at the doors to the manor, the invited crowd gathered by the cart as Trevor carried his sister inside and up the steps. The housekeeper and Mary’s lady’s maid walked behind, crying as they followed.
When Trevor entered her room, he called out. “Someone bring me warm water and a cloth. Furthermore, bring a glass of brandy.” Trevor checked her breathing. It was still weak. “Deputy, I told no one to leave and wouldn’t allow anyone to come in and change their clothes.”
“Thank you for that. That will be most useful. The Constable should be here any moment.”
Gus came through the door. “The doctor is pulling in now.”
Trevor let out a small sigh knowing medical help arrived. The bowl with warm water came just ahead of the physician. Trevor moved away from her side, walked over and closed the door, leaving only he, Gus and the doctor with Mary.
“Lord Caldwell, you have done all you can. I need to examine her thoroughly. Do you wish to stay? You could send in her maid.”
“Gus and I will be outside this door. Call me, as soon as you can.” Trevor walked over to the next bedroom and collected a chair from there, placing it outside Mary’s door. He sat. Mary’s lady’s maid was standing there in shock. “You may be excused,” he told her.
Chandler arrived with two scotches for the brothers and brandy for the patient.
“Thank you, Chandler. Always one step ahead as usual.”
“May I and the staff wish her recovery to be swift?”
“Thank you, Chandler, and thank the staff for their prayers and hopes.”
“Father!” He whispered loudly. Trevor ran to his room and composed a note to Lord Earl Caldwell. His tears were blurring the ink as he penned the words. He trotted to the balcony and shouted for Chandler, who was now in the reception hall below.
For an old butler, he made his way up the steps quickly. “Yes, milord?”
“Find Richards, and have him take a horse.” Putting the sealed note into Chandler’s hand, he said, “Have him give this to Father at parliament.”
“Tell him, sharpish like.”
Trevor returned to Mary’s door and began pacing the corridor. “Nothing like this has ever happened on this estate or the properties, to my knowledge. Was Mary a victim or a target?”
“Trevor …” Gus was weeping. “How could one do such a thing to Mary or any woman?”
“Only a dead man,” he whispered as he stared into nothingness.
“A dead what? What are you saying?”
“I will kill the bastard who did this, even if it costs my title or life.”
“I am sure we both feel that way, and father will too. However, we must remember we represent the English aristocracy. We have a long and proud history of a titled gentry. We don’t exact revenge.”
“The title be damned! I could not care less about it. Oh, God, I can feel Mary pulling me.”
“Retribution won’t bring her back, Trevor. Do not consider anything rash.”
Trevor downed his drink in one swallow and clasped his hands behind him. He didn’t want to hear any more of Gus’s admonitions. The long hallway, covered in fine oriental carpeting, masked the pacing sound of boots. The din from downstairs were the guests, the deputy, and Chandler. No doubt, the Constable was arriving.
The doctor poked his head out and said Lady Mary had little time. He wasn’t going to put her through the exhaustion of having her re-dressed. “She has a cracked skull in addition to the internal bleeding which is slowly draining the life from her. She also was brutally sexually assaulted. Seconds are precious now.”
Trevor looked at the doctor’s grim face and knew the worst was moments away. He stared at the door he had to open. For a moment, he thought he heard her call his name.
Entering, each brother took a hand on either side of the bed. They looked at one another. Tears were falling unashamed when Trevor heard Mary whisper, I. . I”
“Yes, Mary. Gus and I are with you. You are safe. What do you want us to know?” He placed his ear near her mouth and heard her constricted raspy voice and her final exhalation of breath. “No …no!” He watched as she closed her eyes for the last time. She was gone. He kissed her cheek, and the back of her hand before strolling over to a reading chair in her room and sat, staring at her. He had no words. He felt empty. Something snapped within him. In the far distance, it sounded as if Gus was speaking with the doctor through a breaking voice. He couldn’t accept that his sister was gone, forever.
How does one’s life change in an instant?
“The doctor is speaking to me,” his mind told him. Trevor didn’t reply. He watched the doctor walk to the bed and pull the sheet over her face. He and Gus left the room, closing the door.
Trevor walked back to the bed observing her small frame in her large 4-poster bed. She loved her canopy bed. How many times had he fixed it due to her jumping into it? He hauled his chair to the bedside and pulled the sheet down to her neck. There was a peaceful countenance on that battered face. It felt odd. Slipping his palm under the sheet, he pulled her hand out so he could hold it. Mary’s hand had grown pale while he held it. Perhaps her spirit was leaving her body. His mother had been the only religious one in the family. Had she been alive, she may have been able to explain Mary’s spirit and where it went. Trevor looked round the room, hoping to catch a glimpse of some mystical soft fog ascending the room and through the ceiling. She was at peace, now.
Trevor turned within himself; refusing everything: questions from the Constable and even his brother. Hours went by before he felt his father’s presence enter the room.
Trevor revived partially when he heard his father’s wailing. Still watching Mary’s body lying there as if she would wake up, his father’s lament seemed to crack the small world that he had built against the outside world. His blatant cry shattered Trevor’s private domain.
As devastated as he was, Lord Caldwell looked to his son and felt a chill. Gently, the Earl laid his daughter back down and circled the bed to greet his son. Trevor rose, as was customary even if the Earl was his father.
“Trevor, look at me,” he demanded, shaking his son’s shoulders. He received nothing but a stare that pierced through him. “Be seated.” Earl Caldwell left the room to consult with the doctor.
Trevor remained by his sister’s body, long after she was placed in the ground. Day and night, through the rain, he remained with her. The family and staff now worried for him. He became unreachable. Attempts to bring him into the house met a quiet but resolved resistance.
“Father, he’s still sitting out there talking with Mary. I believe he pauses as if listening to her answer. Has the doctor examined him completely?”
“Gus, his medical condition is a severe shock. He refuses medication, which could help temporarily. Trevor must feel he needs to suffer her hurt or see her into her next world. He is punishing himself, in a way, and there is little we can do to help him, perhaps for a very long time. I was never actually aware of the special relationship he had with Mary.”
“You weren’t here, Father. When you were, he would take her punishments for her. He taught her many things, he trained her to ride every horse we have, including his big Friesian. He pampered her, took her places, sang to her. The day she died, Trevor said how much he enjoyed watching her mature but didn’t like the idea of men crowding her. I think he felt like a father to Mary, more than a brother, being seven years her senior.”
“He did become her father, in essence. I knew he was standing in for her sometimes and allowed it to a point. But this! I find it hard to grieve for two people at once. In principle, we have lost Trevor, and there is no telling how long this remorse will last. You will have to assume his duties on the estate until he is stable once more. You and I have done all we can. No one can get through to him, not even the Constable or doctor.
Several days later, the door to the study unexpectedly opened, and Trevor walked in. “May I speak with the two of you about a matter which is important to me.”
“Of course, you can, Trevor. We are here grieving but still a family. What is it you want us to understand? You worry us too; you see?”
“That’s where I wish to start.” Trevor exhaled a long sigh and walked to the bar, pouring a drink before he began. “Anyone else?” he asked, holding up his glass.
“I think we all could use one of those.”
Trevor poured two more scotches, handed them around and began pacing before his family. “I know Mary’s death is as hard for you two as it is on me. I am finding difficulty in accepting it. I am ashamed of being weak. I know better in my mind, but in my heart, I feel I failed her.”
His father interrupted. “Trevor, you seem to want to carry the guilt of this. There certainly isn’t any weakness. No one can handle the death of a family member very well. There is no fault or shame here, and there is no guilt that you should bear.”
“Yes, I know that father. If you kindly wait until I am finished before speaking, Sir.” Trevor sighed and took another sip. “I know Mary is gone. I am sure you think I don’t seem to realize that, and you worry for me. Grieve for her and not me, or I shall be guilty of stealing her sympathy if you continue on this way. Gus, I know you’ve heard me speak with Mary. I do know I am doing that. I am under no illusions that she may be hovering above her own grave and watching over me. However, I do believe she is somewhere and can hear me. I am comforted when I talk to her. I am under no illusion that should the wind gust hard, or the rain pours down, that it is a sign from her. In time, it is likely that will end all too quickly. I am cognizant of the fact that both of you and perhaps the staff think I am going insane. I am not. However,” Trevor paused, gulped the last bit of his drink and refilled it. “I need to be away from this house for a while. I need to change my environment and find a new perspective on life if I ever want to assume the title. This perpetual cycle of mourning must be broken. I have been weakened to my very soul by the brutality of Mary’s death, and the thought that the man who did this is still free. I have given this a lot of thought and talked with Mary. When the detective is finished with me, I shall leave for, however, long it takes. I don’t know where I will go, but I will ride the train. I will buy the railway ticket and start where the tracks lead me. I will keep in touch now and then, but I must divest myself of all that has been around me for my lifetime. I want a different life for the foreseeable future. It’s as if I must start over. The old Trevor is an empty shell. My responsibilities here will not fill the void. Gus, Father, I hope you can one day understand and forgive me. I believe Mary has forgiven me.” Trevor finally sat.
Gus started to speak, but his father stopped him. “Son, you may do what you think is right for you. You do seem to understand what you are doing to yourself, and that gives us some comfort. I don’t want to lose you, too, so go and find yourself if that’s what you need. I have become quite aware that our title, honor, and history do not supersede family, unlike the way we have lived. I wish you luck my boy. If I can be of any help, allow me to do that. Gus will be here to tend to your duties. I will be in London. Please advise me if you are leaving England.”
“I do not intend to forgo Mother England, but I want to be lost to the world. I don’t wish people to know who I am. Perhaps, it will be just what a leader needs … to see the other side of life. Thank you, Gus, for what you will do for me.”
“May I speak?” Gus asked, looking at his father.
“Gus, please excuse me,” his father somberly spoke.
“Trevor, when Mary was barely alive, I asked you what type of man could do this, and you said, a dead man. To your knowledge at this time, is your intent revenge?”
His Lordship violently got to his feet. “Trevor, you are not thinking of hunting this man.”
“I haven’t decided father. Mary will lead me.”
“But Trevor, Detective Marshall is positive that it was no one who was visiting here that weekend.”
“So he says. I know that, too.”
But Mary knows. Trevor thought to himself.
“Affirm to me that you will not go looking for her killer.”
“I’m sorry, but I cannot make that promise. However, I will tell you that it is not an obligation that I have placed upon myself.” Trevor stood there, staring into his father’s face. “I am resolute in my decision.”
“I believe you, son.” Lord Caldwell sighed, sat down, not entirely convinced.
“If you will excuse me, I shall attempt to find Detective Marshall.”
“Trevor, he’s down at the ice house. Why not wait until he returns.” Gus admonished.
“I am not afraid to be where our sister fell. It was a part of her and so shall it be a part of me. Thank you, both for your understanding and support.” Trevor turned and left the room.
Trevor walked, rather than rode to the icehouse. Meeting the detective and his men, Trevor asked if there was any news other than the footprints made by worn boots.
“You can be proud of your sister. Lady Caldwell put up a valiant struggle. She did not give up. I’d say she learned that from her brothers.”
“How do you know this?”
The detective removed his handkerchief and slowly unfolded it. There in his palm was a human eyeball. “It seems she gouged out one of his eyes. It’s not uncommon for women to fight like that if they are on their back, but rarely are they successful in this type of attempt. Their nails and knees are two of their best defensive actions.”
Trevor looked at the brown eye. “Well done,” the inspector heard him say.
“Well done, Sir?”
“Yes, I was telling Mary, well done. Inspector, I will be spending some time away from this estate perhaps as early as tomorrow. Is there anything further you wish to ask me?”
“Where might you be headed?”
“I don’t know yet. If you do not mind, I may stop by the Met, on occasion, and speak with you about the case.”
“Any time you wish, milord.”
“Was there anything else you’ve discovered?”
“We did find a set of hoof prints that do not match any of the shoes that your horses wear. I see yours are forged with your family crest. I never knew nobles did that. This was a worn shoe missing a nail in two feet. Definitely, not from your estate, but fresh just the same. Be well on your journey. Contact me if you discover any news.”