Chapter 13 Night Bloom

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Thank you for that.”

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

“May I ask a question?”

“Yes, but I may not answer just yet.”

“Are you running from something?”

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

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

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

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

“Please, do not speculate on my character.”

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

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

“Friendship? Is that what this is?”

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

“But … you wish it to be different?”

“Yes. Above all, I hold dear.”

“You fancy me?”

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

“No. I welcome it.”

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

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

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

Squeaks whispered, “That was wondrous.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anyone here?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Squeaks began to speak but stopped herself.

“Please, go on milady,” Kip implored.

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

“I have overstepped my boundary.”

“So … it was just for show?”

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

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

“Squeaks, about before …” he was interrupted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You followed me?”

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

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

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

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

She is stealing my breath.

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

“Kip! They called the Astaire driver.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“See, I am barely applying the reins.”

“Kip! You forgot the coach lanterns.”

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

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

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

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

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

“You did all that on instinct?”

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

“Shhh . . .”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But I didn’t show anything.”

“Not in your mind, Miss Innocent.”

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

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

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

“Are you missing your turn, Kip?”

“Now, think about why I did that.”

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

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

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

“Correct, my promising prodigy.”

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

“All right, get ready to climb down.”

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

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

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

“May I suggest one thing to you?”

“By all means, Your Lordship.”

“You should wear a skirt.”

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

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

“I beg your apology, sir.”

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

“Thank you, sir.”

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

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

“Lucky lad. Good night.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Squeaks became quiet.

“Kip?”

“Yes, Squeaks?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I do not think that is the reason.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Would you rather not?”

“Will we sit at all?”

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

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

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

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

“All right. You like my hair?”

“I think I love your hair.”

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

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

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

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

“I wasn’t serious.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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