The Friday event
As Squeaks and Kip came to rest on the benches under the pavilion, she said, “I can only stay a short time.”
“I am aware of that. So, tell me, what did you learn tonight?”
“I learned how I feel about you.”
Kip audibly sucked in air, hearing that and not expecting it. “Did I pass muster?”
“I am asking if I passed inspection.”
“I think you should have a medal.”
“Would a knighthood be asking too much?” he smiled.
“That would be the perfect title to bestow as you championed me in battle.”
“In battle? Did I?”
“Suppose I had driven Lord Stokes tonight without you; what would I have done with all those men out there?”
“It would be the indoctrination of the twenty years you have waited.”
“Yes, I guess it would be. No matter how often my father or Lord Stokes tried to convince me of what I would be up against, I was sure I could manage. There are just so many of them, though.”
“Yes, there are many, but in the circles, you will drive, I think you will be among real gentlemen drivers. Certainly, any driver, driving for someone at the House of Lords will be beyond question. In your world that was all you saw; the handful in the Parliament area. Now, that you are out and about, you see the bigger picture of the world you have chosen. I doubt you accompanied your father on many night events. I know a good many independents and can say they are gentlemen, too. They would always come to your rescue. We are a brotherhood and police ourselves. The drivers who drive for a service have someone to answer to and could lose their jobs if they are not polite. Just stay away from the low-end districts.”
“I think I am aware of that. But even though they are gentlemen, how do I handle all the interest in me? I don’t think safety is my concern. I might be wooed to death.”
My God. She’s right. “Some are married, so it’s not all of them.”
“Suppose they think I belong to you; would that prevent the attempted wooing?”
“Yes, but not by me. After that wooing statement, yes, let us do assume you belong to me.”
Kip stopped there. Squeaks looked expectant for more of an answer.
“And this.” Kip pulled her gently into his arms and began kissing her face, removing her hat. As the curls unfurled, he swept his fingers through her long tendrils and drew them to his nose, across his face, filling his lungs with her scent. The gas lights around the park walkway lit her pale neck and porcelain skin. She was trembling. He was moving too fast.
Squeaks whispered, “Kip, I am going to faint soon. Please give me room for air.”
“God Almighty, I cannot help myself,” Kip said, holding his head in his hands. “I never lose control like this. I beg your apology even if this was welcome. I did not want to treat you this way. I was hoping you would accept me, and you have, but I have pushed past my own boundaries as a gentleman. I must take you home.”
Squeaks quietly stood as she wrapped her arm around his. She was delirious with emotions and sensations throughout her body, all new to her, but unreservedly welcomed.
When they arrived at his coach, Kip opened the door and asked her to sit inside. She entered without protest. He closed the door and stepped up to his bench.
The short journey to the Stokes’s residence was agony to Kip. What had he done? Had he frightened her? She was silent after his apology. “I am making a disaster of myself, my life.”
Fearing her words, Kip pulled the coach to a stop in the Stokes’s stable area, jumped down and opened the door. A shaking hand appeared, and he took it, assisting her out. He watched in painful silence as she walked towards the servant’s entrance without looking back. She had forgotten her hat, and her hair hung beautifully long. Everyone would know that something had occurred and question her. One of the stable hands came out to see who arrived, and Kip gave him the hat she had worn. “A gust of wind took her hat and hair,” he lied.
Kip pulled his team home. Disappointed in himself, a proper gentleman, a nobleman, and an heir apparent; he could not accept his own conduct. He was positive that he was falling in love but never expected to feel a fierce obsession. Perhaps it was the conversation of all the men wanting to woo her. Did he have to prove all of his love in one moment? He had apologized to her, hadn’t he? There was nothing left but to take what was handed to him.
The night kitchen cleaner was mopping the floors when Squeaks entered.
“Miss Squeaks, His Lordship wanted to see you when you returned. He’s waiting in his study. Are you, all right?”
“Yes, I am all right,” Squeaks uttered in her foggy voice. She shuffled towards Lord Stokes’s den, trying to pull herself together. She felt as if she had drunk too much of her father’s wine. She knocked.
She managed the door knob and the-now-heavy door; taking only a few steps into the room, which was unnatural for her.
“Come closer, Squeaks. Are you tired?”
“Yes, I am tired, sir.”
“How did your training go with Kip tonight?”
“Heavenly?” Stokes almost laughed out loud.
“It was a grand experience for me, sir. Kip said I did a good job pulling the team out onto the dark road. Nary a sway, sir.”
“He let you drive his team?”
“Well, we were talking when his rider’s name was called. He pulled into the line. There were torches all around our area, and I do not think he remembered he had not lit his lanterns on the coach. I pointed it out, and instead of me trying to light them while moving, he handed me the reins. I was out of the yard before he could take back his seat.”
“Bravo, Squeaks. I will feel thoroughly confident in you for tomorrow night. How did you do as footman, if I may ask?”
“I think I embarrassed Kip. Something happened that neither of us had thought about ahead of time.”
“You could embarrass no one. You must feel that way in your mind. What happened?”
“My bosom jiggled against the back window, sir. Lord Astaire thanked me for the view when he got out. He was laughing, sir.”
Lord Stokes thought he would burst through the seams of his night attire. Yes, he would hear about it tomorrow and suffer the embarrassment with a smile.
“I am sorry, sir. I have caused you embarrassment, too, I should think. I apologized to Kip. I wish I could have left them home, sir. I am too short for a rear footman.”
“I see,” he said, squelching his smile. “I believe no one would have foreseen that coming.”
“No, sir. Kip said he had thought everything through every step, every footfall, but never that.”
“How did he react?
“He felt Lord Astaire would not be embarrassed and said I should not apologize to him. He stated that he would. Kip said he had no intentions of hiding me and making people think I was a man. He was proud to have me, and then I go and do something like that. I had to press even harder against the glass to keep them from bouncing.”
“Bosoms … always drawing attention.”
“Excuse me, sir? Am I not supposed to be wearing something that keeps them from jiggling?”
“I would assume so. We shall find out in due time. Don’t mind me. Too much scotch tonight as your father and I worried about you. Any other stories to tell?”
“Yes, I talked with Kip about all the men who came to meet me. He made me sit on his bench and told them who I was and that I was his responsibility tonight, his employee.”
“Were they gentlemen?”
“Yes, they were. I do not fear for my safety anymore. I told Kip I might be wooed to death. Oh, and he kissed me. Will that be all, sir?”
Stokes cleared his throat, “Ahem … it seems you had a very exciting evening, then.”
“Then why do you have that glazed look?”
“I believe I said Kip kissed me, sir.”
“And this is the result? I shall have words with that man tomorrow if you feel impugned in any way.”
“Oh, no sir. I wanted him to do it again, but he said he didn’t feel gentlemanly. I guess he’s been thinking about kissing me, and maybe he was disappointed. I have never been kissed, sir.”
“How did that happen; do you think?”
“I was telling him I might be wooed too much and asked him what if people thought I belonged to him, would it stop.”
“He said, ‘what if you did belong to me,’ then he kissed me. After that, he brought me home.”
“Do you think he fancies you?”
“You think he was just playing with your affections?”
“No, sir. I think he loves me.”
“Are there time periods of falling in love, sir?”
“You have me there. I do not think so. And how do you feel about this driver, Kip?”
“I think I love him, too.”
“Have you two had words to this effect?”
“I would like to meet your Kip. I had heard of him before you met him.”
“We are going on a picnic Sunday. He will let me rein his horses. He wants to sketch me. Should he come and visit with you before we leave?”
“Yes, I would like to have a private chat with him.”
“That is all. You may retire.”
“Good evening, milord.”
Squeaks left the room. During the conversation, she knew she was saying too much, but the words spilled forth effortlessly.
Late in the evening, sitting on his sofa, Kip felt he would seek out his sister. “I am too impatient,” he told the air. “Where do I turn now? I will not survive the loss of another woman whom I love.” Kip began to imagine his dead sister. She was trying to tell him something. Her image swirled vividly into his mind. He was taken aback by the sharp details of her face. She is watching over me. I can feel it. Or do I desperately wish it to be true.”
Kip stayed awake a long time. He drew and drew again, the picture in his mind of Rebecca Dorset standing rear footman, turning towards him with a smile. To him, that was his pinnacle moment, He would still hope. His sister’s appearance left him feeling well about Squeaks. He wanted more than life to believe that.
The next morning, on his drives through the city, he kept wondering how Squeaks was coping at the Parliament yard. Boots had better take his place and stay near her. She would probably be proposed to before the day was over. He was adding salt into his own wound in some effort to exact revenge on himself for his thoughts of which she had no knowledge.
The hours wore on, and he stopped into the Horse and Harness Tavern for a meal with his friends. Of course, Squeaks was the topic of conversation, and Kip kept his smile, telling them how skilled she was. No remarks were made towards a romantic inclination. He was happy for that.
“Who are you driving tonight, Kip?”
“It will be Lord Caldwell.”
“What has happened to Briggs, his own driver?”
“I believe he has been called away for a short time. I might have Caldwell for several days. I will know more tomorrow.”
“I’ve got Lady Huston,” said Lucas. “She tips rather well.”
“Lucky you. I have Baron … Baron … oh, what’s his name? The one who dresses like a peacock all the time. He never takes a woman with him,” Jonathan added.
“And you know why that is, right?” Marc inquired, laughing.
“I do. I keep as much distance as possible. I hear he propositions drivers all the time.”
“Does he tip well, Jonathan?” They all laughed.
“Where are Matthew and Kyle?” Kip asked.
“Matthew was feeling unwell yesterday, and I think Kyle has been called back to the Met. They want several pictures of the coach to pass to the bobbies in Whitechapel.”
“Still no word on that Caldwell woman?”
“None, Kip. I wonder if she is related to your Lord Caldwell.”
“Her cousin, my rider that night, thought there might be a very distant connection. She had heard of an Earl in their lineage but had no knowledge how any of them were related.”
“Squeaks has her first night drive, tonight, right Kip?”
“Yes. You will not believe what happened last night.” Kip proceeded to tell them the story of lighting the coach lamps and Squeaks pulling the team out into a dark turn she had never taken or seen. And how she did it all with him going back and forth in front of her. “No sway or lean whatsoever, lads. I could have been walking a rope.”
“So, when are you inviting the lass out, Kip?”
Surprised at the question, he answered, “What makes you think I haven’t?”
“Well, in the past, you couldn’t have waited to tell us; that’s why we ask.”
“Why haven’t any of you asked her out?” Kip continued.
“I might just do that tonight,” said Lucas.
“Excuse me gents. I shall get back to making coin to take out this new driver.” He smiled at them as he left.
Kip thought about Sunday and his planned sketching. If she declined, he had no one to blame but himself. At least, he had the best sketch of her on his mantel at home.
Squeaks stayed on her bench most of the next morning. The crowd that came by to say hello was slightly smaller than previous days. Perhaps one day she might be able to stroll to other coaches and talk casually as drivers do.
Dusk would settle in an hour, encouraging Kip to end his day and head home. He would clean his coach, dress, and have dinner with his father and brother. After dinner, he would once again become Kip the driver, instead of Trevor Caldwell, the heir.
During dinner, Gus announced that he was thinking of asking for Regina’s hand. There were questions, and a discussion about the lady since Lord Caldwell had met her once, and Kip knew her not at all.
“I am happy for you, Gus,” Trevor said, shaking his hand.
“And you, Trev?”
“There is a lady I may wish to bring into my life, and there will be significant decisions to be made if she takes to me.”
“That wouldn’t be Lord Stokes’s driver, would it? His father asked. “I am afraid we had a jolly laugh at your expense over her predicament last night.”
“How did you know about that?”
“It seems Stokes waited up to see about her adventure, and she told him everything.”
“I would assume so, son. I know it was you who offered the additional night training for her last night. Was there more than the footman failure?” he laughed.
“What’s this?” Gus asked. “What is footman failure? Who is ‘her’?”
Trevor became red in the face. Over brandy and cigars, Trevor told them the story and how that part of his plan had never been considered. The three men laughed and smiled hearing it. They were not making sport of Squeaks but the fact that it happened under Trevor’s tutelage. “And yes, Father, I have an interest in Miss Rebecca Dorset.”
“Were there other tales from last night?” Gus inquired.
“Yes, but one is personal, and the other couple would take time that we do not have. Perhaps in the future.”
It was time to leave for the dinner engagement.
Squeaks kept pacing back and forth in front of her mirror. Did she look smart enough? Was her livery crisp and pressed? She had braided her hair so that not all of it was hidden under her hat. Squeaks ironed her black bow. She had talked to Jimmy, the footman, and pleaded to borrow his cravat. He gave in to her smiles, trotting off to find that part of his uniform. Jimmy tied it on Squeaks in an unassuming style. It was not to be frilly or fancy. It was to blend in with the shirt and be close to invisible.
“Squeaks, check your cravat often to ensure it has not turned on your neck. It must be kept neat at all times. If you ask to wear a pocket watch, you are headed into Butler livery,” he laughed.
“Drivers must have timepieces. They have to, don’t they? I am going to ask father.”
Squeaks tapped lightly on her father’s door, knowing he was still awake.
“Come in.” Clyde noticed the cravat immediately and smiled. “You look most becoming, Squeaks. Very professional. I am not sure I will have a job available to me when I am well.”
“Father, you know that isn’t so. Perhaps, I can work some evenings with Kip. Didn’t you wear a pocket watch? A silver one with a chain?”
“Don’t tell me you want that, too?”
“I think that will complete the entire look, wouldn’t you say?”
“In-service rarely need them because they just wait. It’s in my top drawer over there. Get it for me, Squeaks.”
She retrieved it as she announced, “Let me see if I know how this goes. Don’t tell me.”
“As you wish.” Clyde sat back and smiled at her fumbling. He could see some type of thought process going on as she started from the vest pocket backward toward the buttonholes.
“Isn’t the chain supposed to be seen, Father?”
“I will tell you that is a short chain, not a long one. It will not drape from both pockets as some seem to do today with the newer watches.”
“What do you mean? I see it has a key on the end and a small medallion of the Stokes’s coat of arms.”
“Yes, it also has a t-bar. All chains have a t-bar. That prevents the chain from sliding through the buttonhole. First, figure out which hand you will use to pull the watch from your pocket. Remember you may have reins in one hand. Place the watch in the opposite pocket from your rein hand. Slide the T-bar through the second buttonhole from the bottom of your vest. The medallion or any small piece of men’s jewelry is called a fob. It is strictly ornamental and is a personal choice.”
“Great. How does it look?”
“With your small body, it looks too big, but I know you are trying to look outstanding tonight. You have succeeded.”
Squeaks kissed her father on his forehead. “Thank you, father. I feel perfect. If I can only drive that way tonight.”
“There should be no issues tonight. I know the route, and there are no tight turns or road slants. Since it hasn’t rained for some time, there may be very few ruts to avoid. You will see Kip tonight?”
“I hope so.”
“If you have questions, go to him.”
“Father, I might go to him without questions.”
“You are scaring your old father with that talk. Don’t give your heart away so easily.”
“How can I help it?”
“He is the first man to approach you. It may not be real love, but it feels like it is.”
“When I have time, you shall tell me how to know the difference. I must go.”
“Good luck, Rebecca.”
“Good night, Father.”
As Lord Caldwell arrived at the coach, wearing his long cape, silk top hat, and ornamental cane, his son opened the coach door. Trevor kept his eyes forward, not looking at his rider. The step was already in place.
“Good evening, milord.”
His father smiled. “Good evening, driver.” He played along and stepped inside.
Trevor raised the step assembly, closed the door, and climbed to his seat. There he waited for the signal.
His father sat inside waiting for the movement, but it didn’t come. “Are you going to drive me tonight or not?” he chuckled.
“If milord is ready.”
“I am ready.”
Trevor paced the horses to a slow start. It was a strange feeling to be driving his father to a special event, being in his most elegant state of service.
The route and drive were uneventful, and his horses performed flawlessly. They trotted in tandem giving a light foot impact, which never kicked up divots on the road or grass parking areas. Trevor pulled up to the rented ballroom, and his father was attended by a footman. Hearing the door close, he paced the horses toward the parking yard and scanned the ring for Squeaks.