Kips carriage arrived ahead of the Stokes carriage. The parking yard was ablaze with torches, and Kip spotted Squeaks as she turned into the yard. Lord Stokes was exited at the front of the ballroom, and Squeaks parked her team in the next available space. There was no random parking tonight, she could see. Everyone formed a line of teams.
Kip felt pain around his heart, as he noticed all the other drivers following her with their eyes. He smiled, seeing her cravat and watch chain. She went to her most professional look.
God, how I love her.
He watched as she applied the brake and then wrapped her reins around that. Someone, most likely her father, taught her to extinguish her lanterns, conserving the oil.
She was beautiful tonight. Her big, wide black bow framed her petite face. She wore her livery skirt and the silk top hat. There was no mistaking her for a man this time. His chest tightened as drivers started to stroll towards her. He decided to watch for a while.
His heart raced when she appeared to be looking for someone. He supposed it was him. The way she left him last night, the thought that she was searching for him now lifted his spirits.
Kip sat back, folded his arms, and propped up his boots on the driver’s footboard. He was proud seeing her being admired by so many other professionals. Time was needed for her to fully prove herself. And time was what he needed to properly recommend himself to her. He smiled seeing she was clutching the whip. Suddenly, he could tell she spotted him. He sat up straight. In a casual manner, she waved him over. Kip wanted to be over there and hear about her drive to the ballroom. Patiently, he kept his eye on her. This was what it must have been like this morning. Then he remembered she had Boots, the footman, and no one now.
Kip climbed down to the ground and saw her doing the same, except she was descending into a throng of men. They might jostle her around. She still clasped tightly to her whip.
Squeaks pushed her way through the men, even though her breasts were skimming some of them, just to be on the outer rim, when Kip arrived. She saw him tip his hat to her. She curtsied. Kip look pleased, and she smiled broadly back at him. The curtsy caught the attention of many, and they looked his way.
Kip looked heavenward and thanked his sister.
“Good evening, Miss Squeaks. How was your drive from the Castle? The bridge over the moat give you any problems in the dark?” he kidded.
“I am feeling a bit proud right now. No jerks, sways, ruts, or hard turns. I will be told how I did later tonight; I am sure. His Lordship wanted to talk with me when I got home last night.”
“So, I heard.”
“You heard? How do such things travel about?”
Kip realized that he could not tell her that his father had told him. “I believe I told you we are a brotherhood. We hear a lot that is not actually spoken to us. What did you tell Lord Stokes, if I may ask since I was responsible for you?”
“He wants to have a private talk with you before we go out on Sunday.” Squeaks was so full of happiness; she could not resist the temptation to surprise him.
“Are you in earnest?”
“Can you tell me what you know?” Kip took her elbow and walked her into the empty center of the ringed parking yard where there was less chance of being overheard.
“I told him almost everything. Perhaps, it is better to tell you what I did not tell him.”
“However, you want to say it, sweets.”
“Sweets, not Squeaks? I like that.”
“I do too, but I didn’t know I was saying it.”
“I told him about my embarrassment with Lord Astaire. I think he laughed.”
“Yes, but he said he and Father had drunk too much scotch waiting for me to come home. I told him about pulling the coach out of the yard with you going back and forth. I did not mention going to the park, but I told him you kissed me. I think that is why he wants a private word with you on Sunday.”
“He asked me if you fancied me. I told him no.”
“You said that to him? I fear you have lied to your Lord.”
“I told him I thought you loved me.”
Startled for words, Kip flustered before speaking. “You did not lie to him. I do think I love you.”
“I told him I thought I felt the same way.”
“You said that to Lord Stokes?”
“And father, too.”
“You are overwhelming me as you say I do to you.” He noticed how she was smiling as she looked up to him. “We both need a further conversation on this matter.”
This is unimaginable. It is all too fast.
Kip rubbed his forehead. This was so hard to believe. Her admission of her feelings was something he was not prepared for. He felt this couldn’t be that real for her.
“They are not sure that I mean it.”
“Quite frankly, I feel as they do.”
“Since I have never loved, this might not be the true emotion.”
“That should be your own question, as well. You don’t know me.”
“I know all I have to know. We have time to understand what we have.”
“As long as it takes for you to be sure, my sweet.”
Squeaks could see his eyes in the torch lighting glittering from unshed tears.
“After the way you left me last night, I thought I had lost you.”
“Kip, Lord Stokes asked me why I looked taken aback, and I reminded him that you had kissed me. You completely overwhelmed me in body and heart last night. I thought it all a dream.”
“God, I want to take you and hold you so badly right now. Last night is nothing to what I want for you and me. These feelings are new to me, too. I have been with women, but something deeper and more primitive is at work here. Let’s walk back to the others. I am getting carried away. I do not trust myself at this moment … this momentous moment in my life. One last thing?”
“Will there come a time in your life when you will not discuss everything with His Lordship and your father?”
“Where my personal life is concerned, that has started now. I had to introduce your importance to me somehow, and last night seemed to be an opportune time. I don’t want to hide anything from the people who raised and love me or even to your friends. They are now aware of our interest in knowing each other. That is all they need to hear. I believe I can actually feel myself becoming a true ‘woman-in-waiting.’”
“Do not say anymore. We will talk on Sunday. I can barely weather your womanhood at this moment.”
“Well . . . I am sorry. It is all your fault.”
“I hope I am never forgiven, Kip replied, looking at his boots.”
“Squeaks, would you care to talk a few moments with me about tonight,” His Lordship asked upon returning home and exiting the coach.
“Yes, sir. I would like to know your opinion.”
“See me once you are settled.”
Squeaks drove around to the back stable where a stable boy was waiting to put away the team and clean the coach.
“Did you do a good job tonight, miss?” Asked the groom.
“I think I did. His Lordship is going to tell me how he felt about it, now.”
“Good luck, Miss Squeaks.”
She looked at herself before entering the main hall. Snapping her uniform into shape, feeling her cravat, and checking her watch chain for a proper look, she knocked at the door.”
“Come in, Squeaks. Would you care to sit?”
“No, sir. I will stand.”
“I will not take much of your time. With your father and his many years of experience, I have paid little heed to the comfort of my ride. This past week, I have made it a priority to be aware of such actions, as I know you are learning. For more years than I can count you have wanted to follow in your father’s footsteps. I am here to tell you that you have succeeded most notably. I know tonight was difficult for you. I paid attention to the lighting and what you had to negotiate on our route. I would never have known your father wasn’t in the box. In fact, and this is between you and me, I believe it was a smoother ride than when he drives. I have to take back all of my doubts about you having the strength or capability to master such a position. I have been wrong. I sincerely doubt just any woman could accomplish what you have, but your perseverance has held true through the years. Your body is small, and your strength is not that of a man, but there is little evidence of that being a hindrance for you. I just wanted to let you know I am very proud of you.”
Tears formed in her eyes.
“Although I have thought of this in the past, last night brought home to me, that you are a woman now, and may not be a driver all your life. There will come a time when you will want to be a wife and mother, I suppose. You will leave my service one day. My goal until that day is an interest that you make your best choice. I will not make any for you, but I may question you, if you allow me, as to the probability that you have thought through any final decisions. You may think that I am talking specifically about Kip, but I am not. Two years henceforth, you may wish to open a training school for women drivers, I do not know,” he laughed. “However, your father and I have nothing but your happiness in mind. We want you to achieve that most of all.”
Squeaks found it difficult to stand and face all these complimentary words from His Lordship. She finally looked away unable to shoulder the accolades.
“I have talked far longer than I wanted to,” Lord Stokes said, seeing tears roll down her face. She never once wiped them away. “Just know that I am proud of you, and I believe the world is at your feet, now. That is all.”
Sniffling she said, “Thank you, milord. It is only by your good graces that I am where I want to be.”
“I cannot take all the credit. Your father has raised you, not I.”
“But through your kindness, you have given me the opportunity to be what I wanted to be. Father helped me get there, but you made it possible and you have just praised my work. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
“All right. Enough of this from both of us. I will need to visit a friend tomorrow noon. You will have your day off on Sunday. Now, be gone with you.”
“Good night, milord.”
Kip spent little time with his Father when he delivered him home. There was too much on his mind. Discussing other matters would be a distraction he did not want. He said good-bye and that he would meet for dinner before Gus returned to Norcaster.
His work finished for the night, Kip slipped out of his tails, trousers, and boots and relaxed on his couch in only his undergarments. It had only been a week, but his existence had been turned upside down. Perspectives and goals had changed. If their interest in each other was to be known, he was anxious for all to know. The fewer men hovering over her, the better. She had actually said the words he was building up to say in the foreseeable future, and she repeated them back to him. His head was still swimming. Declaring themselves, was quite a distance away, he had imagined.
All of this happiness that was racing towards him prompted him to begin thinking of his life ahead. At some point, she would have to know who he really was. He would have to decide what he wanted or needed to do. Nevertheless, one thing he did know, he wanted her by his side. But would she stand by him if he was an Earl? She was quite used to being part of a nobility household but as a staff member. Marrying into it was another huge challenge for her. He would take his time, and when the moment was right, and his decision made, he would talk with her about it. He wasn’t eager to pull her away from her new-found career that was two decades in the making. Not only was she making her own career, but she was also setting examples for other women. She could be at the forefront of the woman’s movement and wouldn’t know it. Those were just rumblings now, but soon would be making their demands known. She may even become prominent in her own right.
He looked forward to Sunday with eager anticipation. Being alone with her had only been a dream until the pavilion at the park. He vowed to keep himself controlled. With declarations behind them, he hoped his obsession for her would be abated, at least to a moderate degree.
Kip decided to gather all of his charcoals to take with him. Although her hair was pitch black, he had to capture those light blue eyes and lightly tanned, creamy skin.
Saturday evening, Squeaks looked into her wardrobe. It was practically bare except several livery uniforms, white shirts, and stable clothes. She even hung her gloves as her father had taught her. She had one dress for funerals, and one gown passed down to her from Lady Stokes, but she had never worn it. It was not appropriate for a Sunday picnic anyway. Squeaks began canvassing the maids and found the perfect simple dress she could borrow. If Kip was going to be escorting her places, she would have to use some of her savings and have one or two frocks made. Carrying the frock back to her room, she realized she had no stockings or shoes. “What a bad way I’m in,” she sighed. Back to the maids again, where she found success to some extent.
Slipping on the dress, she found it difficult to see herself at full length. Her father had a full mirror; she headed to his room. Walking in, her father beamed.
“Squeaks, dear. Is that really you? I have never known you to wear a dress. Where did you get that?”
“I had to borrow it from Bessy. I needed stockings and shoes too. I think you skipped a few lessons with me,” she frowned. “Father, I need a day during the week to go and get fitted for a couple of frocks. If I am to be seeing Kip outside of driving, I want to look like a woman.”
“My dear, you do look like a woman.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I guess I do. Rearing you has had me scratching my head more often than you know.”
“You taught me the most important parts of life. The women have taught me about myself, and very little about men. It’s time for me to put that to use.”
“I hope I am not misreading you, my dear.”
“I don’t know, are you? Have you ever looked into my wardrobe? I am not sure if my undergarments are for men or women.”
Her father laughed out loud. “I am sorry, child. I was never knowledgeable about women’s fashions.”
“I don’t even have a corset.”
“I do know what that is. You should have one of those. Oh dear, how I have let you down. What will you wear under that frock?”
“I will wear the undergarments that are still in question and a shift to cover the top of me. No wonder I jiggle. It is getting painful to jiggle. They have some weight; you know?”
“Yes, I do know that. Your mother taught me. It seems you are top-heavy like your mother. It’s times like this that I know how much I have missed teaching you. We shall buy a suitable wardrobe for you.”
“Do you think Kip will understand?”
“Understand? I certainly hope not.”
“I mean will I look like a charwoman?”
“Never in your lifetime, my dear.”
“Father, I have a strong regard for Kip. I do not want to shame myself with my clothes.”
“Dear, if he loves you, as I suspect he does; you could never shame yourself to him.”
“I hope you are right about that.”
“I do know one or two things. I was a young man once upon a time.”
“Oh Father, I love you. However, I think some items are lacking in my femininity.”
“Like what, precisely?”
“Like what do I do with the feeling I have when being kissed. I want to leap out of my skin.”
“Let me work on that.” Clyde was embarrassed by himself for never properly speaking with her about the things his wife would have taught her. He was a man and wasn’t quite sure what a woman feels.
Sunday morning came, and Kip pulled into the Stokes’s stable area. He drove his day coach, and he dressed as a man riding a horse – no livery. A stable hand escorted him to the kitchen. There he asked to see the Butler.
Several minutes later, Morgan came to greet him.
“I believe Lord Stokes wished to speak with me today,” Kip told the Butler. “I will wish to see Miss Dorset after my talk with His Lordship.”
“Very good, sir. I believe she is waiting. Your name, sir?”
“This way, sir.”
Kip followed the Butler, being more than a little nervous. They came to a set of big doors. The Butler opened one side, and announced, “Trevor Kipling to see you, sir.”
“Show him in.”
“Good morning, Kip,” he was greeted by Squeaks.
He bowed, “Good morning Your Lordship, good morning, Miss Squeaks.”
“His Lordship said I must leave when you arrived. I will collect our luncheon-basket and wait outside for you.”
“Very good, miss.”
Squeaks was smiling while he was dying inside. She backed out of the room, paying close attention to His Lordship’s face. The door closed behind her.
“Sit, Mr. Kipling.”
“I would prefer to stand, sir.”
“I wish you not to stand on formality on this occasion. Please sit. Can Morgan offer you some refreshment?”
“No, sir,” Kip said finding a large chair.
Lord Stokes took the opposite chair.
“I am sure you are wondering why you are here or perhaps have an idea, but still, wonder why a Lord would seek to know the goings-on of a staff member.”
“Sir, I believe most drivers know of your kindness to the Dorset’s. I will speak honestly with you about that, sir, if I may.”
“Thank you, proceed.”
“It is known that you have a fondness for Squeaks since she was born. It is believed that you never had a daughter and found that missing child in Rebecca. There have at no time been any other rumors about your interest in her. It is plain to see she has been loved, treated well, and reared with care.”
“I believe your arrow has flown true with your understanding. However, I would like to speak of her future. She tells me that there is regard for you, and she feels you have an interest in her.”
“Yes, sir. More than interest, sir. I am sure I love her. I do understand that she is naïve in this world and may be mistaking her heart for more than is actually there. Being the first man in her life, outside of yourself and her father, I am quite aware that her interest in me might not be what I hope it to be. I am prepared for that. It could be envy for my knowledge of a trade she professes to love. I understand you had a conversation with her in her regard for me and in her perceived regard of I for her. Nothing had ever been mentioned or intimated beyond friendship until that time.”
“Well . . . it seems you know why you are here. I do know it is not my place to pry into her affairs, and they will be laid to rest after our conversation unless a matter is brought to me.”
“Understood, Sir. You are correct. She is of age to handle her own affairs, but I am thankful she has the guidance of Your Lordship and her father. At the same time, I would be honest in hoping you do not stand in her way when she is resolute, whether it be a career, or marriage, or whatever her heart desires.”
“I take your meaning as well and admire your honesty and courage to say that to me. May I ask a few questions?”
“By all means, Your Lordship.”
“I understand from several levels of society that you possess a remarkable skill in your trade, but also I am told that your own values in life are exceedingly high and unexpected for a man of your bearing. You are a mystery to many.”
“Yes, sir. I have been told that.”
“Are there any words that you can say to me to alleviate this anxiety her father and I feel about you?”
“Lord Stokes, I will tell you what I feel I can, but I would hope this would remain confidential between yourself, only, and me. It will not be the entire story, but if the day comes and Miss Rebecca accepts a suit that I offer, you will know all there is about me, and she will, too. There will be undeniable proof at hand, but big decisions are ahead.”
“I was reared in a titled home. I am extremely well educated but wish that wasn’t known, as there are questions, I cannot answer. I am not in trouble with the law. I do not have loose morals or bad habits. I have suffered the loss of a beloved family member which has impacted my life severely. Depression has followed me. I had to leave home and redefine myself. Finding interest in the coachman trade has brought back some self-worth. It has helped me get back on my feet as a responsible man. I take pride in my profession and wish to provide the best possible service.”
“Miss Squeaks is entering my life and giving me back hope and a sense of self that I had lost. She knows nothing of this. I do not love her for what she is doing for me. I love her for who she is. My intentions towards her are sincere. I know she needs to be nurtured and handled with delicacy. I wish to be the man in her life whom she allows a closeness. I will never hurt her. I will protect and defend her. Her happiness is my ultimate desire in life. I wish there were more I could add, and I will should she accept me. Sir, I hope this puts your worries aside.”
“A titled English family, you say. Are you a firstborn son?”
“I am, Sir.”
“Thank you, Mr. Kipling, for being straightforward and honest. I fear you have raised more questions than answered, but I am content that you mean what you say about taking care of Squeaks. I also want to thank you for your attention to her safety during this past week and her training in night driving. I must admit she had a compelling tale about herself that night being a footman. It seems the House of Lords found great favor in hearing it.”
Kip felt awkward. “I apologize, Sir, for any embarrassment. I wish I could have foreseen such an issue.”
“Perhaps, it is just as well that you didn’t. Squeaks has grown into a beautiful young woman. She has great pride in her chosen profession. She is spirited, delightful, and far too outspoken to me, her Lord and master, but I have encouraged it, I admit. Her father and I are quite jealous that she is allowing another man into her life who we will share, but she is grown now. I do know that these relationships are not always what one hopes, but whether the two of you see your way far into the future or not, I do believe you will always take care of her. You say you were raised in a ‘titled’ family, but that does not mean that your land, connections or finances are in good stead. Should you be, however, barriers will be thrown in your way. I wish you the best. If you have no questions, I believe you have satisfied my curiosity, and you may go.”
“Thank you, Lord Stokes, for your confidence in me to watch over and love a very special gift to us all. I will protect her with my life, so help me. Good day, sir.”