The Noble Coachman Chapter 12

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Chapter 12
An Affair to Remember

 

The Inspector had a long talk with Lord Caldwell. Marshall was convinced the two occurrences to Caldwell’s women were related. For a year, he and the other law officers had been looking for any man with a patch over one eye. Many had been questioned, and alibis had been checked as well as they could. It was rare if any of them could remember where they were when Mary Caldwell was beaten to death. The coroner said the man was missing his left eye. From the state of Mary’s hands and nails, the possibility of the person having other scars near the other eye was high. Marshall had finally resigned himself to it being a vagrant passing through, but with this second Caldwell woman missing, initial doubts began to resurface.

Squeaks took no time in visiting her father in his room. She talked about her day, which felt better than the day before. She said that Kip was there once more, but would not be tomorrow. She would be on her own, come morning.

As she sat and ate her dinner with him, she said, “I’m going out this evening.” Clyde Dorset huffed out his displeasure, causing pain in his leg as he twisted about.

“Who are you going out with? You are not taking the carriage alone, young lady.”

“Yes, father you are right. I am not taking any carriage from here at all, and driver Kip invited me to ride footman tonight. He has an elegant affair and a client to drive.”

“He asked you to go with him? Does he need a footman so badly that he has to ask you?”

“Father, you are making me sound unworthy. No, he is going to teach me about night driving.”

“But you are riding as rear footman. Do you even know how to do that?”

“Father, I have been with you constantly, for many a year now. I open doors. That is it. There is no baggage. How hard can it be?”

“We use no rear footman. How is he going to teach you with you on the back?”

“I will ride on the bench until we pick up his fare.”

“You cannot wear His Lordships livery, you know.” Clyde couldn’t imagine Squeaks wanting to ride in the rear.

“Yes, I know, but I think Jimmy has a black footman livery I can wear.”

“Men’s clothes? Sweetheart, no woman does that. Do you have a skirt you will wear over it?”

That was the signal that her father would approve.

 

#

 

It was quarter past the hour when Kip rolled into the back of the estate in The Queen Mary. He had not expected Squeaks to go with him but thought she would be there to decline. He descended from his perch to talk with one of the grooms.

Calling out to one, “Is Miss Dorset about?”

“Who?”

“He’s asking about me, Bradley,” said Squeaks appearing from inside the stable. It was a dark night, but Kip could easily tell she was dressed as one of Lord Stokes’s footmen, black tails and a top hat that barely kept from covering her eyes. It sat on the bridge of her nose.

As Squeaks walked towards Kip, he rolled his fist to cover his mouth and stifle the smile he had at seeing her in men’s clothes.

I feel like I am being ambushed. She is stealing my life.

 

“If I could only draw her strutting towards me, pulling at her gloves and smiling,” he sighed to himself.

She walked straight to him and peered into his smiling face. “Will this do? This is the best we have.”

Kip wanted to pick her up, hug her, and spin her around for the joy she was giving him. His heart raced at the sight of this noble urchin. He knew he was in love there and then. At that moment … his life changed forever. He would not find a way forward without her.

“I cannot believe you found a way to do this and a footman’s real livery. I am stunned. I shall never doubt you again. Yes, it will do most splendidly. Perhaps in future, I will buy a hat that fits you, but I assume you are trying to pass as a man. Of course, that will not work, but I love your look all the more.”

Squeaks smiled. “What do you mean I cannot pass for a man? I’ve tried very hard to hide my hair and keep this hat on. I have taken all the snickering from the staff that I can stand. My father is laughing himself to tears, upstairs. I was going to wear a skirt over the pants but thought that might embarrass you to your client. So, this is what I am. Does it look good with the footman uniform with these high boots covering the legs? You did not tuck your trousers into your boots tonight.”

“You may want to pull the trousers over your boots for this evening. We are in tails, and we dress a bit differently. Ahem … I only see one failed attempt at being a man, but you are more charming than I could have hoped for. I just may have to kiss you before the night is over.”

“I insist that will be my payment.  Where did I fail? Should I get my father’s watch and chain? Wave to my father. He is watching out of the window.”

“We will talk about this failure later,” Kip stated as he looked where Squeaks pointed and waved, showing a very broad smile.

Squeaks made Kip turn in a circle to appreciate his effort of elegance. “You look most handsome, Sir Kip.”

He bowed to her. “Would madam like to see the coach interior?”

“Madam would.” Squeaks followed Kip to The Queen Mary, and he opened the polished brass door handle. He pointed out the stepping mechanism, which was shining and well oiled. Squeaks liked the broader step that it offered the ladies in fancy shoes. She entered and sat on the most comfortable seat she could imagine. Seats on both sides. They were much softer than the traditional horsehair-stuffed seating. Overwhelmed with fragrance, she touched the flowers in the vases on each side of the coach. There was an embedded torch lamp that could be lit but seldom was. Also, a window at the back with a courtesy drape to be unfurled if one wanted privacy.

“Kip, I have never seen a finer coach, including His Lordship’s. This is exquisite. You are exquisite. This is a fairy tale for me, and to think I will be part of it.” Squeaks left the coach as time was wasting, and she asked Kip where she would stand later and what he wanted her to do. Was she to open doors or was his client expecting him to do it? Was she just for show?

Inside, Kip was bursting with emotions. His stomach was jittery with excitement. Her breasts were her failure, which is something he never thought he’d hear himself say. She neglected to bind them down if she wanted to pass as a male. But it was too endearing to correct. His selection of coach and horses had meant the world to him for over a year, but none so much as this moment in time, seeing her elated face.

“Miss Squeaks, since you are dressed appropriately in your footman tails, you may ride rear footman or second driver. You will look spectacular in either position. I shall open the door as they enter, you may open the door when they exit. Do not forget to extend your arm if the lady exits first.”

“Oh yes. Thank you. I am so excited. I will ride rear footman going and second driver when leaving. Is that all right?”

“More than all right, Miss Squeaks.”

“Should you call me that tonight or Dorset?”

“I think Squeaks as you wish to be called and it will separate you from your father. You will not pass for a man, so no need to call you Dorset.”

“Is it because I don’t have hair on my face? I tried to pull my hair down by my ears, but it looked foolish.”

“Thank you for the trouble you have gone to. It is a little more than facial hair, but I am glad you do not look like a man. I will be proud to have you with me.”

“Really? You’re not just kind, are you?”

“Well, I hope at the very least I am kind, but it is more personal than that.” Kip stared at her a moment longer. “I think we should leave now.”

Squeaks waved to her father and walked toward the back of the coach. As she stepped up, Kip showed her the handholds, as there were holdings for two rear footmen. She was to stand at the right side. He would rein on the left, keeping the coach balanced.

“Are you sure your legs can take it? It will be two ten-minute rides, and you will need spring in your knees and thighs.”

“I will do it. Have faith. This is a fantasy I’ve had for many years.”

“Somehow, I believe you will. Let us depart.”

Kip backed away, holding that image in his mind of her standing rear footman. He never wanted that to leave him. He would draw her tonight when he got home. “Squeaks, look at me.” She stopped fiddling with her gloves and turned towards him. “Now smile.” She gave him the world just then. “Perfect. Let us away.”

Kip sprung to the box, took the reins, let loose the brake and looked back at Squeaks. “Ready?”

“More than you’ll ever know,” she answered loudly.

Turning with a big smile, Kip ruffled the reins, Squeaks waved to her father, and the horses began their slow pace of starting. He never wanted to jerk the head of his rider by starting them too fast.

On their way, Kip looked back at Squeaks several times, and at one point, he broke into a laugh. Most of the time, he could only see a hat. She was holding herself on with one hand and keeping her hat down with the other. Tears came to his eyes from the sight of this, and the laughter that he had not felt for so long.

I feel as if my spirit is coming home.

Kip pulled up to the peerage-owned flat and jumped down to wait.

“Should I get down, too?” lightly called Squeaks.

“No, stay your stand. You look regal to the client.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see she was ensuring her hat was correctly placed.

The butler opened the door for the couple. The woman took her husband’s arm and proceeded to the coach.

Kip bowed as they neared. “Good evening, Lord and Lady Astaire.”

“Good evening, Kip. I see you have a footman tonight. Thank you. What’s his name? The Lord asked as he entered the coach.”

“Squeaks, milord.”

“What?”

“Squeaks, sir.”

“Squeaks? That wouldn’t be Stokes’s Squeaks, would it?”

“Yes, milord. It would.”

“You chaps do have an exciting life.”

“Yes, milord.” Kip closed the door and returned to his bench. He waited momentarily for the sign to begin. Hearing the knock of a cane, he started.

Squeaks thought she could not smile any wider. The excitement was overtaking her. Watching Kip maneuver his team was a dream. He was extremely skilled. She hardly felt herself sway. When they arrived, it was her turn to exit the couple, and she began the procedure in her mind. Should she wait for a signal to approach the door? No, that was only when arriving home. She would open the door quietly, let down the steps, and extend her arm if the lady exited first. What if an event had footmen was attending the coaches? Should she insist herself? She knew she would not if she were the driver, but she wasn’t. She was in a dither. Squeaks did not move as they made their way there. She knew her breasts were jiggling against the rear window of the coach. She must tell Kip about what was happening. She began to giggle to herself, which made her breasts jiggle faster. She prayed no one inside noticed. She pressed herself harder against the glass to stop them from bouncing about. As a rear footman, her chest area should exceed the height of the coach. Squeaks wondered how silly she looked. She was a dwarf rear footman, not likely to be found in nature.

As the coach was slowing down to stop, Squeaks jumped off the back and appeared at the coach door before the event footman. She prepared her smile and opened the door. She let down the step and stepped back, holding the door at its widest angle. The man exited first. She bowed.

“Good evening, Squeaks.”

She was stunned that he spoke her name.

“Good evening, My Lord and Lady.”

“I quite enjoyed my view.”

“Your view, sir?”

He laughed and walked on.

Kip had been watching her the whole time. It was his reputation he was modestly risking tonight. View?

Squeaks closed the door and returned to her post.

Kip pulled away from the front and headed towards the driver’s area. There were more than twenty other teams. He saw two of the apostles. The looks he was getting from the other drivers had him sitting proudly with a rear man. Wait until they found out, he thought to himself.

 

Lord Stokes tapped on the door to Clyde Dorset’s room.

“Enter. Your Lordship. To what do I owe this honor?” he asked, sitting up straight in his bed.

“May I ask what is going on with our Squeaks? She may think that I do not know what she is doing, but she would be wrong.” He smiled.

“Am I wrong in thinking that this is a night off for her?”

“No, she is perfectly permitted to do as she pleases, once I release her for the day. I would like to know what she is doing tonight. I know she is with Kip. I trust and respect that driver, but what is her motive?”

“Sir, she desperately does not want to make any mistakes driving tomorrow night for you. She has had little practice at night. Kip offered to teach her.”

“I see. She is doing this for me, is she?”

“Honestly, sir, I would say yes. Although I do think there is more motive there than she realizes. Being a father, my judgment may be biased. I feel comfort in the fact that should Kip find a regard for her, which I think he has, his intentions will be all that they should be.”

“Clyde, you and I have watched this young, crawling, squeaking baby rise to a lovely striking woman. I know you have always been first in her heart, and I have hoped I have been close behind. I find it difficult to allow another man in with us. What is your thinking?”

“I am thinking you have been a second father to her and feel the pains of your child becoming an adult and wanting to control her own destiny. It is life, milord. We have been lucky to have her as long as we have. She has been hidden away on this estate. The road has opened, now, and she has tasted freedom. I know she loves it here, and nothing will pull her from my or your side unless it is the strong love of a man. This is natural and right, as much as we dislike it. All we can do now is to ensure the man who takes her from us is worthy of her.”

“Clyde, it sounds like you have been giving this a lot of thought. You are preparing yourself. Good on you.”

“Sir, there is little to do, lying here, but think of her out there. That leads to further realizations.”

“And you know this driver Kip fairly well and like him?”

“Sir, of all the drivers whom I know, he lives by a high moral standard. He has a good education that he tries to hide. I wish I knew why. He has been reared in a family that values honor above all else. His professional standing in the trade cannot be exceeded. He is well-liked and respected. As any man would protect a woman from harm, Kip is fiercely involved in the safeguard of young women. I have heard this from other drivers. He is driven in that respect. Again, I wish I knew why.  She is a lucky young lady if his feelings are sincere.”

“Well, we must ensure that they are,” Lord Stokes said, rising from Clyde’s bedside. “I am well enjoying the remarks about my driver from the other Lords. It seems I am not as stodgy as I once was,” he laughed.

“I am indeed happy to hear she has not embarrassed you.”

“That could never happen, even if she fails at this driving. Her bravery holds a significant place in many people’s minds.”

“Are you not being a little biased yourself, milord?

They both laughed as Lord Stokes walked out of the room.

 

Before Kip could get down to the ground, Squeaks was there asking if she did well.

“From all I saw and heard, you were perfect. What was the comment His Lordship said about ‘the view’?”

Other drivers were arriving to know about the footman more than his horses this time.

“I will tell you later, Kip.”

“Please be sure to do so. I must know what my rider is thinking.”

Marc arrived first. “Kip, you brought a footman tonight. Who was your fare? He’s a bit short if you ask me, and he needs a better fitting hat.”

“Marc, I would like to introduce you to Squeaks, Lord Stokes’s female driver.”

“What?” Marc looked her up and down.”

“Bloody hell, if she isn’t. You lucky bast … ahem. Nice to meet you, Miss Squeaks. We have been waiting for this day, and of course, The Almighty brings you to us?”

“Pardon me?”

Kip laughed. “I’ll explain later. This is Marc, one of my best friends I was telling you about. He was the first driver I met when arriving in London. He took my coin and pulled me under his wing.” They all laughed.

“Darn, I cannot believe this, my man. How … how did this ever come to be?”

Other drivers were arriving, and the voices grew louder. Kip waited for all he could see to arrive.

Kip quickly pulled Squeaks up to his bench. “Drivers, may I have your attention. And I know I do,” he laughed, as they did. “This is Miss Rebecca Dorset, daughter of Clyde Dorset; driver for Lord Stokes. His Lordship gave her the name Squeaks, and she would prefer to be called that or Dorset. She has been training to be a driver for…” he looked at Squeaks, “…for many years. Her father has broken his leg, and she is now first driver for His Lordship. She has had little experience reining at night, and she must drive her master tomorrow evening. She is here to learn. Tonight, she is my responsibility; she is my employed footman. If there are any issues, tell them to me.”

Someone from the rear shouted, “Is she single?” “Can she drive footman for me?”

“I will not speak for her. She is a professional driver, so I want you to treat her as one of us, which is what she wants, too. Just watch your language around her. If you are caught short, please take care of that privately. Thank you.”

Kip asked her to stand on the bench, so everyone could see her in the dark.

“Oh Kip, you’re shining a light on me. I don’t think I want this.”

“Squeaks, what happened to ‘I must get through this or twenty years is wasted’? This will get a lot of that out of the way, and I am here with you.”

“All right. Questions then?”

“Everyone, I know you men are gentlemen; at least that is what Squeaks has been told. She is willing to answer questions for a short time. She is very aware of the novelty she is to all of us.”

“Kip, give me the whip, please.” Squeaks said loud enough causing all the men to laugh.

The questions went on for an hour. The drivers were enamored with her. She had won each and every one of them. However, she still knew she had to prove herself to be considered a brother … or would that be a sister?

Finally, they dwindled away, all except Marc. Kip jumped down to stretch his legs. Squeaks followed.

“Kip, on our way here, I thought about the event footman, and should I open the door? As you saw, I jumped off and insisted myself. Was that all right?”

“Yes, being an independent, you have no allegiance to the rider if there are event footmen about, so it would matter not who opened the door. Staff rear footmen usually want to open their master’s door. What was that remark about the view from His Lordship?”

“I am glad you cannot see me blush. There is an issue we had not thought about.”

“And that would be what? I think I thought it all through.”

“Can I speak in front of Marc? It is embarrassing.”

“Whatever you say to me that isn’t too personal, you can say in front of Marc and the other apostles.

“Apostles, The Almighty? You said you would explain.”

“I will later; now what about this ‘view’?”

“We never thought about my breasts,” she blushed.

“I am not sure that is exactly true.” Kip was holding back a huge smile. “What was the problem, do you think?”

“It seems, with my height, they jiggle against the glass rear window.”

Kip turned his back to her so she wouldn’t see his beaming face. His eyes darted to Marc, who turned to look at him with the same expression.

“Are they that humorous?” Squeaks asked. “It’s not like I can leave them at home.”

“Miss, please forgive me,” said Marc. “In my life, I would never have expected to hear that as a driver, and I have heard it all.”

Now, Squeaks was laughing.

“I made a spectacle of myself and embarrassed Kip.”

“Squeaks, I am sure if anyone was embarrassed it was you. If this happens again, we will find a lift for you.”

“Suppose Lord Stokes hears of this?”

“He is a man like any other.”

“And that means what, exactly?”

“Squeaks, don’t make me explain that,” Kip pled.

“Next time they will be bound tightly.”

“Squeaks, if Lord Stokes doesn’t mind that you helped me tonight, it will become known that you are a woman. We are not trying to hide that fact; you know?”

How could anyone not fall in love with this breathtaking fearless female?

“I thought maybe you might be. That is why I left the skirt behind.”

“Listen, Squeaks, I asked you if you wanted to come along, knowing full well you would be known to all as a woman. I had not expected you to be able to accept, but still, I was prepared for both of us. I am proud to have you on board.”

“He is, miss. It is rare who he lets ride rear.”

“If you wish, I will speak with him.,” offered Squeaks. “I will apologize.”

“No, let us not bring it up any further.”

Kip sighed. “I am almost sorry this has been settled. The conversation has been quite entertaining. I admit, I thought I had figured everything, every move, every footfall, but so help me; your breasts never entered my mind … in that regard.”

“I am curious,” remarked Squeaks.

“About what?”

“Could I ask Marc to stand rear, and I get in the coach? You are too tall, Kip, for this.”

“At your service, my dear.” Marc climbed to rear footman.

Squeaks entered the coach. Kip knew what she was doing and laughed so hard he was about to bring up his dinner.

Inside, Squeaks found disappointment. The glass came to Mark’s mid-thighs, but no higher. She left the coach.

“Disappointed, Miss Squeaks?”

“Yes,” she pouted.

“Don’t you think that was a bit unladylike?”

“You don’t know many ladies, do you?” she coughed out laughing. “I was a driver checking the views presented to my rider. Suppose I have Lady Stokes and a footman?”

“Oh, I see. Research, was it? I think you have a point. I should know what my rider is seeing. Would you mind?”

“Mind what?”

“Would you mind returning to your post?”

“Some gentleman, you are!”

“I am the same as you. Researching.”

Squeaks walked back to her post. She stepped up. She heard laughter and a voice saying, “A little more to the left, please.” Squeaks jumped off the rear.

“Thought you had me, didn’t you?”

“I believe I will not comment on that.”

“I think I will leave you two,” Marc said, tipping his hat and leaving.

“Marc, before you go, did Kyle get the message about seeing Inspector Marshall?”

“I believe the Inspector found him first. He’s probably there now.”

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