It was nearing four in the afternoon when Kip attached the coach and horses. He and Squeaks had an amazing ride through the forest. He had to admit she was quite a good horseman herself, once he got her in the saddle. Their great love for horses was equally cherished, but how would she feel about being a countess? Kip felt in his heart that his love could reach through her, to the other side if she joined his noble family, but could she reach back to him?
He knew she would not expect or demand extra respect. It would be like her to blend in as one of his own residents rather than their mistress. Perhaps, that would be a good thing. She could ask that something be accomplished instead of issuing commands. She would be well loved. His father would live another twenty years before Kip, himself, would have to accept his due title. Being a coachman for another decade would give Squeaks what she wanted. Their dreams could be fulfilled on both sides of the peerage line. As he rode, Mary came into his mind again, she was there often during this period of his life. With her presence so entrenched within, his attitude was softening about one day returning home. Squeaks was changing his world, even more. He was beginning to think less of his own life and more of hers. He had to make her happy.
Kip handed her the reins when they left the forest and traveled the main roads.
“Squeaks, when we get to the outskirts of London, would you like me to ride rear footman?”
She started to giggle thinking about it. “I think we should wait until we are very near Stokes Castle.” Kip could again see the child that was still invading her subconscious. She was easily pleased like a little one at Christmas. There the innocence remained. Someday that would be gone. He would cherish it while it lasted.
“When can we see each other again, Kip?”
“That will be up to you, my love. Tonight, I have an affair to attend. I know you are only available in the evenings, and that tends to be when I am working. We will definitely begin to plan nights so I can refuse fares.”
“How do we tell people about us?”
“We don’t say anything. If someone asks if you and I are a pair, just say that you are seeing me. Word will spread fast.”
“Does that mean I can see no one else? Can I not attend an evening meal with someone who asks?” She was teasing him, but he did not recognize it as that.
“That is usually what that means. Have I totally misunderstood you?”
“No, I am glad to have a reason to turn another down. Friday morning, without you, was a bit sad, having to disappoint so many men.” Her dimpled cheeks popped up.
“So many, was it?” Her charade had worked for a moment. “You don’t know how often I thought about you that day. Did you really have men asking to escort you out?”
“Yes. It was rather thrilling. I’ve never had that adoration, and now it is everywhere. I was asked several times if I was single and once if I was married.” She grinned.
“As if my control with you isn’t hard enough, you are going to make this difficult to woo you, properly.”
“But you said I didn’t need wooing, didn’t you? I’m not sure how I would make it difficult.”
“I believe you just did. A man takes very great pride in his lady. His first aim is to possess her. No one else may have her, or touch her. He will defend her with his life.”
“And you feel that way?”
“Yes. How many ways can I say it? I thought you were riding along with me today. Did you just arrive, woman? What have you done with Miss Dorset? The only problem Dorset has is listening to me, or perhaps it is believing in me.”
“Am I your lady?”
“You said you weren’t a lady if I remember accurately. Do you want to be? I thought you loved me.”
“Then it is a ‘yes.’”
“I think I need an official scorekeeper. I do not know what levels of love there are. I do not like assuming.”
Kip laughed out loud. “Excuse me. I have just been slapped across the face for which I deserve. I love your innocence and then forget that you really are that naïve. Yes, I dare say you need me to keep your score. If it needs to be clear, you are officially my lady. We are seeing each other.”
She gave Kip a broad smile. I now have a ranking. I am your lady. Is this the first step?”
“No, I’d say we were on our third step. We have declared our love to one another. Touching the other in any way that was not a customary courtesy, such as a kiss, was the second step.”
“How many steps are there and what is waiting at the top?”
“That’s hard to say. If we are right for each other, it will continue to grow and strengthen.
“So which level is the most intimate?”
“Squeaks, don’t do this to me. Do not force me to put a number on it. I have never been to that level in love.”
“I hope it is under five, although two was a wonderful awakening. Do you think I am wanton? What does that mean exactly?”
“Good God Squeaks! I should be shot for chipping away at your virtuous veneer. I think we need a few days of separation to cool you down. You are frothing?”
“And you’re not?”
“I think I am barely under control.”
“How about that bump underneath me?”
“The bump?” Suddenly, Kip blushed.
“What step was that?”
“Actually, that can be part of the needy thing and be step zero or lower. Sometimes it is there when we least expect it or don’t want it.”
“Was it that way today?”
“Squeaks, you are going inside the coach. This conversation is over.”
“But you said to ask you, not the women.”
“I did say that, didn’t I? Well, now is not the time or the place. And don’t go asking your father or His Lordship. God, you are driving me insane.”
“I am afraid you created this in me. I am your responsibility.”
“I want that more than anything in life, but let’s take it gradually. I want to be a gentleman and not a rake or a swain. I want to show you respect above all else.”
“How is that going for you?” She giggled.
Startled at that, Kip laughed. “I thought I could leave that up to you, but I see I cannot. You have no boundaries.”
“Should I? Do you have boundaries?”
“I’m starting to believe I’m the only one on this ride today that does. And I am not doing a very good job of it. Just how much Byron did you read?” Kip had to wonder if these questions were in earnest or in jest. He hoped he never found out. It was an appealing part of her nature and fun, which he rarely experienced.
It was 7:00 p.m. when Kip arrived at his father’s for dinner.
“Come in, son. Chandler, get Trevor a scotch.”
“And another one for me,” shouted Augustus.”
“We’ve been looking for you. All we knew was that you took Miss Squeaks out for a ride. What a day to not be able to find you.”
“What is it, father … Gus?”
“Lilith’s body was discovered today exactly where Mary was found.”
The air in the room became thick. Trevor gulped his drink and refreshed it. A heavy frown formed as his father and Gus looked to him for some possible guidance …an answer …anything.
“How were you notified?”
“Richards dispatched a rider with a note.”
“And what has been done since you found out?”
“Gus sought out Inspector Marshall, and I went to visit the Blevins. I imagine they will tell the family. I would assume the police in London and Norcaster are communicating by telegraph.”
“Marshall is on his way there,” Gus interrupted.
“I will go tonight, father. My job isn’t critical. I will represent the family and talk with the staff and constabulary.”
“Thank you, son. Are you sure? This could be very hard for you.”
“Trevor, I will be up sometime tomorrow,” replied his brother.
“Yes, father. I want to do this. If dinner is ready, could we eat, and then I’ll be on my way.”
Trevor wrestled with his decision to return home for the challenging sadness. The other Caldwell’s could be on this train, he thought. Within two hours he was at his door.
“I’m so glad you are here, Lord Trevor,” said Richards, looking exceedingly relieved. “I believe Chandler should be here on the next train. This way, Sir.”
As Trevor entered the sitting room, there sat Mr. and Mrs. Caldwell, half in tears. Inspector Marshall had been there about two hours, and the local constable was present. No one knew to introduce him to the other Caldwell’s.
He walked over to the distraught couple. “I am sorry to be meeting you under such tragic circumstances. I am Trevor Caldwell.”
The couple bowed, and Trevor asked them to sit. “Please let us have no formality during these few days. My father wishes to be here, but I am afraid he cannot face another death as has happened. He sends you his best and please honor this house with asking for anything that you need. My brother, Gus, will arrive tomorrow. Inspector, advise me on what you know.”
“I would prefer to do it elsewhere, so these poor folks don’t have to hear it again.”
“Indeed. Would you please excuse us, Sir and Lady Caldwell?”
Trevor, the constable, and the Inspector went into the study across the reception hall. He walked to the bar and asked for drink orders. He was the only one, so he fixed it for himself. All were seated within minutes.
“Lord Trevor, unlike your sister, this young woman was beaten and raped elsewhere, but her body was brought here. The doctor assumes, at first glance, that she died of internal injuries, but there was a strangulation attempt. He believes the body to have been there for about three days. Your brother ordered the icehouse to be torn down, and that was how she was discovered.”
Trevor rubbed his forehead as the Inspector continued.
The body has been moved to the mortuary, where she will be examined and then made ready for transport tomorrow. Her parents will take the same train. I shall stay on here for a few more days and ask around and inspect the site.
“Is there nothing we can do?”
“I will soon speak to your Butler, Chandler when he returns since he has been here the longest. We are sure, now, that it is a revenge killing. Chandler may know things he doesn’t realize he knows. We will talk with him after the Caldwell’s have left for the train. He will assist us with all your previous staff. He has decades of records, I understand. Since Mary was attacked first, this vendetta would seem to stem from your side of the family. We will also look into these other Caldwell histories. Again, the other Caldwell families have been alerted. Both women were young and ‘out.’ They were visible to the public. There are no other females in the Caldwells that match this scenario.”
“What scenario would that be, Inspector?”
“We believe a Caldwell member or Caldwell staff could be responsible for these deaths. It is only the women. The men could be targets, but we don’t think they are. The revenge seems to be aimed at women. We are most likely looking for a man who may have resided in this household. Our initial assumption now is that some harm, discharge or disgrace may have come to a woman who worked here. Unfortunately, I think your uncle, Nathaniel, is at the root of this revenge. Being almost 20 years ago since Sir Nathaniel was asked to leave; and if he is the cause of these murders, a plan has been in the works for a long time. You continue with your coachmen, and I’ll work with Chandler on your previous staff. The end may be close.”
“My father has spoken of Nathaniel. Have you heard that story?”
“Yes. His Lordship and I discussed him at length after Miss Mary. How are you doing, by the way? I see you driving in London, using another name and wonder why?”
“I had to get away. It is that simple. Being Mary’s older brother and her protector I wanted to shoulder all of the blame and I couldn’t do it here. Perspective was needed, no matter the time it took before I felt I could assume the role that is planned for me. I have quite enjoyed being with the lads. We are seen but not noticed. A lot is known to us but no one else. It came to me that at some point, perhaps the subject of Lady Caldwell would be mentioned whereby I could learn something.”
“Please don’t take on any retribution until I know about it. Can you promise me that?”
“No, sir. I cannot.
“Because you are a Noble gives you no special privileges where the law is concerned.”
“I am quite aware of that, and it has been considered. I will tell you, now, if I find the killer of my sister, I will dispatch him myself.”
“There are at least two of them. We know that much.”
“I know that, also.”
“I am warned, sir.”
“It is past 11:00. We should return to the parents.”
The following morning, Trevor gathered every servant and had a long conversation with them. First, he spoke about his feelings of Mary, trying to help him. He mentioned how comforting it felt and hoped they could see it the way he did. That seemed to appease most of them. Anyone wishing to leave their employ would go with a good reference.
Later, he, Chandler and the Inspector would have a conversation after Chandler had pulled out his old books. To fill his time, Trevor rode his horse. He could feel the wind whipping through his long untethered hair as he sprinted through the nearby riding acreage. A thought came to him, and he rode across town to see the Friesian horse breeder.
After the mid-day meal, the house was quiet. He had nothing to do but reflect on the image of Squeaks in this manor house. Trevor took the stairs to Mary’s room once more. It was still the same. Her clothes had been removed, and he wondered what had happened to her jewelry. However, the wall-hangings and colors stayed the same. Even the furniture was as he remembered. He sat on the side of her bed. Eventually, he flopped back and spread his arms, looking at the ceiling motifs. Suddenly, Mary was in his head. Swirling her image with a vengeance. Trevor found it a bit frightening this time. She seemed angry. She even wore a frown if that were possible. He left her room thinking that being there could have upset her, but the anger did not abate. Something was wrong. He went to visit her gravesite. He wept during his talk with her and told her about Squeaks.
Trevor strolled into his father’s study and saw Mary’s portrait over the mantle. His father commissioned it three years before she died. The swirling image didn’t have much resemblance to the portrait at the moment. He rang for Chandler.
“May I help you, Sir?”
“Yes. Please close the door and come in. Do take a seat this time.”
“I prefer to stand, Sir.”
“I know you do, but I would rather you sat.”
“I want to thank you for what you have done for this family, especially in this past year and moreover these last few days. Who is with father right now?”
“Richards and I changed places for several days until the staff could be settled. I will be heading back tomorrow. Richards should be here before noon.”
“Did you listen when I talked with the staff about seeing Mary in my dreams? Lately, her image is getting stronger in my mind. I’m beginning to feel her presence without seeing her face. I am sure she is going to lead me to her killer.”
“Yes, Sir. I heard you say that. I remember you telling your father and brother about most it, except this more recent sensing.
“What do you think of that?”
“I cannot come to a decision on it, Sir. If you say it, I believe it. From someone else, I would question it.”
“I just came from Mary’s room a short time ago, where she appeared in my head again. This time, she seemed angry. I left the room, but something is bothering her. Do you have any ill feelings about this house or anyone in it?”
“Speak up, no matter how insignificant something may feel.”
“Sir, there is nothing to report. All feels as it should in this household. In fact, it is calmer than it has been in a long time. I am sure that is because you are here. They have worried a great deal about you, Sir.”
“Thank you, Chandler. I am returning tomorrow. You are excused for the night.”
What could be bothering Mary?
Kip didn’t remember seeing her this livid when she lived. He didn’t have a good feeling this time.