In the two weeks that followed the ball, Manon was swept into a flurry of activity attending balls and soirées and enjoying outings to the park and riding journeys. Lucian was her attentive groom when she went riding while Marcus Lascombe, a charming fair-haired giant with dreamy blue eyes was Manon’s usual companion for the theatre. His brother Joseph, considerably shorter than Marcus, was a slender, handsome and amiable man who loved to take her out for poetry evenings. Then there were a number of other young bucks, scarcely older than Manon who endeavoured to ask her to a ball or a soirée with the enthusiasm only the young possess. They made Manon smile, yet she did not respond to their pleas, because she had no interests in beguiling innocent boys still engaged in their studies at university.
However, none of Manon’s suitors had proposed to her, not even Lucian Blackthorn, a fact that left Manon nonplussed. Since she was unable to accept Richard, she was determined to say yes to Lucian if he asked her to be his wife. She liked Lucian. He was an earl’s son; that was true. He was wealthy as well, but that was not what made him attractive. It was his high-spirited, humorous manner and his boyish charm that drew Manon to him. She knew that life with Lucian would be anything but dull. They were certain to have fun together, and even joy, and perhaps love would blossom one day if they let it grow between them. Manon was prepared to give love a chance again, with Lucian. Yet he had not said a word so far.
As Manon had expected, her uncle wished to be informed about the situation. He questioned her on one of the rare nights that she was not engaged. The four of them, with Pru and Jake Davies being of the company, were dining en petit comité.
“Manon, have you received any offers of marriage as yet?”
“No, Uncle. So far, no one has ‘come up to scratch’ yet.”
She smiled at him, seeing that her words somehow seemed to upset him. “I apologize, Uncle. I know a lady should not speak in such terms.”
He did not reply but quickly lowered his gaze and continued eating.
Pru, however, knew she could not have misjudged the look of pure sorrow she saw in the baronet’s eyes when the proposal was mentioned. Oh, it had only been there for a second. Sir Richard was too well bred to allow feelings to show on his face for longer than that. But it had been there, nevertheless. Manon, she knew, had seen it too; it was what had compelled the young woman to quickly apologize. Sir Richard had become utterly distressed when Manon joked about Sir Lucian’s proposal, or the lack thereof, Pru registered. That, or Pru was no longer able to read people’s gazes as she had been doing all her life.
Unobtrusively, from the corner of an eye, Pru observed the two. At any given moment, they were either avoiding each other’s gazes or throwing furtive looks at each other especially when they thought the other would not see them. A tension most definitively hovered between the baronet and his niece.
Allowing Pritchard to remove his empty plate, Richard de Briers cleared his throat and thus claimed the attention of the other diners.
“Estate matters claim me back to Bearsham Manor, as I was informed today by a letter from my steward, Trevor Waldham. There is no need to accompany me, niece, if you wish to stay in Brighton. Jake, I trust you will prepare young Jéhan for the journey and instruct his nanny that she is to pack his belongings.”
“Yes, of course, sir. Will…”
“I beg your pardon!” Manon’s voice rang with sudden alarm when she abruptly stood, drawing all attention to her.
Richard looked at her wearily and said, “Yes, Manon?”
“Are you taking my brother away from me?” Her green eyes blazed with sudden fury, Richard saw. He drew a breath to keep his composure before patiently explaining, “That goes without saying, Manon. Jéhan is my heir. He will accompany me wherever I go.”
“Then, Uncle, I must also prepare myself for travelling.”
Manon addressed Pritchard in a polite voice and asked him if he would kindly inform her maid Bessie to start packing.
“Yes, of course, Miss Favier,” the butler answered. He gestured to a footman to take his place at the table before he left the dining room.
Her uncle’s quiet voice was laden with authority. He was fixing her with his most unwavering gaze. Pru Butterworth watched in amazement at how Manon’s chin went up in defiance and how her eyes and her whole expression focussed on her uncle.
“Please, sit down and listen to me.”
Richard gave his niece a stern look in the hope that she would listen to reason. He thoroughly regretted not having spoken to her of this before and cursed his omission, because he had known full well how firmly the two siblings’ lives were intertwined. Manon might never trust him again if he did not present this correctly to her. He kept his voice as soothing as was possible.
“As I said before, dearest Manon, there is no need to accompany me to Bearsham Manor. Jéhan will be safely under my protection and properly looked after by his nanny and his tutor. The boy is no longer your concern, Manon and besides, you have several events that claim your presence in the days to come. I suggest you stay here with Miss Butterworth and honour the invitations you have received.”
“But … Jéhan has always been with me, from the day he was born! We have never been separated, not even for a day! Please, Uncle, let me come with you! I cannot stand to be without my brother! I promised our father I would protect him with my life, and I will!”
She shoved her chair backwards and swiftly crossed over to her uncle’s place at the head of the table. To Richard’s utter shock, Manon threw her arms around him.
“Please, dearest Richard! I beg you, do not take my little brother from me!”
Pru and Jake exchanged surprised glances upon Manon’s use of a romantic endearment instead of the usual title of ‘Uncle’ that she always employed. Yet they could barely keep their jaws from dropping at the reaction of their employer.
Richard de Briers had risen and he put his arms around Manon. He was gently stroking her now shaking shoulders. “I am not taking him from you, sweetling. Please, do not weep so. I … I cannot stand it.”
His gaze went to Pru, a plea in his eyes. Pru rose and came to take Manon from him. The girl went quietly with her companion – to Richard’s immense relief. It had cost him a formidable amount of willpower not to kiss the tears from her cheeks and make her smile again. His heart went with her when he saw Manon and Miss Butterworth leave the room.
Sighing deeply, Richard gestured to the footman to serve the next course, which was dessert. He then turned to Jake Davies.
“Jake, will you join me in the library after dinner? I have some matters to discuss with you concerning the young master.”
“Certainly, sir,” Jake replied, still stunned by the whole performance and its implications. His master could not … would not … No!
Half an hour later, Manon had been bathed by Bessie and put to bed. A cup of hot cocoa had been served to help Manon sleep. Pru came to sit next to her bed and took her hand.
“Dearest Manon, I think you have something to tell me,” she said quietly and looked comfortingly at her companion. Manon turned her face away, but Pru had seen the silent tears that ran down her cheeks. Poor little mite, she thought. Poor sweet child.
“Is your uncle the one you lost your heart to, Manon? You can tell me; it will ease your mind to tell someone, dearest. Such a burden should not be borne alone.”
Still Manon did not answer and she tore her hand from Pru’s and covered her face. Her slender shoulders shook with violent sobs.
“Manon, we do not choose whom we love. Love chooses us, just like that. It is no crime to fall in love with one’s uncle but it would be if you gave in to temptation and acted upon that love. I cannot believe that your uncle would commit such a dishonourable act, Manon. Richard de Briers is a gentleman of the first water.”
“He has not done anything. He has always behaved impeccably. We never … touched each other again, not even after …”
Manon’s voice faltered, and she burst out in tears again.
“After what, dearest? Tell Pru all; it will relieve you.”
“After I confessed my love to him. He … he was the kindest of souls and he tried to comfort me. He also begged me to stop loving him and to search for a husband, but … oh, Pru! I cannot! I cannot, not ever! I love him so much, Pru! Oh, why must he be my uncle? What have I done to the Heavens to deserve such a torture?”
“There, there,” Pru soothed, anxious because Manon was so thoroughly distressed and because Pru could not seem to offer her comfort. “You must be strong, my darling, and pull yourself together. Sir Richard is right. You must be married and find a new happiness with your husband. The love you feel for Sir Richard can never be allowed to grow. You know that, do you not?”
Manon nodded, unable to speak. She valiantly tried to dry her tears, but they kept streaming down her cheeks. She fumbled for a handkerchief. Pru offered her a clean one so that Manon could blow her congested nose. Finally, she was able to speak again without sobbing.
“Yes, Pru, I do know all that. However, how do you think it feels when I am forced to meet him every day and eat at his table and sleep under his roof and never be allowed to tell him that I love him? How torturous it is to be confronted with him, day after day, and to see how magnificent he is? When he is all dressed up in his fine clothes with his splendid figure, his fine, broad shoulders, and his handsome countenance, he is temptation come alive, Pru. Yet I can never touch him or caress him. I am only allowed to peck him on the cheek and never truly kiss him on the mouth. It is slowly killing me, Pru.”
She was only eight years Manon’s senior, Pru mused, yet at that same time, she was feeling as if she were trice as old as the girl. Love could be such a cruel sentiment. Manon should be happy and joyous at this moment, enjoying her youth. Above all, she should be experiencing the love of a good, kind man instead of being ripped apart by her forbidden feelings for her attractive uncle. But that was just how life was, sometimes. Nothing, no unfair setback, was ever to be excluded.
“Darling Manon,” she said in an infinitely gentle voice, “life has treated you terribly unkindly. You lost your parents and you had to flee your native country. Now these unbidden feelings assault you. It is indeed cruel, my darling, but you must find the courage to fight against all this. I know you can fight, Manon. You are a brave, clever, strong young woman, and you can do it. Of that I am most thoroughly convinced. You are not alone in this, dearest. I am with you and I will support you. For now, I think Sir Richard is right. You should remain here with me and create a distance between you and him. That will be the first step towards peace of mind, Manon. Only when you are not in his presence will your love for your uncle return to a more appropriate level.”
The next morning, Manon said goodbye to her little brother as he mounted their uncle’s splendid carriage. Jéhan was excited and happy, whereas she felt as if her heart were being ripped apart.
“We will see each other again soon, mon chou,” Manon said, biting back tears and squaring her shoulders against the sorrow that was lurking nearby. “I will follow you to our uncle’s estate in a few weeks. Now, you will be a good boy, won’t you?”
“Yes, yes, Manon! Hurry, let go of me! We are about to leave!”
Manon smiled when she saw Jéhan’s enthusiasm. At least he was cheerful enough for the both of them.
The company – Jéhan, Jake and Maisie – climbed into the carriage, on the back of which one of the grooms was finishing the strapping of the luggage. Richard de Briers, who had been watching the proceedings from the front porch of the house, stepped forward.
“Well, niece, I will see you on the first of August, then. I asked Lucian Blackthorn to accompany my carriage when it carries you to Bearsham Manor. I hope you will have a pleasant time in Brighton until we see you at the estate.”
He took her hand and placed a kiss on its back, then pulled on his gloves and swung himself onto his big chestnut stallion.
Manon hastily retreated when Spartacus stepped aside, lest the animal tread on her foot. Mere seconds later, the horse and carriage disappeared round the bend and from Manon’s sight. She felt like she had lost a limb.
Climbing the stairs to her room, Manon had the distinct impression that, with Richard gone, the house had lost its very soul. It was definitively missing all joy now that Jéhan no longer filled its corridors and rooms with his cheerful babbling and light footsteps. When she entered her large, well-lit bedroom, she lowered herself onto her bed, lying on her back and resting her head upon her arms.
She needed to think, and to take her life into her hands again. Since coming to Brighton, she had had the impression that her life was being led for her instead of the other way around. Now that she was alone with Pru, without Richard’s constant supervision, Manon knew she could make plans of her own.
Early the next morning, Clyde and his friend Dirk were down at the field ensuring the proper set up for the steeplechase. Fences were being pounded into the ground, and ditches were being filled with water. The course was a half mile long, but the entrants would circle the course four times, making it a total two-mile run.
Bradley and Squeaks were doing the final grooming on Regent, a purebred Arabian, Lord Stokes’s personal horse, who had done some flat racing by a former owner. As Squeaks entered her late teens, she took to Regent and began working with him. Her father told her with what she had taught Regent, she should show well in the race today. It would be their first race together. She was nervous.
“Bradley, do a nice job on that tail. I’m almost done with his mane. Did you feed him lightly this morning?”
“Yes. Gee, look at him gleaming in the sun.”
“He’s beautiful. I wish His Lordship would ride him once again.”
“What next Squeaks?”
“Rub down his leg muscles, and then run him in the paddock, while I get ready. Do we still have those horse brasses that no one knew what they were meant for?”
“Yeah, I know where they are. You want them?”
“Yes. I will be down within half an hour.”
Kip was dressed in his gentleman driver outfit, boots, and top hat. The Queen Mary was spotless, flowers were in the vases, and the drapes clean and pressed. Inside he placed his new formal attire, sporting a black velvet collar, and embroidered cuffs which matched Squeaks. The top hats were also made of the same velvet set off by a purple hat band. This was one of his family crest colors, and he wanted to fit it in somewhere. Squeaks would have a bundle of purple chiffon bows at the rear hat band. The bow ended in two scarf ribbons, hanging down about a foot from the band. It gave it a very feminine look. He designed it. Perhaps a Kipling livery line would be in his future. He had worked all this through the seamstress he had visited one day. The seamstress suggested small darts be sewn in. Kip wondered what she meant. She told him that wearing a man’s straight coat would not accentuate her female allurements. He readily agreed to the darts. When he went to fetch the clothing, the seamstress said she had never sewn so elegant yet understated attire. Kip was glad to hear this as that was exactly the image he wanted. Be seen but not seen. He placed his harness brasses and an etched leather bridle in the coach.
Ion would arrive at the parade site at lunchtime. He had his own formal attire, but Kip had a matching top hat made for him. Kip brushed his Friesians one more time before leaving.
Squeaks arrived on Regent and placed him in the temporary paddock with all the horses. She walked over to see her father and Dirk, sitting at the entrant’s table.
“Excuse me, gentleman, I wish to enter the steeplechase event.”
Her father looked at her and said, “Sorry, no women allowed.” Then he and Dirk broke out laughing. “Yes, my child, you are entered. I know I will be a proud father today no matter your placement. You are causing quite a stir among the single gentlemen here. In fact, all of them, I believe. We’re always being asked if you are participating in anything. I think several have signed up just to ride with you. Little do they know that you’re a jumper.”
“Father, I forgot to tell you. I will ride with Kip in the Grand Parade.”
“I’ve been waiting to hear that. I figured you two would enter.”
“He asked me yesterday. When he came to dinner, he brought a box with a beautiful livery for me.”
“I hope that man isn’t going into debt over you.” Clyde knew that Kip was a noble and money was no problem.
“He wanted to give me a gold watch, but I told him to return it.”
“A gold watch?” Stammered Dirk.
“Father, can I borrow yours until the parade is over?”
Clyde pulled on the chain and slipped the watch off his vest, giving it to Squeaks.
Dirk remarked, “I haven’t seen Kip yet. Does he have any other events?”
“I don’t think so. Only the final one.”
Matthew and Marc crept up behind Squeaks and tapped her on the shoulder. “How are you today, Miss?” Asked Marc.
“I am feeling rather gay. I plan to enter the steeplechase.” Squeaks saw them grinning. She stood there proudly with her leather pants, dark-green wool blazer, and her red tam, which she cocked to the side. They didn’t believe her. Kip had never mentioned it because he didn’t know it either. They were in for a show, whether she placed well or not. Her biggest excitement was having Lord Stokes see his horse in the race.
“I guess you have a fair chance in that one as any other.”
“Why are you smiling?”
“Well, we have a few steeplechasers that are now drivers. You will have competition.”
“I certainly hope so.”
“Have you seen Kip today?”
“No, but I know he intended to watch the steeplechase race.”
“That’s good. He should be here soon, then. They’re having the open event now. Want to go watch?”
“I might as well,” she said, as they walked down the slope that overlooked the large field. “Exactly what is the open?”
“Any horseman may show off any stunts that he can do with his horse. It’s amazing what these animals can be taught. Judging is difficult for this one. I see many of the lords are beginning to show up with their stables for the Grand ending. I am sure Kip will be entered in that one. He’ll have some big competition with the in-service stables and coaches. He has a chance, though. At least, he should finish in the top five and get a horse brass as a prize.”
Lord Stokes arrived at the tented table with Dirk and Clyde. “Well gents, how is the derby faring?”
Both immediately stood and were signaled to be seated. “Your Lordship, I think you have an excellent event to be associated with. There have been few disputes over the judging. The coachmen are having a grand time. I hear there may be more in-service entrees next year. Even though the prizes are small, they seem to covet them.”
“Sir, I have made no promises to anyone. I have heard mumblings about ‘I’ll beat you next year’ and words like that. I think the steeplechase will have more entrants than expected and plenty of on-lookers.”
“And why is that, do you think?”
“Because our Squeaks rides in that one.”
“Does she now? When is that?”
“This open event is nearly over. There will be a half-hour pause to set up the steeplechase obstacles in the big viewing field. When they are completed, a horn will be blown, calling all participants.”
“I shall stay to watch this myself. Is that Lord Clayton over there?”
“Yes, sir. Many Lords are coming in for the final Grand event.”
“This is becoming more attractive by the moment. I shall take a stroll.”
Squeaks was watching intently at the open event when Kip sat down behind her. He easily looked over her head, seeing Matthew and Mark, “Morning mates.”
“Good morning, Kip.”
“There are darts in my coat.”
“Yes, I know. Your seamstress suggested them. I had no idea what they were.”
“Terribly. I told Father, but His Lordship doesn’t know, yet.”
“Did you know you will drive, too?”
“No! No, I didn’t know that. How is that to work?”
“After the opening speech, we take the coach. Each one of us will parade around the ring. You will go first. I will go last to finish any other movements they wish us to make after the ring trot. Trot. You must trot.”
“I understand that after the steeplechase, while all are eating, several deep holes will be left from the previous race. You will have to deftly go around them.”
“Do others know?”
“I don’t know. I believe all the independents do.”
“Is that fair?”
“It wouldn’t matter. They should be trained to look for such hazards all the time. There may be others that I don’t even know about. We’re not out there solely to look pretty.”
“Squeaks, can we have our private talk after this is over. I need to know if you will accept my suggestion.”
“Yes, to my suggestion, or yes to our meeting?”
Just then the steeplechase horn blew.
“I must go. I have to get my horse and get down there. Bradley should have him ready for me.” Squeaks jumped up and ran back to the paddock.
“Kip, aren’t you thrilled for her?”
“Embarrassed,” Kip said, “I never knew she could jump. This is all a surprise to me. I know she is anxious to feel part of the Brotherhood, but she didn’t have to enter this as proof.”
Bradley handed the reins to Squeaks and wished her luck. Once more, he reminded her of the weaving around the barrels in the big field.
“That will be no trouble for Regent.”
Kip and his apostles stood because of the large crowd which had formed ahead of them on the slope. Everyone wanted a higher view which could allow them a bit more visibility into the woods where half of the path led. For once Kip’s height came in very handy.
The trumpet blew, and all the entrants walked in, single file, leading their animal. Squeaks was sixth walking in. The crowd murmured when they saw her. Someone asked if children were allowed in. Someone else said it was a woman, and everyone shouted him down. She must be crazy if that is a woman. She’s wearing a tam. It must be a woman. Kip was grinning from ear to ear, and the apostles kept elbowing each other and laughing.
Kip saw that the horse was a thoroughbred Arabian. “Look at her horse, lads. How will she ever get on it?”
They all laughed. “Ten to one, she’s boosted,” said Lucas.
“I’ll take that bet,” replied Kip. Loser rides rear footman for a night.”
“You’re on. So, how is she going to get on, do you think?”
“I don’t have any idea, but I bet she won’t need any help. They didn’t put a horse block out there for her.”
“Looks like there are about twenty entrees. That seems like a lot to me. I don’t know that many former steeplechasers. Must be a lot of in-service I don’t know about.”
The ring announcer told them to mount their steeds. Kip watched as the rider next to her came over to assist. She curtsied to him but dismissed him. There were murmurs among the crowd. Kip spotted Lord Stokes, Clyde, and Dirk behind him.
As the riders mounted, all eyes were on Squeaks.
“Now, what’s she going to do?” Someone in the crowd asked loudly.
“What is she doing?” Stokes asked Clyde.
“You’ll see, Sir.”
Squeaks walked out in the front of the horse while holding the reins. She tapped her crop on the ground twice. A hush fell over the crowd. As if on cue, Regent got down on his front knees and then went down on his back legs, crouching like a stone lion figure. Squeaks easily slid into the saddle and patted him on the neck, and talked to him. Regent rose majestically into a standing position, and everyone clapped and whistled.
Kip felt so proud of her, he wanted to weep. She won everyone’s heart, not just the drivers.
Lord Stokes puffed out his chest in pride. “She’s on Regent,” he said loud enough for Kip to hear.
“I owe you one, Kip. That was incredible.”
Kip was stuck for words. His heart was pounding so heavily against his chest; he could hear nothing around him.
All the horses lined up at the end of the field, Squeaks felt very smart in her boots, tam, and corduroy vest and wool blazer. As she sat there waiting for the gun to sound, words came back to her. Let the others lead for half the race. She didn’t understand why, but she would let them lead.
The gun sounded, and Squeaks held back while the pack congested itself trying to weave through the barrels. When it cleared, she took off like a shot, catching up to the pack too quickly. The big field had two fences before going into the woods. Five riders went down trying to get over them. Squeaks could see that the pack jostled each other for the lead, therefore, forcing mistakes. Squeaks held back again and even came to a dead stop, before sailing over the first and second fences alone. They turned into the woods where there were men if one fell, was injured or tried to cheat by taking a shorter route.
Squeaks was starting to calm her insides and do more concentrating on the race. “A rider will always see ahead and compensate for something unexpected.” Kip’s words came to her. She passed another three entrants who were thrown into the muddy water jumps. She kept her head down and watched the two jumpers in front of her. If something went wrong with them, she knew to be ready to react. She could tell the jumps easily by their movements. The rider ahead of her was suddenly knocked from his horse by a low hanging branch. Squeaks ducked her head and had to jump the rider on the ground.
Kip and everyone was milling around, waiting for them to come into sight again. The barrels had been removed from the field, and two fences were erected. They were very close together. Kip thought he had never seen anything like that. As the riders came back into the field, only three made it over the close fences. The failed riders were in a pile near the fence when Squeaks came through. The crowd murmured again. She’d never make it.
Squeaks pulled back on her reins, essentially stopping her horse. She trotted him around at the end of the field until the fence was reset and riders were walking away. Squeaks used her riding crop and whipped Regent to a fast start. Everyone thought she was headed too fast to the double fence. At the right moment, she pulled Regen’ts head up, and he flew over both at once. A huge round of applause was heard. People were jumping up and down at the feat, she accomplished.
“Kip,” Mark shook him. “Why aren’t you saying anything?” This is fabulous. Her skills will never be doubted after today.”
“I am too choked up to speak. Excuse me.” Kip had to walk away for a moment to dry his eyes. He happened to catch Lord Stokes doing the same thing behind the crowd. Kip gave him a moment and walked over to him.
“I see we are both overwhelmed by our Squeaks,” said Lord Stokes, seeing the reddened eyes of Kip.
“Where did she learn this?” asked Kip.
“I thought you taught her,”
“Not I, sir. I’ve never done this in my life, only a fox hunt or two. Flat races yes, but not this.”
They both were silent.
The remaining four riders came back into the main viewing field and saw that four fences were erected, each one taking the rider across the field.”
“Here they come,” said Kip. “Oh, dear God, she’s still in the race.”
They both watched as the first rider missed seeing the first fence and had to repeat it or drop out. That put him behind Squeaks. The second rider had no difficulty. Squeaks took her time and was flawless over the fences.
Coming into the third pass, another fence had been added to the center with water on the other side. Very easy to miss if you weren’t watching. Squeaks was second of four. The third jumper passed her and failed the water jump. Squeaks was too close to stop. She approached the water and fence with great care. At the last minute, Regent bounded over the fence and the rider in the water without his hooves kicking the man.
As Squeaks and the two last jumpers left the viewing field, she picked up considerable speed which she had been holding back. She and the horse knew the path now. She had caught up to the first horse and was staying right behind him until the open field at the end. The first jumper began whipping his horse. Steam was coming from the horse’s nostrils. Squeaks pulled alongside him. She gave Regent a small whip on the final part of the field and finished first by a horse length.
Kip turned to his Lordship, and they shook hands. Both were beaming with pride. The crowd was wild. Top hats went sailing in the air. One would have thought it was a betting race. It seemed they all wanted the little woman to win, and she did not disappoint. She managed feats unseen by most people, the double fence, the horse bow and the phenomenal water jump.
The three winners were brought to the center field. Kip couldn’t hear anything being said, but the announcer handed horse brasses to the winners. Apparently, he had plenty to say about Squeaks, which caused the other two winners to applaud her. As Squeaks accepted her prize, she bowed and had Regent bow on one of his front legs. The applause was deafening. Kip could see those cherry dimples from where he stood.
She will be my wife someday.
Finally getting Regent settled, she found her way to the lunch buffet. There was applause as she entered the area. Lord Stokes stood and motioned to her where they were sitting. Squeaks was stopped and congratulated many times on the way to her seat.
His Lordship motioned for her to come sit next to him.
“My dear Squeaks; you have won the day and the hearts of all here. We cannot be prouder of you at this moment. How did you learn to jump?”
“On my own. I’ve had a lot of time in the years before I was allowed on the bench. Father would drive you somewhere, and I would saddle Regent and go riding. You had stopped riding him, and he needed to be worked. You see, it’s all your doing,” she smiled. Everyone laughed.
His Lordship made everyone lift their glasses, and he toasted to her great success. “What did you win, Squeaks?”
She hadn’t looked at it, assuming it was a nice ornament for her horse. Everyone heard her gasp as she read the inscription molded into the brass. She read it aloud. “Squeaks Derby 1867, First Place Steeplechase.”
Everyone applauded. She sat down and ran her fingers over the lettering. The motif was of two knights with lances, charging at each other. Around the edge were the words. Tears came to her eyes, and His Lordship put his arm around her. Her father was slapping her knee.
“This is the first you have seen of these?” Clyde asked.
“Yes, I had no idea. I am so honored.”
“It was His Lordship’s design and derby name.”
Squeaks looked toward Lord Stokes, threw her arms around his neck, and kissed him on the cheek. Everyone grew silent seeing anyone touch His Lordship. But Lord Stokes laughed, and the festive lunch went on.
Several times during their meal, Squeaks caught Kip looking at her. He hadn’t eaten much. He looked worried, and she understood why. Before this day was over, changes will have been made, she told herself.
“Miss Dorset,” Kip called to Squeaks, “You have some explaining to do.” Everyone laughed. “It surprises me that no one knew of your skills in a steeplechase.”
Ion was brushing down the horses when Kip arrived. “Are you ready Ion?”
“That I am. Thank you for picking me to ride with you.”
“Ioan, you match me more than any other, in height, build, and courtesies. I think we make a splendid fit. Someday, I will ride rear for you.”
“Do I take it that the young lady headed this way is second driver?”
Kip turned to see her grinning face. “She is, indeed.” He wanted to sweep her into his arms and smother her with kisses. “Congratulations, Miss Dorset on a spectacular race. His Lordship and I were speechless. Perhaps you will teach me a trick or two.”
“I will be most honored to do that, Mr. Kipling.”
“This is Ioan, our breast-less footman. I think we had better change.”
“Does everyone know that story?” Squeaks asked.
“Yes,” replied Ioan with a smile.
“I will change in Lord Stokes’s carriage over there.”
“All right. We have a lot of competition in this one.”
“I see all the in-service teams that I have come to know. I don’t think they hold a candle to you. I’ll be back in a moment.”
Kip climbed in and made fast work of getting redressed. The crease in his trousers was razor sharp. He had to feel his cravat without the mirror. His boots shined, and his watch gleamed. He packed his old clothes in a satchel and put it in the rear box. As he stepped out, Ioan whistled.
“Kip, I would think you were a noble dressed as you are. I want the name of your tailor.”
Kip laughed. He reached in pulled out the two velvet top hats. Ioan was taken aback.
“Kip, this is magnificent. Please let me pay for it.”
“No, it’s my payment to you for today.”
“Don’t forget Ioan, you are first on the coach after lighting the torches.”
“Yes, sir. Will do.”
Kip looked over Ioan’s shoulder and saw a dream walking towards him. She was majestic. As she neared, both Kip and Ioan removed their hats and bowed. “Your Ladyship,” said Kip as he replaced his hat. Squeaks curtsied, and they laughed.
“Turn around and let me see it.”
“I want my hat. Those are beautiful with the purple bands.”
“I said, turn . . . around.”
As she twirled, she looked beautiful, but he laughed when he saw the silver watch, which was too big for her.
“Why are you laughing?”
“Give it to me and wear this one.” Kip pulled the gold watch from his pocket and fitted it on her. He took the silver one and put it in her pocket.”
Kip looked into Squeaks eyes, and he wanted to die. He wanted to drown in those light blues.
“Ready for your hat?”
“Since last night.”
Kip pulled out the very feminine hat with the chiffon bows and tails.
Squeaks gasped, and so did Ioan.
She took it slowly into her hands and turned it around and around and kept looking it over. Kip watched her amazement.
“I designed that, I’ll have you know.”
“Kip, it is stunning. I don’t want to wear it. I just want to sit and look at it,” she smiled.
“Well, here …” Kip took it from her and snugged it on her head. “We have to get moving. You see all the other carriages are moving.”
Squeaks adjusted her hat, looked at the coach, and stepped up the wheel peg.
Ioan had lit the lanterns and Kip was coming aboard.
“Kip you have a new set of reins and halter. They’re etched. And you have jewelry on them. I hope we can win a horse brass for you.”
“I would like one of your brasses very much. Here we go.”
Kip reined his beautiful blacks into the procession. There did not seem to be any particular order. He only saw a few independents, and none of them had second drivers or footmen. The more opulent in-service coaches were a mix of single drivers or two drivers. Very few had footmen, which surprised him. They were led into a formation where they parked their team only several feet from the next one. Kip realized that was on purpose. That was a feat they were looking at. Would the horses grouped close together spook the team? There were twenty-two entries.
They were asked to leave their brakes off and come to ground so everyone could see the drivers and their livery uniforms. Kip saw two other independents that were dressed smartly but not in formal tails.
As they entered the field together, as a threesome, the crowd grew loud. He knew they had spotted Squeaks. Once all were seen, they were told to bow, but Squeaks curtsied, which brought small laughter to the crowd. Next, they were to walk half of the field, but the teams were expected to stand still. Two teams and their coaches moved to follow their drivers and were immediately eliminated.
All the drivers turned and could use any method to draw their team to them. Kip split the air with a whistle, which Soldier and Warrior answered immediately. They were the first team to move to their driver. They stopped in front of Kip and stood still. More than half of the remaining riders had never taught their horses to come on command. They were eliminated.
“Kip, there’s only seven of us left,” Squeaks whispered out of her smiling face.
The other two independents were still in.
“Squeaks, independent horses respond to whistles every day. We had an advantage there.”
It was called out that single drivers and second drivers were to mount the box, followed by the first driver and footman. There were no teams left with a rear footman.
One of the field handlers, indicated to coach number one to begin the parade around the ring. Then the second coach was alerted and so on until all seven were ringing the field with their second driver. Again, the crowd began murmuring when seeing a small woman manage a coach and turning two large horses. One single coachman used a whip to keep his team in line. He was asked to leave the field.
“Kip they’re really judging the driver and the horses independently.”
“As they should. You are doing splendidly. Keep smiling.”
Clyde was standing next to Lord Stokes when he spotted Squeaks. “You didn’t tell me Squeaks was in this. She looks so beautiful and all grown up.”
“Sir, I only found out about this before lunch.”
“Just look at their stunning livery. Kip spared nothing. They look regal out there.”
“That they do, Your Lordship.”
The six remaining coaches were stopped close to the on-lookers so they could have an opportunity to see them. The announcer then told the audience that at the end, they would be the judges of the Grand Team. Everyone clapped to know they would take part.
The teams were directed to change drivers if there was a second.
Another team was eliminated because the two men crossed in front of each other in the box. Kip and Squeaks and one other team stepped to the ground. The first driver went around the rear of the coach and the second driver passed the heads of the horses. In tandem, they both climbed the wheels, which indicated their passenger was balanced. Once ready to begin a new round, they were surprised that each coach was presented a real passenger.
A lady and gentleman walked up to each coach. Kip saw what was happening and told Ioan to tend them, which he was doing. Ioan was perfect as Kip and Squeaks kept their heads straight ahead. Ioan opened the door, lowered the step mechanism and offered his arm to the lady. He raised the step, waiting for the signal to close the door and then closed it.
The final two passes around the ring began, but they were ordered closer to the fence. It was only moments into the trot that Kip saw the first ground hole that a team in front of him had been dragged through. He didn’t know about the ones in front of that one, as his eyes were on the ground. The crowd became very attentive to the coach and team, perhaps now understanding what drivers endure.
Suddenly, a half dozen men on horseback, dressed as highwaymen, galloped into the ring and tried to disturb the drivers or the team. Kip was smooth as glass, and so were Warrior and Soldier. No other team reacted well-behaved. The horsemen were rearing their horses or traveling face on towards them. They tried to edge the competing teams against the fence. Squeaks thought this was a nightmare.
“Am I supposed to be helping you in any way?” Squeaks asked. “Should I pull out the pistol and shoot?”
“Do any have masks on?” Kip asked.
“Two of them do. I can’t believe this is happening.”
Kip started laughing.
“One is headed this way, Kip.”
“All right, let’s give them a show. Reach down under the seat and find the pistol. Wait until I say go, then point the pistol in the air and fire.”
“Yes, really. I am having so much fun; I don’t care if we lose for this.”
As the masked man drew closer, Kip pulled his team out of formation and whipped them into a gallop. The audience was stunned. He was watching for holes while Ioan shouted about the masked man.
“He’s getting closer. Definitely in pistol range,” Ioan yelled.
Squeaks stood, holding onto Kip’s shoulder and fired the pistol into the air; not once but twice.
The onlookers were astonished. The masked man rode away, and Kip pulled his coach to a stop. Both he and Ioan went to each side of the coach to see to their passengers.
“By God, that was fun,” said the gentleman inside.
Kip tipped his hat and returned to the procession which was coming to an end.
“Are they going to dismiss us, Kip?”
“I don’t know. I bet they didn’t expect us to react that way, but it was the right thing to do in that situation.”
As they pulled the coaches to a stop, they parked facing the gathered crowd. The announcer said the course designers had that activity planned in but didn’t expect such an exciting ending.
There was no question as to the winner. Even the remaining drivers came down to shake their hands.
The announcer walked in front of each coach team and asked for applause. The standing ovation went to the Trevor Kipling Stable.
Kip was presented with a gold ornament for his team. It wasn’t the usual brass. Ioan and Squeaks did receive the brass ones. Kip shook Ioan’s hand and looked down at Squeaks. He picked her up about a foot off the ground and spun her around and around.
“We must make our closing bows. Ready?”
As the applause continued, Ioan and Kip bowed, holding their hats and Squeaks curtsied. The crowd was quite vocal about the winners. Squeaks disappeared from the center and went to exit their passengers. Everyone laughed.
The riders mounted their coaches and slowly walked from the field as the crowd began to disperse.
“Squeaks, you have given me the grandest day of my life. Thank you.”
“Of course, it is the same for me, and the day isn’t even over.”
“Does that mean what I think it means?”
“Let’s go to your home to talk and kiss.”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather I take you home?”
“I am sure. I am sure about a lot of things.”
“You know kisses get us in trouble.”
Kip smiled. “Well, they can get me in trouble, then. You seem to want to leave me with all the responsibility of control.”
“I don’t do anything. I have no control over anything, do I? You once said that you would take over the handling and for me to only talk to the women about feelings. Father said that men are usually the dominant ones or something like that.”
“Yes, but you let me.”
“Let you do what? I don’t know what’s coming so how I can I let you? It’s a wonder you can control your own team,” she giggled.
Kip dangled his gold horse brass in front of her face. Looking sideways at her, he could see the cherub face. “I think you are toying with my affections. I bet you are sore from that steeplechase.”
“No, I’m not.” Squeaks quickly replied.
“So … kisses only, then. Am I correct?” He watched her hands as she constantly intertwined her fingers. She was nervous. “You seem a bit jumpy about something.”
“No, I’m not. I’m not.”
“If you’re sure then.”
“I think I said I was sure, just a moment ago.”
“Excuse me. You did say that. Maybe I’m the one who is nervous.”
When the cotillion ended, Richard led Blanche to a seat. He then bid her leave to go and see to his many other guests, whom he had been neglecting somewhat. She graciously released him and turned to a girl whom she knew from childhood but had not seen since. Richard hastened after his niece – he had forgotten all else, after he noticed the paleness of her face when she left the dance floor.
But where was Manon? Standing in the doorway to the entrance hall, he scanned the crowd gathered there, which was easy because of his height. He was about to return to the ballroom when he glimpsed her small form disappearing onto the terrace. When he noticed that Miss Butterworth was with her, Richard felt slightly less concerned.
Before going after the girls, he again looked into the ballroom for his friend Blackthorn. Lucian was dancing with the well-endowed daughter of a Brighton merchant and seemed to be having a fabulous time, judging from the expression of satisfaction on his face.
Stepping onto the terrace, Richard saw the two girls heading for the maze in the garden. He realised something must indeed be wrong, because Miss Butterworth had her arm around Manon’s waist in support. Manon herself seemed unsteady on her feet. What the deuce had happened? Was Manon ailing, or injured? Surely, Miss Butterworth would have taken her to her room and called for a physician if that were the case. With growing concern, Richard accessed the maze through a different entrance than the one the girls had taken. He wished to hear why his niece seemed so perturbed, even though he resented being forced to eavesdropping.
“Dearest Manon, what is it?” Miss Butterworth asked. “We should return to the house, and put you to bed. You look terrible; you are white as a sheet!”
“No, no, I will recover in a while, Pru. Just let us sit for a few moments.”
“But … you are clearly unwell, dearest. Shall I find your uncle and …”
The word came out like a cry of despair.
“Oh, Manon!” Miss Butterworth said in anguish, “You look truly ill. You are trembling all over, dearest!”
“It will pass, Pru; just stay with me and hold me.”
Richard gritted his teeth in powerless frustration. What had befallen his sweet niece that she should be so disturbed? If Lucian had made any improper advances, he would demand satisfaction.
Her voice barely more than a whisper, as if talking were difficult for her, Manon pleaded, “Not my uncle. He must not know about this. I … I will … be … right as rain …”
Manon got to her feet swaying lightly, but she managed to make a step in the direction of the house. She then collapsed without a word. Pru uttered a small scream and bent over to her. To Pru’s utter bewilderment, Manon burst into heart-breaking sobs.
Richard clenched his fists in an effort to keep himself from bursting through the yew hedge to see what was wrong with Manon. He heard Miss Butterworth’s shushing noises as she endeavoured to comfort his niece. Manon was crying her heart out in a most inconsolable and desolate manner.
“There, there, dearie! Tell me what is grieving you so, please. Pru will help you and make it right.”
Nothing was forthcoming from Manon but wracking sobs, as she was weeping like a child would do, forlornly and heart-wrenchingly.
Eventually, Manon’s crying subsided and Miss Butterworth coaxed her once again to confide in her.
“I cannot tell you, Pru,” Manon whispered, so quietly that Richard could barely understand.
“Why not, my sweet thing? I am certain I can help you.”
“No, dear Pru, even you cannot help me, no one can. I am doomed!”
Miss Prudence Butterworth recognised the raw sentiment Manon displayed as the oversimplified despair of youth. After all, Pru had six sisters, and all were younger than she. Especially the two youngest, Mariah and Venetia, had a tendency to blot out every ounce of reason when thwarted in love. Mariah had once tried to drown herself when one of her beaux chose another girl over her. Unfortunately for her – or, from the family’s viewpoint, fortunately – Mariah had chosen the gently babbling brook at the back of their garden as the stage for her melodramatic act. The water was shallow and extremely muddy, and Mariah had sunk into the black sludge up to her armpits. By the time their father and their male servant managed to pull her out, Mariah’s despair was gone. Instead, she was bewailing the ruin she had made of her best muslin morning gown.
Manon, Pru realised, was in the same mood Mariah had been just minutes before she jumped into the brook. She was blind to everything else but her own deep despair.
Pru knew she had two sensible options. She could try and comfort Manon with conventional, empty phrases, or she could refuse to follow her into despair and instead chide Manon back into reason. Pru chose the latter.
“Pish and nonsense, Manon! Are you listening to yourself? Doomed, no less! You must recover yourself and act like the sensible young woman that I know you are. You are a de Briers, a member of an old and proud family, and you owe it to yourself to act as such. Quit your waterfall of tears and tell me what is wrong, now! Otherwise, I am taking you to your uncle, and you can explain to him why you are snivelling and wailing like a babe whose toy has been taken away!”
Manon startled at Pru’s stern tone but at the same time acknowledged her words as wise.
“You are right, and I apologize, Pru. I guess I was just overwhelmed. The ball is so grand, and I am still learning how to behave.”
“Weeping will not help when you need to use your head, Manon. You are too melodramatic by far. Has someone offended you or hurt you? Was it Mr Blackthorn?”
“Lucian? No, he has been the soul of kindness to me.” She shook her head before continuing, “You must promise never to tell a soul of what I am about to entrust to you, Pru. Promise me, please?”
Puzzled to the extreme, Pru promised.
Manon continued, eyes downcast and hands clenching in her lap.
“I have allowed myself to lose my heart to someone I cannot have for a husband, Pru. It was foolishly indulgent and terribly unfortunate. Now I am condemned to push that love away and hide it forever.”
Pru studied Manon for a while, asking herself how much the girl was affected by her self-declared impossible love, and she found that Manon seemed deeply hurt. How could this have come about? It could not have occurred that same night, Pru realised. No, this was something that must have happened earlier. Manon’s sorrow was painful and real, and it must have been festering for some time, for the girl had been downcast for days. Pru recalled how even the most exquisite gowns, bonnets ,and slippers had not elicited more than a sad, fleeting smile from Manon. Come to think of it, Pru mused, Manon had had an air of melancholy over her lately that was uncharacteristic for the sensible and lively girl that Pru had come to know. For now, Pru would desist prying into Manon’s heart, but she resolved to find out what was troubling her young friend in the days to come.
Richard watched the pair return to the house arm in arm. Conflicting thoughts assailed his mind. On the one hand, he was pleased that Manon had found a friend in Miss Butterworth, who seemed to have the right approach to Manon’s impulsiveness. On the other hand, he realised that Miss Butterworth was shrewd and tenacious and that she would try to find out who Manon’s impossible love was in order to protect her adequately.
Hearing Manon’s confession to her friend, he had foolishly rejoiced, even though he knew he had no right to do so. Blast it all! He needed Manon to marry, and fast, too. It would be the best thing that could happen, for both of them.
While he wandered back to the house, Richard had to fight against his own black mood. This was becoming ridiculous, he thought. Manon’s tears over the heartache that their mutual love had brought them affected him in the same way. He had always considered a broken heart a mere invention of romantic novel writers, and something that Sir Richard de Briers, an established gentleman with a comfortable position in life, would never have to endure. He was a respected and well-to-do member of England’s country gentry, and the master of his own prosperous estate. Misfortune was not something he was likely to experience, and should a setback come his way, Richard had always assumed he would be able to rectify it.
How wrong he had been, and how foolishly conceited!
“Father, do you think I should see other men, so I can convince Kip that I know what I want?”
“Oh, I thought that might come up if he’s the man I think he is. Normally, I would have hoped you to see many eligible gentlemen before you settle down with one. I still think it’s worth trying. However, your mother and I had a good marriage without her seeing many men. Being in service, your choices are limited. But it did work for us.”
“Kip said something odd. He said only he knew what I would go through to marry him, and he wants to be sure that I know he’s the one. Do you know what he meant by that? He did tell me about his sister dying, and that’s why he left home. Do you know more?”
“I do, but I have given my word to allow Kip to tell you when the time is right.”
“Would you approve of him? Can you tell me that much?”
“I am not bothered that you are seeing him now. Let that be the end of it.”
The first day of the derby looked like it was going to be successful. Everyone seemed unsure of what to anticipate, but all expected to enjoy the camaraderie, good food, and ale.
The first event was that all coachman paraded around a very large ring with their pair and coach. Kip had entered in his daily clothes and older elegant coach. His horses out-shown all the others, however, he did not take first place. As it turned out the Caldwell coach, driven by Briggs, with the gold-crested letter “C” on the door, stood out strikingly with a hint of modesty. Many important people had been asked to be judges, where no speed or agility needed to be calculated. Other contests that were scheduled that day were trotting, galloping, stopping and fast starting by the coachman and his team. Kip did not enter those. The derby ended early, allowing the entrants to return to make their wages. Tomorrow was the final and biggest day.
“Tomorrow is the Grand Parade – the last event of the derby. Have you intentions on entering the Stokes carriage?” Kip inquired of Squeaks. “We never talked about being in an event together.”
“Tsk … You think to ask me now?” She hadn’t seen Kip for a few days and was unhappy that she didn’t know why.
“Can you attend me as second driver. I have someone without breasts to ride rear footman.” Kip smirked.
“I’m sure I have nothing appropriate to wear, Kip.”
“I have that well in hand. You will match me.”
“Tails?” Her face became excited.
“Yes, tails and a skirt to cover you to mid leg. It’s part of the Kipling line of fine Coachman Apparel. You will have a nice white crisp shirt with a few frills, which separates you from me, a feminine cravat and a velvet top hat designed by yours truly. This one will fit you.”
“You make that hard to resist, Mr. Kipling.”
“That was my intention. I have been busy with that for a few days now.”
“I will agree.”
Kip and Squeaks walked over to a shade tree where they determined times for dressing and meeting.
“I will bring your Kipling livery tonight. Check for any last-minute alterations and get the castle’s seamstress to fix you up.”
“Would you like to come to eat with the servants and me tonight?”
Kip broke out in a smile and started to decline. “Yes, I would like that, thank you.”
“I will see you tonight at 7:00 p.m. Good day, Mr. Kipling.”
“And the same to you, Miss Dorset.” He watched as she popped up and trotted off.
Squeaks drove her father and the Lord back to the castle. Clyde was having a grand time planning and watching, while Lord Stokes felt a bit of pride. He had no way to really tell the coachman how grateful he was for saving Squeaks life, and this felt like a worthy way to do it.
As soon as she exited her passengers, and took the coach to the stable, she informed the staff cook to set another place. Then she went to talk with her father. It was about time to explain her latest news, the relationship and the derby.
“Father, can I speak with you?”
“You know you can. Come in,” Clyde said as he settled into the rocking chair in his room.
Squeaks sat on the edge of his bed wondering where to begin. “Father, I don’t know who is the bigger fool but Kip …” The half-hour rolled past quickly as she explained how she couldn’t bring herself to accept an evening out with anyone else. “He feels I need to see other men to know my true feelings for him. He still can’t dismiss the idea that what I feel may be gratitude. He didn’t say those exact words, but I know he’s thinking that.”
Clyde sat patiently and listened. He understood what Kip was doing, and the very high cost to his heart.
“Father … Father! Were you listening?”
“Yes, dear. I was. He’s a braver man than I.”
“What do you mean braver? Surely he’s a fool.” Squeaks saw the pain in her father’s face.
“Father, what is it? Did you over-do today? Is it your leg?”
“No, Squeaks. It is none of that. I see now the depths of his love for you.”
“How? What do you see that I don’t?”
“He is sacrificing himself, his happiness, his future, all of it for you.”
“How is he doing that? I can’t see it!”
“Loves blinds you, Rebecca. He may lose you to another man, Squeaks. In your gaining experience and coming to know other gentleman types, you could find someone who means more to you. And he knows there is that possibility. That’s the chance he is taking to ensure you have the life you want and with whom you want it. He has searched past the blindness into cold hard reality. Kip knows you might be lost to him.”
“Well … we’ll just see about that. Oh, tonight, he will be here for dinner with the staff.” Squeaks had forgotten all about the Grand Parade.
Promptly at 7:00 p.m., Kip rolled into the stable area at Stokes Castle. A groomsman came to attend his team and coach.
“I know. You want Squeaks. She’s through that door. Just walk in,” said the young lad.
“Kip chuckled over him still not knowing Squeaks’ real name.” He went to his coach door and retrieved two boxes and some flowers. He was dressed nicely, but no tails, even though the staff would be wearing their proper attire.
Squeaks spotted him in the hall and came to him. She wanted to rush but held herself at bay. “If we were alone I would beat my fists upon your chest again for making me consider this ridiculous idea of yours,” Squeaks said with a smile on her face. “Oh, are these flowers for me? A peace offering?”
“No, they are not for you. I have had no answer, so they are for the cook.”
“That’s very kind of you. I should think that never happens in this house. She will be overjoyed. I will take you to her.”
Squeaks led the way into the kitchen, introducing many members to Kip as they scurried by with china tureens and bottles of wine. Squeaks finally caught a moment of the cook’s attention as she contemplated the next serving. She introduced Kip. “Oh, so you’re the young man who is stealing our Squeaks. It’s nice to meet you.”
“I’m not sure you are correct about me stealing her, but here are some flowers for the meal tonight and the lovely picnic lunch you made for us.”
Gwen slapped her hands to her face in disbelief. “My gracious. This is a very nice surprise. Thank you, Mr. Kipling.”
“Please call me, Kip. You are welcome.” Kip remembered his home life and knew that a cook was as equal in rank as a driver. They were both hired for their knowledge and would not have to climb the servant’s ladder. Others too were hired the same way – the gardener, governesses, gamekeepers, and nurses. If they did nothing wrong, they had a job for life.
“It was nice to meet you . . .”
“It was nice to meet you, Gwen.”
Squeaks was tugging on his shirt sleeve and pulling him into the servant’s lounge area.
“So, can I see inside the boxes?”
“Have you gotten permission from your father and His Lordship?”
“Actually, I talked with Father today about our big conversation.”
“You did? I had looked for some strange reaction by Clyde to me, today. Did he agree with me?”
“I was so wrapped up in the long conversation that I forgot to tell him about the final parade. Also, Lord Stokes knows nothing. It will just have to be a surprise.”
“That is as I wished it would be, but you haven’t answered my question.”
“I will tell you he told me things I did not know, and I could not see. Perhaps you aren’t the fool I said you were. My answer tomorrow.”
Kip felt his heart sink. Her father did agree with him, and he wasn’t so foolish when he asked her to see other men. He knew the sumptuous meal would last a long time, but he would leave for home soon after. He needed to gird himself for her answer.
“Here is your Kipling line of Elegant Coachman attire. It is the special feminine edition.”
Squeaks picked up the pieces and held them against her body. “These are the most beautiful clothes I have ever seen for a driver. Oh, I am going to feel so special. She whirled around the room holding the skirt out to catch the air. She was grinning from ear to ear.
Kip was ecstatic watching her so happy. Perhaps, he would try to draw that womanly bubbling humility.
Suddenly, she was back to the box on the table. “Where’s my hat? Where’s my hat? You didn’t bring it,” she said, frowning at him questioningly.”
“Miss Dorset, do you have to be so expectant?” Kip held in the smile wanting to break through his disciplinary talk. “That’s right. It will be a surprise to you tomorrow. It seems like tomorrow will be a big day for all of us.”
“Kip, thank you for this lovely livery. I don’t know how you did it without someone fitting me, but I think it’s perfect. I will try it on later.”
“You know I said I would want to do that for you. Oh, one more thing.” There was another box that he handed to her.
She opened it quickly and inside were a pair of tooled leather boots and soft leather gloves. “I wanted to ensure you didn’t wear your boots tomorrow.”
“These are beautiful with the design on the toe. I’ve never had fancy boots.” She sat down to try them on, and something was preventing her from sliding her foot forward. She backed her foot out, and felt down to the toe, pulling out a gold chain and watch. She was startled by the most excellent gift and began to whimper quietly.
“Kip, this is far too much. I cannot take this.” She handed it to him. “Please return it. You can’t afford gifts like this. I can hardly begin to think of what these clothes, boots, and hat cost.”
Kip took the watch back and slipped it into his pocket. “I will take it from you, but I had it engraved, so it cannot be returned,” he smiled.
“You did? There are pretty words engraved to me in there?”
“And you will never see them. I think I hear us being called for dinner.” Kip walked out of the room with Squeaks in a pout. The money spent was nothing to him. He wanted to give her the world. He would not sleep tonight, for tomorrow his future could hang in the balance.
Kip became aware that all eyes were on him and Squeaks during dinner.
What are they thinking?
He remembered the cook saying he was taking Squeaks away from them. They were sizing him for a husband and not just any man interested in their little Squeaks. It gave him a prickly feeling. They would all rush to her after he left and offer their opinion. How odd that felt – to have to pass muster with the staff. Nobility rarely encountered such attitudes. A title demanded respect. Within his coachman brotherhood, he was merely accepted. With this staff family, there was a genuine concern for Squeaks, and a test it seemed he had to pass. As much as he understood that concern, it was just so openly displayed that caught him off guard.
Finally, Clyde began telling them stories about Kip. There were many laughing around the table which eased his anxiety.
Kip could see the love for her permeated the room during the meal. How could he take her away from this?
Kip called the stable boy over and asked him to bring his team. Squeaks followed quickly behind him.
“Yes. It seems there is much to do before tomorrow. I must check with my footman. I will arrive in my regular coachman clothes and then change just before the parade. You may change in the coach if you wish or come fully dressed. Are you in any other events?”
“I was going to be, but perhaps I will forget about it.”
“The Steeplechase run.”
“You mean you can jump your horse? You never told me that when we went riding. I think you toy with me, young woman.”
“Tsk. I wasn’t on my horse. I still have secrets myself.”
“Indeed, you do. I want to see this. Perhaps I will enter the same race. When is it?”
“Just before lunch and the last event before the Grand Parade.”
“Wear what you will. I will have your hat ready and the drapes drawn by lunchtime.”
“Yes, my hat and my watch, if you don’t mind.”
“But you returned the watch to me.”
“Couldn’t I wear it for the parade and then return it to you?”
“If you don’t snap the inside cover open. Promise?”
Squeaks wrestled with what to say. Of course, she wanted to see the inside, and that was her purpose in asking. “I’d be lying if I promised not to. I can only promise that I will try.”
“Not good enough. Good night, Miss Dorset. I shall see you on the morrow.”
Squeaks’ demeanor drooped as Kip pulled away from the castle’s stable.
Kip arrived home bewildered. From their conversation, he concluded that Squeaks would be agreeable to his suggestion of seeing other men. However, her actions after that were slightly more positive. He found his sketching pad, charcoals, and sat down to draw the scene he was carrying in his head.
The room had little lighting at the time, and the corners were dark, but he remembered her movements and her expression. He would forget the room and just draw her twirling with her new livery held against her body. She had flared out the skirt as she danced around. Her smile lit his whole world. For one small moment, he wondered if she was attracted to him purely for his interest in her interest – coaching. It made him furious when he had that idea. Kip scratched across his drawing, ripping the paper from the tablet, and began again.
Kip spent most of the evening thinking of her, as was usual. She had not told him she could jump. That was exciting to him. He had looked forward to teaching her. Kip decided not to enter the race as his horses were too heavy for jumpers. What horse would Squeaks use? He had seen other horses in Stokes’s stable that one day, but she never mentioned any of them. Kip eventually finished his drawing, setting it on the mantel. He spent the next hour grooming his horses and the new one, Hero, a rare white Friesian, that was to be a gift for Miss Rebecca Dorset.
On the first Thursday of July, a sumptuous ball was given by Richard de Briers, Baronet Bearsham, in his townhouse, to present his niece, Miss Manon Favier to the Brighton society.
Standing near the large, high ballroom windows, Richard was watching the line of dancers that occupied the floor in an intricate country dance. All the dancers were part of Brighton’s ton, and the coastal town’s society was rapidly increasing, due to the Prince Regent’s presence.
There was, of course, his best friend, Lucian Blackthorne, Viscount Rossiter, who was at present leading Manon between the lines. There were the brothers Lascombe, who were the sons of one of Brighton’s wealthiest hotel owners. Although not belonging to the aristocracy, Joseph and Marcus Lascombe were respectable and rich enough to be considered much sought-after as marriage candidates. Further, Richard also recognized the sons of a number of the country gentry members, all young, handsome, and wealthy enough to aspire to be hunted by the unmarried young ladies of Brighton’s society.
There was one person in the line who inexorably drew Richard’s gaze time and time again.
That person was his niece, who glided and whirled effortlessly from male to male, her wide skirts swishing.
Richard felt increasingly uncomfortable, as he always did when he studied Manon. Every time she turned, her slim ankles, encased in creamy white silk stockings, showed for just the beat of a heart. Her small, delicate feet in their golden satin dancing slippers seemed to hover above the floor instead of touching it. Her slender, utterly feminine curves were dressed in bronze silk, and whenever Manon turned or curtsied, every move she made was enhanced by the fabric, which hugged her body like a second skin. She was enchanting, elegant, and sensual, and Richard swallowed at the reaction of his treacherous body, unable to control his rising hunger, even when his brain ordered him to adopt a more distant view of his niece.
The sultry voice of the woman coming to stand beside him pulled him back into reality. He blinked, and with an effort, he tore his gaze away from the object of his unruly desire.
“I say, Richard, what a handsome pair they make, your niece and Blackthorne. Do I detect a marriage in the making, or is he not what you wanted for Manon?” Blanche Morrison said, looking directly into his eyes as soon as he turned his head towards her.
Blanche Morrison, née de Bourg, was the daughter of an impoverished squire. The squire’s estate had been in shambles before his daughter married Ambrose Morrison, a wealthy Manchester manufacturer. Blanche’s husband’s money restored her father’s estate to its former prosperity, but Blanche’s husband would rarely leave his native town and follow his wife when she returned to The Feathers for a family visit.
Richard looked down at the pretty blonde with the wide, cornflower blue eyes, who smiled beguilingly at him. There had been a time when he and Blanche had been lovers, the year after she married Morrison. She had practically begged Richard for attention, claiming that her husband had no time for her, as he was entangled in his business. Richard had only been too happy to oblige, and they had had a stormy, very satisfactory affair, which had resulted in a son for Blanche. She had easily passed the child off as Morrison’s and did not pay the least attention to the now seven-year-old boy, who was being raised by the staff of her Manchester household. Richard would have welcomed the child into his own household, but Blanche was adamant that young Matthew should stay where he was, claiming that he was better off there.
If at first he had been reluctant to renew his acquaintance with Blanche because of the attraction he had once felt for her, Richard could now put his mind at ease. The attraction was no longer there, and the only reaction Richard felt when Blanche lifted her eyes in a desperate plea to have him back in her bed again was a mild compassion with regard to her loneliness, both physical and mental. He answered her teasing remark about Lucian and Manon with an indifferent shrug of his broad shoulders.
“Who knows how it will turn out, Blanche? Manon has only been out for a single week, and in Brighton, no less. She has yet to try her chances in London, when the Season resumes mid-November.”
Richard glanced around at the line of gentlemen on the dance floor, then continued. “Although I must say that half of the London ton seems to have moved to Brighton to continue the Season here.”
Blanche let out a titter of laughter, curled her hands about his arm, and replied, “Well, they probably followed Prinny’s trail from London in early June, do you not think? How is one supposed to stay in the future monarch’s good graces when said royal prefers the seaside air to that of the capital?”
“True,” Richard agreed, covering her hands with one of his. “So how is dear old Manchester faring, these days?” he asked, studying the delicate, heart-shaped face with the rouged cheeks and rosebud mouth. He should take advantage of Blanche’s presence in Brighton to renew his former affair with her, Richard mused. God knew how long he had been without a woman, and Blanche certainly would not reject him. He needed something to distract him from his attraction to his own niece.
Blanche shook her head, causing the golden curls that framed her face to dance. The rest of her coiffure was in the “pouf” style, swept up high on her head and supported by a cushion to keep it high. Feathers, braids and bejewelled combs made it look heavy and encumbering.
Richard’s gaze involuntarily shifted towards his niece, whose bright auburn locks were fastened at the back of her neck with a simple green tortoise clasp, which caused it to fan over her back in long copper waves. With every turn she made while dancing, the gorgeous cloak whirled with her and made Manon resemble a fairy dancing in the sunlight. Richard’s heart leapt in his throat, and he forced himself to wrench his eyes away from the enchanting view and listen to Blanche.
“Morrison is such a boring, old stick-in-the-mud,” his companion continued. “He never leaves that dusty old office of his. Did you know he has a bed in there? He does not bother to come home to sleep in mine anymore.”
Wisely, Richard refrained from commenting on this but upon seeing the dancers line up for a fresh round, he asked if she wanted to step into the cotillion with him. Blanche looked at him with starry eyes and agreed.
Manon was aware of a burning sensation scalding her heart while she was preparing herself for the cotillion. Her uncle was talking to and smiling at an exceptionally beautiful blonde, who took the liberty of laying her hands on him. He clearly welcomed her attentions, which caused sheer, raw jealousy to roil within Manon.
She should not be so affected by Richard, Manon realised. He was her uncle, and therefore forbidden. Yet she was incredibly jealous when another woman claimed Richard’s attention. It had not been the first time that evening. Many beautiful, lively women had been led into a dance by her handsome uncle, and many others stood watching, hoping for a dance with him.
Presently, it was this sultry, devilishly beautiful blonde. Richard’s hand resting on the woman’s waist, his smile and the obvious intimacy that existed between them had marked the woman to Manon as a rival for Richard’s attentions.
It ached, not only because of the distasteful feeling of jealousy, but also because that woman had what Manon desperately craved – Richard as a man, a companion, and an equal.
Fear rose in Manon when she saw Richard lead the woman into the cotillion that was about to begin.
That meant they would meet somewhere in the line of dancers, and she did not know if she could bear it.
Lucian took Manon’s hand and led her to her place.
“Ah, finally!” he whispered, bending over to her. “I feared Richard was done dancing tonight, but I see Blanche Morrison still has her claim on his attention.”
Manon eyed the woman, fear clenching at her very heart. Claim? What did Lucian mean?
“I do not understand,” she whispered back. “Does my uncle know this woman well, then?”
Lucian softly snickered. “He did, a few years ago. Used to go to Manchester quite often, he did.”
Manon inwardly cringed when she saw the knowing look on Lucian’s face. So this Blanche had been her uncle’s mistress?
The cotillion’s introduction music sounded, and two lines – a male and a female one – formed facing each other. Manon curtsied to Lucian, who bowed to her in return. Lucian took Manon’s hand to form a square, together with three other couples. Manon felt a stab of apprehension when she saw that her uncle and his dance companion were one of these couples.
In the first movement, Lucian made Manon turn under their joined hands, before taking her by the waist to slowly execute a complete turn. It was so pleasant that Manon entirely forgot about her uncle’s presence. Lucian was a skilled dance partner.
The dance companions began to turn away from each other to meet the partner at their other side. Manon curtsied to Marcus Lascombe, a gentleman she had only met that evening. He took her hand and drew her to his own side of the square. They touched first their right hands, then their left ones. With a smile on his face, Mr Lascombe passed Manon to the next gentleman. Without having to look up, Manon knew whose hand gripped hers.
With her heart beating wildly, Manon slid into her space in front of Richard and curtsied. He bowed and unexpectedly squeezed her fingers hard, which made Manon look into his face. The warmth of his fingers burned through the thin material of her glove, but it was nothing, compared to the heat of his gaze as they drew closer. In the next prescribed movement, he raised her hand above their heads and they came face to face, their mouths only inches apart. His breath caressed her slightly parted lips. Merciful Heavens…
Then the dance separated them again, and Manon turned away from him, acutely feeling the loss of his touch. It was only a few seconds before the dance brought them closer again, when Richard slid his arm around her waist and took the hand she had moved to her back. Their waists touched, their thighs brushed, and Richard’s torso slid along Manon’s breast. She felt the heat sear into her nipples like a spear. Closing her eyes to conquer the unsettling jolt of arousal, Manon prayed for deliverance. It did not come.
Entering into the dance had been a capital mistake, as Richard was wont to notice, as soon as he took Manon’s little hand into his. Immediately, her scent – vanilla and roses – enveloped him, and in his already semi-aroused state, unruly thoughts sprang into his mind. He ruthlessly broke them off. No, no and no! Just perform the movements and, for Heaven’s sake, detach yourself from her, you idiot!
But…oh! Those rosy, sensual lips, that pert little nose, and those green eyes, glowing with what he identified as budding desire … it was agony. Sheer, brutal torture.
She felt it too, Richard saw. Her cheeks were flushed a pretty rosy colour, her lips slightly apart. The warmth of her hand scorched his palm, even through the fabric of her glove. Thank God the dance made them turn away from each other so that he could collect himself.
Yet his treacherous body already craved the moment when they would touch again, and when they did, Richard was grateful that Manon did not look down to witness his embarrassment.
He had to fight for composure when they stepped forward, sides touching.
Holding on to the distant awareness that he was bound in honour to protect Manon and keep her safe, Richard summoned up the courage to lessen his hold sufficiently to wrench his gaze from hers.
And then she was gone again, taken over by the next gentleman who passed her to Lucian, and Richard was once more holding hands with Blanche. Promptly, his arousal subsided. Well, he mused, was that not a tell-tale reaction?
Manon suffered, swallowing back tears of misery and frustration. She wanted the dance to end so that she could leave the ballroom and give herself over to her sorrow. This was cruelty, pure and simple.
For the last three weeks, she had tried to fit into Brighton’s society and learn what her uncle wanted her to master. She had become a moderately good horsewoman, well enough to accompany suitors when they came to fetch her for a ride. Most of these rides had been with Lucian Blackthorne, whom Manon was beginning to be extremely fond of. She fervently hoped that Lucian’s attentions would eventually help her to overcome her forbidden feelings for her uncle.
Furthermore, Manon’s speech, manners, and conversation had greatly improved under Pru’s tutelage, and she and Pru were now much sought-after invitees to afternoon tea parties and musical soirées. Pru and Manon had become friends, and Manon had visited Pru’s home on several occasions. Mrs Adelaide Butterworth’s warm welcome was a balm to Manon’s aching heart, and for the first time since her father died, Manon again felt the comfort of a genuine home.
When invited to balls, Manon had the opportunity to display her newly acquired dancing skills – again mostly with Lucian, who was an excellent dancer.
Her uncle had kept a firm distance, except for breakfast and dinner, on the days when Manon was not to go out. Manon had dutifully respected that decision, because she too wanted to keep away from her far-too-attractive uncle. She was determined to find a husband and in doing so, to ban Richard from her heart. She thought she might have succeeded rather well in tamping down her silly feelings.
Until now, at this ball and in this dance, as she watched him with his beautiful female partner… it had all returned a hundredfold.
Was love supposed to hurt this way? If so, Manon wanted never to love again!
Her uncle had been reticent enough, even though Manon had been aware of the tension emanating from him. She was certain she had been equally distant towards him, yet passion had sparkled between them. It always did. Try as she might, she was unable to help herself and there appeared to be no rescue coming.
She was immensely relieved when the dance finally ended, and she excused herself to Lucian. Keeping herself from running, Manon left the dance floor and headed for the ladies’ cloakroom.
Since theatres have closed everyone around the world, your trusted spy will try to inform you about series and movies that you will be able to watch
You can watch the film in your home from April 10th
at home in the upcoming days. One of them, THE LOST HUSBAND, is coming to iTunes, Prime Video and other VODs April 10th!
What’s The Story? After the sudden death of her husband, Libby (Leslie Bibb) is forced to move in with her hypercritical mother. Out of the blue, her estranged Aunt Jean offers an escape: a job and a place to live on her farm in the Texas Hill Country. Before she can talk herself out of it, Libby is packing the minivan, grabbing the kids, and hitting the road. Life on Aunt Jean’s goat farm is more wonderful and more mysterious than
Josh Duhamel plays the lead male role in the film
Libby could have imagined. Beyond the animals and the strenuous work, there is quiet — deep, country quiet. But there is also a shaggy, gruff farm manager
THE GREAT a new historical comedy series that will start on Hulu May 15th starring Elle
The Great hits Hulu from May 15th this year
Fanning as Russian empress Catherine the Great and Nicholas Hoult as her husband Petter III of Russia. Hulu has released a new trailer which you can watch below and tell us what you think. Unlike most other series that
Nicholas Hoult plays crazy Russian Emperor Peter III
depicted the longest reigning Russian monarch, this one will do it with a touch of comedy incorporating historical facts only occasionally. The mini series will describe the beginnings of their arranged marriage and how, in order to leave
Elle Fanning has been chosen to wear the Russian imperial crown
her mark in history, ‘all’ she had to do was kill her husband, beat the church, baffle the military, and get the court onside. The ten episode series also stars our dearest Gwilym Lee from Jamestown and Sebastian de Souza from Medici!