Chapter 13 Night Bloom

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Inspector Marshall was waiting patiently for Kyle and the sketching policeman to finish his drawing of the driver who was unknown to everyone.

“I had not thought of this, until now,” Kyle said, “but I think his top hat was frayed and well worn. He must have come from another place. London drivers are not that rumpled. Too many high-borns to hail a cabby looking like that. He definitely does not fit the London independent coachman and certainly not a liveried staff driver. He looked like he was from the Whitechapel district if you ask me. I cannot see anyone attending that affair who would hail or hire a driver from that area.”

Marshall sat back smoking his pipe. Whitechapel could have drivers hardly seen by the London mainstream coachmen. Perhaps, there were some with no scruples who would do anything for money. That would be his next area to investigate once he had this sketch in hand.

Finally, a face was born. Kyle thought it to be the best he could remember, but it was dark that night. “I’m sorry. I wish I could do better. I can draw the coach for you, though.”

Kyle took the pad and pencil in hand and slowly sketched the coach. To Inspector Marshall, it looked like every other coach out there, but Kyle started pointing out differences. One of the biggest differences was that it could carry four people, similar to Kip’s. Peerage families have at least one of these. It was old as if discarded from a wealthy family. It was muddied, looking as though it had been driven some distance before arriving. Inspector Marshall seemed to get lost when Kyle started talking about the suspension.

 

Typically, Kip gathered with the other men talking but not this evening. He was training.

Squeaks asked about the “Apostles” and “The Almighty” words that had been spoken. As Kip began his story, feeling slightly self-conscious about their reference to him, several lads came out and lit the yard torches, so the drivers had a small amount of light. Kip continued his story, dismayed to see his area being lit. He would have preferred only the lighting coming from the back of the building.

“Kip, you know a lot about me, but I know little about you. I very much want to hear of your life growing up and how you came to be a coachman.”

“Squeaks, I am not ready to speak with anyone concerning my upbringing, but I will tell you something  that no one knows.”

“Thank you for that.”

“I have a father, and a brother, and had a sister. She was murdered over a year ago, and that sent me to the depths of depression. I will not speak of her now; I still find it difficult. I left home shortly after that. From there I wandered to London, and the first person I met was Marc, my coachman. The job looked ideal for me. I was visible but hidden if you know what I mean. That is not so true anymore, but I love this life. In all honesty, I cannot say it will be my entire life. I will have responsibilities that must be settled within the family.”

“May I ask a question?”

“Yes, but I may not answer just yet.”

“Are you running from something?”

Kip chuckled. “No, I am not running from anything or anyone except myself. I am sorry to tell you so little. No one even knows I have a sister who died recently.”

“May I ask how you have been able to afford the coach and rare horses?”

Kip mulled that around in his mind. “They have not been purchased with ill-gotten gains. I would rather wait on telling you that if you do not mind.”

“I do not mind whatever it is. I might mind if I knew something was affecting you sadly, and I tend to think it is.”

“Please, do not speculate on my character.”

“If you say so, I will not. You do know you are a mystery to many?”

“Yes, I am a mystery to everyone, including my family. Within me, there are solutions I must seek. I hope that does not affect our new friendship.”

“Friendship? Is that what this is?”

“I am a gentleman. That is the only way I should see it at this time.”

“But … you wish it to be different?”

“Yes. Above all, I hold dear.”

“You fancy me?”

“I do fancy you. Does that upset you, Squeaks?”

“No. I welcome it.”

Kip removed his top hat and hers. He turned to her and could tell she knew he wanted to kiss her. His eyes roamed her face, finally resting on her mouth. He felt her hold his hand, which was resting on his knee. Kip tentatively began to lean towards her, still watching her wet, trembling lips. His eyes drifted to hers before she closed them. Their lips met. It was a light kiss, with Kip taking in her sweet breath. The luscious sensation traveled his body like warm honey, seeking out every part of him.

Squeaks moved her hand to his shoulder, and Kip placed his hand on her waist, moving towards her middle back.

He reluctantly pulled back to see her acceptance of his advance. Her eyes were still closed. He slid his body closer to her and kissed her again, this time encircling her with his arms. Regretfully, Kip heard someone whistling. He let go of her with a sigh as he sat back. That interruption was painful. Bloody hell. He was immediately deflated, which all in all, was better for Squeaks, he realized. Although desperately, he wanted that smooth, exquisite ivory neck of hers, which had been beckoning him for days.

Squeaks whispered, “That was wondrous.”

“Kip, I thought that was you,” called a voice. Oh, I see you have … a … a woman with you?”

“Kyle, this is Squeaks, driver for Lord Stokes.”

“Hello miss. You are the one everyone has been talking about. It is nice to meet you. Is Lord Stokes here tonight? This does not seem his type of affair.”

“No, he is not here, but Kip is showing me how to drive at night since I have to drive Lord Stokes tomorrow evening.”

“Yes, I guess we will all be working tomorrow night. I say, Kip, I have just come from seeing Inspector Marshall. I drew the coach, but another officer drew the driver. It looks a little like him, but I could not explain what I saw in my head. I did the best that I could.”

“I am sure you did, Kyle. Did he have any thoughts?”

“I believe he is going to canvas the Whitechapel area, where a coach like that one could have been hired.”

“That is a good idea.” Kip could hardly talk, thinking about their kiss, and Squeaks was silent herself.

“Anyone here?”

“Marc is here, and I think Jonathan is too. I have not seen him, though.”

“I will go find Marc and disturb you no longer. Good luck, Miss Squeaks. Please know that all of Kip’s friends are at your service and hope the best for you.”

“Thank you, Kyle. I am genuinely grateful. It is nice to have friends among all these men. I may come to rely on all of you at times.”

“Miss, we are your humble champions. Never forget that. Good night.”

As Kyle walked away, Squeaks said, “I feel like I am building an army.”

“You are Squeaks . . . you most certainly are.”

Silence reigned for a few moments; neither having words to proceed such an overture.

Kip thought about what she had just said. He feared his heart would break realizing she was out alone driving the coach at night. Knowing that she was building an army, a large portion of admirers watching over her, gave him some relief. Anyone of them would come to her aid if it was needed.

Squeaks began to speak but stopped herself.

“Please, go on milady,” Kip implored.

“Was that kiss to warn the other drivers away from me or was their real meaning to it? I must know.”

“I have overstepped my boundary.”

“So … it was just for show?”

“No, it was genuine. I beg your pardon, even if it was not unpleasant. I’m getting too far ahead of myself with you.”

They both sat there quietly, wondering what to say or do next. The fear of being seen kissing her was too great an issue for her reputation. Kip assured himself as a gentleman.

“Squeaks, about before …” he was interrupted.

“I understand. I will remember it always, even if it never happens again. It was pure and sacred to me.”

Looking into her eyes, he could see the pool of tears reflecting the golden glow of the yard torches. One slipped down her cheek, and Kip wiped it away with the back of his finger.

“No. Permit me to make myself understood. I wish to be alone with you before I do that again. I will not chance to put your character in any doubt. I should not have done that here and now, as I did. I should have waited.”

“So, does that mean I will be paid later?”

Kip smiled, “If you wish it. I have coin, though.”

“I’ll take your first offer if it is like what just happened.”

Kip had moved away, watching her profile in the torch lighting when Kyle unexpectedly returned. The light was at a distance, and her head and body were silhouetted against the brilliant firey torches. He wanted to reach over and pull the pins from her hair. He’d wanted to do a lot for her, but he must lay those thoughts aside.

Their talking turned to night driving eventually and other small talks about his friends and his sketching until it looked as if the event was coming to an end. Footmen were calling out names to the torch-lit driver’s yard for the lords and ladies who were waiting for their coaches.”

“Do I stay up here with you, this time, Kip?” She looked at him with excitement.

“Yes, Miss Squeaks, you do. You will exit the couple when we arrive at their residence. Remember to wait for a signal. These people have been married for a long time. I doubt you will have to wait at all. I am not sure if you bow or curtsy. What did you do before?”

“I bowed. If I wear a skirt, which I will from this day forward, I will curtsy. I still want to maintain my image as a woman and not one wishing to be a man.”

“I am pleased to hear that,” he smiled. “That suits me as well.”

Kip handed her the top hat she had worn and popped on his own. He found the reins, loosened the brakes, and waited for the name to be called out.

“Kip, I watched as you drove. You are magnificent. I hope to drive as well as you.”

“I have seen you rein. You did very well that day.”

“You followed me?”

“I did, but only for a short time. I think you will find all the drivers do an excellent job. We are out all day and driving all day, unlike you. You are a driver who waits most of the day. I am no better than my friends and other independents.”

“You will tell me what you are seeing or doing special as we drive tonight?”

“I believe that is the reason you accepted my offer, is it not?”

“Not entirely.” Squeaks could see a smile spread across his face as he peered straight ahead.

She is stealing my breath.

He had to remind himself of her innocence, but she had no shyness, which was refreshing. Women seemed to be inherently coy, vague, timid and reserved. Although, amiable qualities all, it appeared to be a blessing to him that those walls didn’t exist. Meeting any challenges with her, if she allowed a romance to blossom, would be her own barrier and not some rule of propriety. That must be the difference of a girl growing up under the guidance of only a father. Everything with her feminist ways would be pure emotions with no hindrance of what was expected. Kip hoped it would be he who she allowed into her heart and not some other man who might not handle her with the delicacy that was needed.

“Kip! They called the Astaire driver.”

He ruffled the reins and pulled the team out into the line that was forming.

“You were far away. You didn’t hear them call us? What were you thinking?”

“I was thinking of you,” Kip said shyly and softly.

Squeaks felt her flesh ripple all over with those words as if someone had poured a cold bucket of water down her back. Every nerve ending seemed to come alive. She assumed her straight back posture and kept her eyes forward. Attention to detail was the expected. She would be humiliated in front of him if she did anything wrong.

“Would you like me to enter them, Kip? They are on my side?”

“The footman will do that because he is waiting with them, specifically. We don’t want to usurp his position. Here we go, now, quiet, please.” Kip couldn’t help but smile, which was all the better for his job. He continued to look straight ahead and listen for the door to close. Next time he would have to tell Squeaks to pay no attention and keep eyes forward when an event footman attended. He felt like this was one of the happiest nights of his life. The carriage pulled into the flow line of teams and coaches leaving the premises.

As they drove, Kip kept his voice low, so his rider would not be disturbed. He talked about the team which was in front of him and told her how they would slow down as they made a turn onto the main thoroughfare.

“See, I am barely applying the reins.”

“Kip! You forgot the coach lanterns.”

“I did? Here, you take the reins, and I will light them.”

It took several minutes for Kip and Squeaks to quietly change places so he could light both sides. Squeaks was ducking around him, looking through his legs as he stepped over her, keeping an eye on the team in front. They were less than a coach length away. Before Kip could settle back in the driver’s seat, Squeaks had negotiated the turn out of the yard, with nary a sway. She took it slow and wide just like a professional. Kip was proud of her.

“Can you take the reins back? That was exhausting.”

“You were excellent. I am proud of you. Why are you exhausted? There will be many of those.”

“I know, but this is your fare, your reputation and I’ve never done that before. I could barely see to turn with you crossing in front of me. This team almost had their noses pushing the coach in front of us. Not driving in, while it was light, I had no gauge of the width I would have to turn coming through the gate.”

“You did all that on instinct?”

“I had no choice. Not instinct but intuition.” She almost screeched.

“Shhh . . .”

“I am sorry,” he chuckled softly, seeing her with that look of consternation on her little face. With those dimples, it was hard to take her seriously.

Kip noticed her hands shaking in her lap. He placed his hand over her folded fingers and squeezed gently, reassuring her of a job well done. “I’ve heard women have intuition, but we men cannot understand it. However, I have now seen it for myself.”

“Will the rider be expecting me to wait for a signal to open the door?”

“This client will, but it will be almost immediate. You are too nervous, Squeaks. We have been over this before. Calm down. You’re trying too hard.”

“I should not apologize for what happened before? You know, the jiggling?”

“Never. That would be my place, and we certainly do not want to alert his wife about your entertainment show.”

“But I didn’t show anything.”

“Not in your mind, Miss Innocent.”

“So, you don’t think he will hold that against you?”

“No, not at all. He might request you riding footman next time.” All Kip could do was grin, but he wanted to laugh at the very thought of that happening to a male rider.

As they were nearing the residence, Kip passed the street.

“Are you missing your turn, Kip?”

“Now, think about why I did that.”

Squeaks figured it out as soon as he made the second turn. “You did it to right the coach to the curb in the proper direction. Is there a correct side to exit and enter from?”

“I’m not sure about a rule of this, but I try to offer them the side where the gentleman had last entered the coach.”

“Meaning he most likely is sitting on that side and would exit first?”

“Correct, my promising prodigy.”

Squeaks looked at him and glowed. “That hardly came up between my father and me.”

“All right, get ready to climb down.”

Before the coach had stopped, Squeaks’ boots hit the cobblestone road. She stood out of sight of the door and waited. The gentleman shouted, “driver,” and she opened the door and lowered the steps. Their butler was on his way. Lord Astaire exited first and passed his wife’s hand to the butler’s arm.

“Miss Squeaks, from what I could see, you did an admirable job. I am sure Lord Stokes has made a sage decision installing you. Just be mindful of your safety.”

“I will, milord. Thank you, milord. Good evening to you and Her Ladyship.”

“May I suggest one thing to you?”

“By all means, Your Lordship.”

“You should wear a skirt.”

“Sir, Lord Stokes’ livery has provided me with a skirt to cover the male’s uniform. I do have that. I had to borrow one of our footmen’s uniforms to blend with Kip tonight. I could not wear my master’s colors. I was hoping you would not notice that I was not a male, sir.” She blushed under their street lamp.

“Miss Squeaks, it was quite unmistakable that you were not a male by your … your hat that does not fit well. I believe driver’s hats to be fitted tightly as to not allow the wind to blow them off of their heads, yes?”

“I beg your apology, sir.”

“Please do not do that. I think it was the best part of this whole evening. I am just glad that you now know what smiles you will bring to your male riders.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Lord Astaire laughed heartily and looked up at Kip. “Thank you, Kip. Another pleasant ride. I will send you a draft for this month. Is there any extra for your attendant?”

“No, Your Lordship. This was a training session for her.”

“Lucky lad. Good night.”

“Good evening, milord.” Kip knew but would not tell Squeaks that Lord Astaire’s experience would circulate Parliament tomorrow, like a torch to a barn.

Squeaks waited on the ground until they entered their doorway. She did that with Lord Stokes but did not know if that was proper for all of Kip’s clients.

“Squeaks, get up here, you beautifully skilled show-off. Next time you need to explain something, make it short. He doesn’t want your life history.” Kip couldn’t hold back the laugh.

Kip reined away from the curb but pulled over to the side only moments later and took Squeaks into his arms with an intensity that surprised him. He wasn’t as gentle as he had planned.

Squeaks felt her hat fall off. The closeness was overwhelming. No one had held her in their arms like that since her mother was alive. She couldn’t breathe. Instinctively her own arms wrapped around him pulling him closer.

Kip held her head as his firm kiss was pushing her backward. The signs were clear that she was enjoying it. He felt a hairpin. As he continued to press his lips hard against hers, and slide his tongue over them, he pulled out several others.

Finally, he allowed her to absorb what was happening between them and released his hold on her head. Her black hair cascaded down her back, almost touching her waist. In the lamplight, the sheen of her hair reflected shooting stars of brilliance as a full moon lights the sea.

“What happened to my hair? Did you do that?”

“I kiss you like that, and you talk about your hair? You are different in so many ways,” he laughed, ruffling her hair and then the reins.

Squeaks became quiet.

“Kip?”

“Yes, Squeaks?”

“I have no words for how you made me feel. It was the most pleasant experience I can remember, ever. No one has held me like that since I was a child. I had forgotten how beautiful and warming that could feel. You made me feel wanted. Thank you.”

“Squeaks, you are wanted … wanted by me, and I am beginning to think you are needed by me. I never thought I needed anything. You are weakening my restraint. I fear the gentleman will leave me before you do.”

“I am not sure you could frighten me away even with my innocence. You are awakening in me … some form of sensitivity. I cannot explain it. It’s so deep, and I have little understanding of it. I shouldn’t be trusting myself to you. I want to be accountable for my own responses.”

“I pray to God that you trust me. I am growing more than fond of you. It seems to be irreversible. There is no effort on my part to enjoy you. It just keeps rolling toward me and filling me with … with happiness which has been unprecedented in my life.”

“You are going to make me cry with words such as those. No one has ever talked to me that way.”

“Then weep, my sweet, and I will dry your tears.”

Kip drove the team slowly while deep in thought. The quiet grew to be an entity unto itself. The feeling that he might burst apart with words of love was nearing panic. What is happening to me?

“I know why you pulled the pins from my hair,” she giggled.

“I’ve wanted to do that since I met you.”

“I do not think that is the reason.”

“And just what is your reckoning on my pulling the pins from your hair?”

“You did not want anyone thinking you were kissing another man.”

Kip laughed. “Surely, that is why. Do you need to be home now?”

“Not for a while. Can we park and talk somewhere?”

“Yes, I know the very place. I will take you for a walk.”

“A walk?” There was a hint of disappointment in her voice.

“Would you rather not?”

“Will we sit at all?”

Kip saw her frowning and wanted to grin, thinking he might know her thoughts.

“Yes, we will go to the park and sit at one of the empty pavilions. There should be a few people there at this hour.”

“Yes. Let’s do that. I’ve only seen it in passing. Perhaps I should put my hair back up.”

“Please don’t. Just pile it under your hat for our short walk.”

“All right. You like my hair?”

“I think I love your hair.”

“Do you have a brush under the bench? It’s not much different than brushing your horse’s mane.”

“Perhaps I shall buy a brush and keep it with me. I am definitely buying you a top hat, in hopes, we can do this again.”

“I think you should design a Kipling Driver line of livery clothing,” she chided.

“You may have a good point. I actually designed what I am wearing.”

“I wasn’t serious.”

“I know you were not serious. I kind of like the idea, myself.”

“There! That remark right there, adds to your mystery.”

“I hope you will want to discover all about me.”

“I really do not need to know any more about you than I do now. I respect you. I am trusting you. I admire you. And I think I want to be with you often.”

“I want you with me if you can find your way across the moat,” he chuckled. “I anticipate every coming moment, such as Saturday night.”

“You are overwhelming me. I will not sleep for days. I would like you to kiss me again, but your words are driving deep into my soul. I need time to work through them. I am new at this.”

“Your pleasure is my thirst. Just let us become familiar with each other. Here we are. In two days, on Sunday, you can drive the team.”

“You are overwhelming me again. No more emotional words, I beg of you!”

Kip smiled at Squeaks with longing in his body and soul. He pulled the coach to a stop.

 

 

The Noble Coachman Chapter 4

Chapter 4
Kidnapped

 

Arriving at Blevins Manor, Kip watched Sir Blevins escort a young woman to his coach. He jumped to the ground to meet her.

“Kip, this is my niece, Lady Lucy Blevins, who is staying with us for the season. I trust you to see that she arrives at the ball and is escorted into the hall. There she is to meet her cousin.”

“Sir, I will see to it that she is delivered safely. Am I to wait?”

Sir Blevins looked at his niece, wondering if she had further plans.

“Uncle, if this driver would not mind waiting an hour, I would appreciate that. I may not wish to stay. Otherwise, Lilly said her driver would return me here.”

“Very well. Kip, you will wait for one hour.”

“Yes, Uncle,” Lucy said with a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”

“Yes, Sir. Understood.”

Kip assisted her into the coach and was on his way. Upon arrival, he did not feel comfortable leaving her at the door with only the ball footman. She would be alone, once out of the coach. He pulled under the covered entrance; the event footman opened his coach door and exited Lucy Blevins. Kip jumped down, against protocol, and walked her inside the door.

“Miss, you are inside the door as your uncle instructed, but I feel uneasy with you here alone. I will park my team and return until your cousin arrives.”

“I believe I am asking too much of you, sir.”

“You would be doing me the service of not worrying about you. May I?”

“Yes, all right. Kip, is it?”

“Yes, Miss. One minute.”

Kip pulled the coach to a vacant spot, handed the reins to another driver friend and told him to tether the team, he would be back.

Kip approached Miss Blevins at the entrance into the hall.

“This is most kind of you, Kip.”

“It is my honor.”

“Oh, you certainly don’t mean that,” she smiled as they entered the foyer.

“I do, Miss. This is not just a courtesy.”

“I see. Well, it is more than generous, I should say.”

“You should say exceedingly little to me. I am but a driver.”

“I sense more to you than a driver. I cannot quite place it.” Lucy Blevins scanned the faces of all she could see. Her cousin was not there. “I am sorry you feel as if you have to wait. I do not see her.”

“Would you like to walk further into the actual ballroom?”

“Lilly said she would be by the doors.”

“Very well, Miss.”

“I see you are dressed in tails. Do you always drive in such evening elegance?”

“No, Miss. Only on particular occasions such as this.”

“I suppose I will allow you to walk with me into the ballroom, so I can see for myself if she is here.”

“If you wish it. I could stand at the hall entrance and keep an eye on you. Whichever you prefer.”

“I do not know anyone here. She was going to introduce me. Yes, I would appreciate it if you walked with me. At least, you do not look like a peacock.”

Kip chuckled, which caused her to smile.

As they entered the room, Lucy Blevins slipped her arm through his, surprising him. He accepted the honor and walked as the gentleman he was. It felt lovely to have a woman at his side. More than a year had passed since he was in the company of a fashionable lady.

“Kip, you look quite comfortable walking among the classes.” She smiled.

“I believe it to be my charm and good looks that help me pass for your lot.”

Lucy laughed. “My lot? As in upper society? If you only knew!”

“Are we both passing ourselves off as highborn types? How are we doing?”

“You are full of humor. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I am a social climber, but I do belong to the more common side of the family. I think my cousin is being kind to me.”

“Could your cousin think, ‘I should ask little Lucy out. She will never meet eligible men any other way’?”

“In my mind, that is what it feels like. That is why I asked uncle to allow you to remain another hour. I genuinely feel out of place.”

“May I have this dance?”

“Kip!”

“Sorry. The music made me forget myself.” I must be more careful. That just slipped out.”

Lucy was being overwhelmed with this driver in tails. He was amusing her immensely.

“Do you happen to see your cousin?”

“I do not, but I cannot see across the floor.”

Kip faced her and placed his arm in the middle of her back, took her hand and waltzed her to the other side. “Here we are – the other side. Does this help?”

“Who are you? Has my cousin planned this whole evening? Are you the gentleman she wanted to introduce to me but felt I would run away? She slips you to me on a silver platter?”

“Brass, Miss. I would be slipped to you on a brass platter. I do think I shall put that on my calling cards. Being a gentlemen escort is rather appealing. It looks like I am quite proficient at it. What do you think?”

“I cannot believe the liberties you are taking if you truly are a driver. You are too amusing.”

“Now, you see; you have begun me to think that I could sweep you off your feet. You would be flattered. I would be honored, and it would be all innocent fun.”

“Will you kiss me goodnight, too?”

“Miss, you are not nearly ready for my fervid attention.” Kip kept his composure with a decidedly staid look while Lucy Blevins’s eyes twinkled with delight.”

“There she is! Lilly sees me.”

“Miss, you have been charming. I will wait outside until the appointed time. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to regale you.”

“I thoroughly was that I must say. Thank you. I still have a feeling I will not stay.”

“I will be waiting if that becomes your decision. Good evening.”

“Goodnight, Kip.”

Kip bowed to her approaching cousin and left the area.

“Lucy, who was that handsome gentleman?”

“I do not think I will tell you, Lilly.”

“I have not seen him before. Here, I was going to introduce you to my gentleman’s friend, and you found someone.”

“Would you believe; he is my driver tonight?”

“No, I would not believe you. Coachmen do not come that handsome. And how many of them wear tails and walk ballroom floors?”

“You haven’t even seen the coach. I am living a fairy tale; I think.”

“Have you had any wine, yet?”

“No, but I feel as if I have.”

“Come. Let us find our gentlemen who were just behind me. I’m afraid I scurried over when I saw you.”

Miss Lucy Blevins was pulled merrily along by her hand toward two other guests.

Kip returned to his team and, as usual, found drivers milling around his horses and coach. Other drivers were looking to see what he was doing differently to attract more riders.

“Whom did you drive tonight?” Marc questioned.

“A Miss Lucy Blevins, cousin to someone named Lilly. She is a niece of Sir Blevins.”

“Dunno her, mate. Is she young and beautiful?”

“Yes, and quite.”

Kip took the wheel spoke to reach under the lid of his bench seat and pulled out a brush. He began raking one of his horse’s long mane and tail. “Are the other apostles here, tonight?”

“Mathew is across the way. Lucas is still expected, and I think Jonathan has another ball.”

This was the world he was coming to love. The camaraderie was always good fellowship. They spent many hours together and relied on one another. All of them were like a team of brothers. They were gentlemen drivers with souls of gold. He could never thank them for pulling him through some terribly rough emotional times that he had hidden from them after his sister’s murder.

Matthew approached the pair and patted down the other horse which was not being brushed. “Evening, gents. Is this Warrior or Soldier? I can never tell them apart even in the daylight.”

“That is Soldier. The three of us were rescuers late today. A woman came running to the coach, fleeing from a man. It appeared the young lady did not want to marry him, and they had had a heated discussion.”

“Do you know who she is?”

“No, I know where she lives, which I will not speak, but she was visiting near Hampstead.”

“Did you know the man?” asked Marc.

“No. I did go back later to see if there was a name on the house but there was not. In a few days, I will return to the young lady’s home and see how she is. I believe you are jealous of me, dear friends. Who among us does not enjoy the benefits of driving a young woman who is alone?”

“You keep telling us that, but no one seems to have your flair.”

“I have no flair, mates. I love women, as we all do. They are quite helpless against any man. You’re a hard lot, you chaps,” he laughed. “Anyone bring cards, Willy?”

#

It was nearing ten in the evening when Kip saw Miss Blevins exit the front entrance. He quickly scurried to meet her.

“Are you out for the air, or can I be of assistance?”

“I would like to leave, but not return home just yet. I feel quite shaken with my cousin and her guests. I think something is wrong.”

“I hope there is nothing amiss. Where may I drive you?”

“I know little of London. Can you choose a place for you and me to sit and talk? I do not mean privately; you understand.”

“Miss, are you quite certain? It is not my place to be a companion or socialize.”

“I do understand that. I had enjoyed your company before my gentleman was introduced to me. Is there no proper place?”

“Yes, there are benches in front of the courthouse. It is quite a public area, even at this time of night. If you wait here, I will bring the coach.”

“No matter. I will walk with you. Will you be shamed in front of the other drivers?”

“They may take to teasing me, but I will be admired,” he smiled.

Lucy felt her own smile return.

“Shall we go, miss?” Kip extended his arm, mostly because it was dark, and where he was headed was wheel-rutted.

The drivers moved away from Kip’s coach as he, and the lady appeared to head towards them. He purposely did not look in their direction as he handed Miss Blevins into his coach. Kip stepped on the wheel peg and lifted himself onto his bench. His fellow drivers were huddled together watching intently since he had brought her there on his arm.

Kip wasn’t sure what he was doing. He had done what he could to dissuade her, which failed. They arrived at the courthouse without much ado. There were the gas street lights and a dozen lighted windows in the Court House. He parked his team on the main street and attended Miss Blevins to a bench.

“You will sit with me, will you not?”

“Yes, Miss. Did you not enjoy your evening tonight?”

“It isn’t that which has me upset. It is my cousin Lilly.”

“Miss, this is not my business. Although whatever you say to me will remain private, reconsider that you are talking to a coachman. Perhaps, you should discuss this with a family member.”

“I am not sure what to do. I believe she is being coerced into something or blackmailed.”

Kip found his seat on the bench. This was far and away never the troubles he thought her cousin could be experiencing. “What makes you think that, Miss Blevins?”

“Twice she and her gentleman seemed to be having harsh words while they danced. I saw her frowning and shaking her head. She returned with watery eyes one time. The two of them kept taking short walks onto the back veranda. The gentleman who was with me observed that I noticed something was amiss. He became overly attentive to me at that time.”

“You do not think it was lovers quarrel?

“As they neared the table, returning from the veranda, I faintly heard her say, ‘I do not think I will do that.’”

“That could be a reply to any number of topics.”

“She and I are not all that close for her to openly confide in me. They wanted to leave early. I told them I would prefer to go home, so I left to find you. I did not want to stay with the friend, and he seemed anxious to go with them.”

“Do you know if they were taking her home?”

“No, I don’t, Kip,” Miss Blevins said as she leaned against his shoulder and began to weep.

Kip was not making any progress stemming the flow of her tears or her grip on him. “I feel you should be home explaining your observations to your uncle. He may have thoughts on this unusual situation. One woman and two men in a coach could signal … umm … improprieties.”

“Yes, I am sure you are right.”

“Splendid. Let us depart.”

Kip pulled his coach to the front of the dwelling where he had started. Miss Blevins was stepping out before he could reach her.

“I will walk with you to the door. Do you wish me to enter?”

“Yes. I will go find uncle.”

“Indeed, Miss.”

Lucy found her uncle, who was in his dressing robe and asked him to come speak with the driver. As the two walked towards Kip at the entrance, Lucy told him what had transpired during the ball.

“Good evening, Kip. What’s this Lucy is trying to tell me?”

Kip, clasping his hands behind his back, began his narration of events as he knew them, which was less than what Miss Blevins had told him. He mentioned he would have conversations with the other drivers.

“Please, wait until I dress. Kip, I’d like you to drive me to Lilly’s home. She is my sister’s niece. I wish to be comforted in the fact that she is home.”

As Sir Blevins left for upstairs, Miss Blevins approached him, took one of his hands, and kissed it. “Kip, I do not know how to thank you.”

“Miss Blevins, this type of gratitude is not expected nor earned. Please know your place.”

Lucy looked into his green eyes intently, “I think I do know my place.”

Kip felt the undeniable pleasure sweep over him, but all he could see was a black-haired cherub sitting atop a coach bench.

“Miss, you are charming and quite endearing but do not let your imagination take hold. This may be a serious situation. My help does not require payment. I desire that you refrain from complimenting me. You are putting me at a disadvantage, which is hard to resist. I am but a man as well as a coachman.”

“I am quite aware of that,” Lucy smiled.

Chapter 3 The Coachman Brotherhood

Chapter 3
Squeaks

 

Rebecca Dorset called Squeaks by Lord Stokes, and his staff was excited as today was the first day she would take the coach and reins though her father would be beside her.  Born into service, Rebecca had always been the apple of His Lordship’s eye. As a baby, she did more chirping than crying, and Lord Stokes began calling her Squeaks. The household adopted the term, and the name seemed hers for life. As she grew, she accompanied her father most days and learned his trade. As the years passed, she pleaded with Lord Stokes to allow her to take the reins when her father could not. Finally, worn down by her giggles and smiles, he acquiesced, never thinking she would want to do the same when she grew into a young woman, but he was mistaken. She took his promise as a gold-crested agreement and undertook her future career with sincerity and vigor.

Squeaks took to horse and carriage as no other woman known. She was unique and had grown into a beautiful, spirited, and intelligent woman. His Lordship allowed all the children born into his service to have a limited education. Squeaks was twenty years of age, neat, trim, and 5’1” with raven-black hair and light blue eyes, tinged in black. Her head was typically covered in a woman’s riding top hat. It, too, was the same royal blue matching her uniform; a dyed beaver hat with a large black bow to hold it on her head. She also had a silk hat for specific outings when rain was sure to stay away. The beaver hat could weather anything. Her hair was long, but she kept it braided. If it weren’t for the wide ribbon, tied into a bow at her neck, she was thought to be a small male until one looked closely.

As her father and Lord Stokes aged, she became more useful to their needs: fetching things and reading to them quite often, keeping them company when they asked. Squeaks knew she would draw attention, not all of it favorable, in her chosen profession, but she did not care. It was her first love, even with all His Lordship’s and her father’s admonishments. She was thankful for what the household had done for both over the years. They raised her. She was rarely treated as staff, running and playing inside the castle until regrettably she was urged to realize her place in life. The house became quiet, as she kept in the kitchen or stables, at the age of eleven. His Lordship missed her smiling face but knew it was time to prepare her for a more realistic life. And she still wanted to drive for him. To help her through the crisis of leaving His Lordship’s private quarters, he had a livery made for her.

 

#

 

Kip sat in the shade of a large oak tree watching his hand flow across the paper, sketching the scenery around him. He liked it when he was asked to drive to one of the parks. Being an independent coach driver in London rarely permitted him a customer who wanted to be driven out of the crowded and congested streets to more open landscapes. Trevor had settled in a profession that kept him among the inner circles of society, a place to which he belonged, but he would forgo for some time. Not yet, at any rate, although his self-imposed feeling of culpability for his sister’s death was begrudgingly dissipating.

Kip was lost in thought as he blended the shadowed trees on his paper. He began thinking of his life of wealth and privilege, nearly a year ago. His murdered sister was always with him, but seeing her through his dream states, kept her alive and eased his soul. Many times, he wondered if he was suffering some form of madness, after all. However, his brethren drivers lived a full and interesting life, which he slowly learned to incorporate unto himself.

Fully engulfed in his past, Kip snapped his charcoal pencil in half, unaware of the stress he had put on its point. “Damn,” he whispered loudly, seeing the mess he had made of his sketch. Brushing the small bits of charcoal off the page, Kip looked toward the carriage to see if he had been overheard. Apparently, his client and guest were not interrupted.  As Kip returned to his drawing, he smiled to himself. Today he was a coachman. Who knew it had been the right choice for him when he left home? He had lost himself in Kip, the driver, but wasn’t so sure he had done much about finding Trevor, the heir.

Out of the corner of his eye, Kip continued his drawing but could see his coach swaying. The couple seemed to be mutually engaged in one another. This happened often, but he always kept his ear attuned to any calls of distress from the woman. If it were two men, he had to walk further away, as the images conjured rankled his male pride.

He looked on as his two horses nibbled at the grass. Today he wore his tailored livery and drove his daily carriage, which had particularly elegant lines and structure, but it didn’t hold a candle to his “Queen Mary,” as he called it. Kip’s entire driving wardrobe was designed by himself and tailor-fitted. His high-valued clients who wanted the best in a driving experience received the full complement. Having the funds, Kip made the most of his new world, and it comforted him. He needed to feel proud of something – to be a success throughout his life, even as a coachman. And he was achieving that. Kip knew he was still an enigma to his fellow drivers, but they soon acclimated to his way of doing things and accepted him as a qualified brother coachman.

Kip heard a whistle from his client and assumed that their matinee was completed. He folded his sketching pad and returned to the coach.

“Where to, milord?”

“The lady’s home, if you will, Kip.”

“Yes, milord.”

As Kip climbed to his bench, he felt the man must be known to his father, Lord Caldwell. He wondered what his father would think if he knew this Lord was not keeping true faith with his wife.

Kip prepared for the harshness of the city. He navigated the most scenic and clean routes he could find, arriving at the lady’s home with an easy ride. Jumping to the ground, he waited for a signal to open the door. Often there were last kisses or soft words to be finished between the couple. Usually, the gentleman would knock at the side door when Kip was to appear and open it.

Opening the door, he folded down the step. If the lady exited first, he would extend his hand, and she would take it if she wanted. More often, the gentlemen exited first and took the honors. Quite often during the earlier part of the day, a lady would wish to visit some function or shop, and she would be alone. He would hand her in and out of the coach and offer to attend her and her packages if she desired. All these courtesies came from his own remembrance of the Caldwell coachmen. Whether it was the Caldwell’s’ expected courtesies or not, the practice had held him in good stead. He added his own standards for highborn people, and all his customers received it, reduced circumstances or not.

His client exited the coach, escorted his lady to her door, and returned.

“Kip, take me to my club,” the client instructed, as he came back.

“Yes, milord,” Kip replied. Even though there were several men’s clubs in London, it was his job to know his clients’ preferences. One or two drives for someone made him or her a patron; more than three, and he or she became a client. Rarely did they switch to another driver once driven by him. His elegant livery was better than most peerage in-service drivers. Kip was projecting an air of sophistication and style, which brought him higher fares and the most influential of people. For special occasions, he offered a second driver or the back-footman service so the client could feel envy. Changing from daily fares to evening balls was never a problem. He had clothes and coaches for both.

 

As Kip traveled back into central London looking for his daily hails, he passed driver Clyde Dorset, in-service driver to Lord Stokes. They nodded to each other as a greeting. His daughter was beside him on the bench. Everyone had heard a rumor that she wanted to be a coach woman and succeed her father. All the elite independents and the in-service teams, who waited at Parliament for their Lords, had been watching her ride with her father. Along with Kip, not one of them thought the day would come that Lord Stokes would allow her to take the reins of a team. It took great strength to turn a team of two, and Miss Dorset looked too young and small to handle the job. She was thought most likely to greet and open the door for His Lordship.

Today she was holding the reins aside her father. She sat proudly, almost bursting those cherub dimples with pride. Kip was earnestly amazed but assumed the coach was empty, on its way to fetch Lord Stokes where her father would then assume the reins.

 

“I’ll have a beef sandwich and a pint,” said Kip wandering over to sit with Marc, who had arrived at the pub before the others. I see Driver Dorset’s daughter is holding the reins today,” remarked Kip, restraining a smile. “She looks quite young.”

“Is she now?” Responded Marc with a laugh. “I’d suppose the coach to be empty if she were heading towards the House of Lords at this time of day. I know His Lordship is worried about her, but she’s determined.”

“I think she looks quite charming sitting up there with her father in her livery.

“You and every other bloke driving. We’ve all been watching her.”

“So, what can you tell me about this bewitching young lady. She’s small; it appears.”

“She was the age of 11 when Lord Stokes had a livery made to match her father. I’ve been told this because she’s about 20 years old now. I haven’t been around that long. The word is that Dorset lost his wife early in his daughter’s life. Lord and Lady Stokes looked kindly on their driver’s plight of raising her. They had no daughter of their own. I hear that her father, His Lordship and the staff have been raising her. She used to have run of the Castle, Dorset has told us.”

“I had a good chuckle over her small matching beaver top hat being held on her head with a large black bow. It endears her further to onlookers if that is possible. Being an independent, it is unlikely our paths will converge. I rarely have a call to Parliament. Seeing her today, holding those reins, beaming like the morning sun on a spring day, encourages me to be introduced to her. Is that possible?” It was a year since his heart felt a stirring of activity. “I’ve had my share of invitations from Lady customers, to which I decline, but a female driver is different. Her interest in horses and coaching is exciting my fancy.” A long-lost feeling of lust engulfed him. It was a raw and primitive urging, which never in his life had he felt to this extreme.

Lucas and Jon arrived at the table after ordering.

“Kip, here, would like to be introduced to Miss Dorset. Can either of you arrange that for him?” Marc howled. The other two joined in.

Kip felt embarrassed. “Apparently, I have asked for the impossible?”

“Well, yes, I say. It may be possible, but we hardly stand on having someone known to both of us to introduce one to the other. Only nobles are that principled.” More laughter from the table and Kip joined in the fun of being mocked.

Using polite society protocols had snagged him several times. Occasionally, he had to sand off the veneer of nobility to blend with the Brotherhood. All-in-all, his politeness carried a lot of reputation which was starting to reach far and wide. “I guess I’ll just have to outwit you blokes and accidentally meet her at the House of Lords.”

“You know Kip; your fares have been picking up considerably of late. Don’t think we haven’t noticed. We’ve passed you on a few of these night affairs and see you in your tailored tails and velvet top hat. Are you playing God to us, Apostles? You’re certainly doing something we don’t know about. I think it’s time for you to train us. You owe us that much.” Lucas cajoled.

Kip was rocking in his seat with laughter. “Lads, go another step with your uniforms, and you can raise your fees. We all know the gentry need pampering, and that’s all that I am doing.”

“I guess those green eyes, brown hair, pulled into a horse’s tail with a ribbon have nothing to do with it,” Lucas chided.

“Look!” Kip pulled out a couple of introduction cards. “See here. It has my name, Trevor Kipling, lists my services and address. I have been getting requests for my unique service, well in advance of events. It may work for you, too.”

“What are your special services?”

“Naturally, it’s my best bib and tucker, best coach and flowers for the coach vases. My coach is always cleaned, and polished. My boots are like mirrors. I can hire Ioan, you know Ioan, to ride second driver or footman. We can make an unusually rich look for being independent.”

“Damn, Kip. That’s brilliant.”

“Now will you introduce me to Miss Dorset?” Everyone clinked their beer mugs, roaring to the rafters.

 

It was nearing six in the evening, and Kip headed home to clean and wash the coach, and himself for the Lady Blevins fare tonight.

To accommodate his stable and quarters, Kip selected a residence with a large stable near the edge of outer London. His reputation was growing, causing him to check his in-town post often for reservations being asked for in advance. The name “Kip” seemed to be on the lips of many people wanting his premiere appearance, and he was being recommended among the gentry of society.

A quick look inside the Queen Mary revealed only bits of boot sand to sweep out. He dressed in his handsome, understated but elegant livery with tails. It was unlikely that any driver could match his coach, and they certainly never would match his horses, costing a driver five year’s salary for one of them. Kip at no time meant to laud his superior team and coach, over the others, but he wanted the best for himself. They had become the only spark in his life until he anticipated a way to meet Miss Dorset.

The Noble Coachman 2.99 Amazon

The Noble Coachman – Ch1

The Noble Coachman 2.99 Amazon

 

Chapter 1
The Tragedy

 

Victorian England 1865

 

Viscount Trevor William Hamilton Caldwell, son, and heir to his father, Earl Grant William Hamilton Caldwell, the Sixth Earl of Norcaster, smiled as he greeted the guests of his sister, Lady Mary’s, ‘Coming Out’ weekend gathering. Trevor knew the next two days would bring, him and his brother, challenging but experience in social matters for their sister.

“Gus,” Trevor spoke in concerning tones, “Father gave her permission for this party on our estate, yet he somehow managed to find reasons to stay in London. Mother would have been the perfect hostess for this type of an affair, were she living.”

“Trevor, there is no sense getting anxious about this. I think it shall be quite full of enjoyment for our sister. I am sure father believes the realm will disintegrate if he wanders 80 miles away from the House of Lords. I’m sorry old man,” Gus laughed, slapping his brother on the back, “but you’re the senior and heir. These matters are a peek into your future.” Gus walked away smiling, strolling among the lovely women who were beginning to huddle.

Trevor mumbled to himself, “Old man, am I?  When did 25 become old?” Watching these young toffs and gents, swagger in, ready to swill spirits and press ladies against their chests, reminded him of a man he could never be. Being a noble heir prohibited his young male fancies from asserting themselves as often as his body asked. “I am an heir while these randy young nobles may have lineage, but few, if any, will be titled. They will be bolder, having little reputation to worry about.” Trevor was cognizant that his randy years would lead him down a path, less seasoned, than other males his age, but he accepted his noble proprieties, readily.

“Hello, Lady Eliot. Very gracious of you to attend.” Trevor bowed.

“Trevor, I have been waiting for an invitation from you, asking me to a ball. I can’t let a tall, chestnut-haired single man miss any of the seasons in London,” she smiled, patting his chest with her closed fan.

“You are most complimentary, Lady Eliot. I am but a humble servant to my people and sister,” he smiled. “I will be most anxious to place your name somewhere in my appointment book. I see you laughing. It is a most coveted honor to be penned there.” Seeing her smile, Trevor exhaled his breath as Lady Eliot passed on her way.

With the next coach far in the distance, Trevor pulled a folded note from his waistcoat pocket. “Hmm … dinner to be had tonight. Breakfast, riding, lunch and a scavenger hunt, before the banquet and ball tomorrow night. I suppose Gus, and I can keep an eye on the men hovering too close to Mary.”

Gus slowly walked back to his brother, as he eyed a suspicious-looking bloke. “I already disapprove of that one with the full mustache. He looks a bit aged for this soiree.”

“He is, Gus.” Trevor laughed. “I’m not sure about his name, but Duchess Pitt insisted on her daughter having a chaperone. He’s not here looking for a wife.”

“I’ll be her chaperone,” Gus smiled.

“And who will be yours? I understand she needs a chaperone to protect some unsuspecting lad,” Trevor grinned.

“Gus, if you were ever to become the heir, you would learn the secrets that father has passed on to me.” Trevor walked off with his head in the air, leaving Gus laughing as the next guest pulled to the front of the manor.

“I believe it is your turn to smile and greet,” Gus heard from his retreating brother.

Trevor slipped into his study, away from the merry-makers, and practiced smiles. Sitting at his desk, he fondly remembered having to rear Mary after his mother died. He loved his sister greatly and bowed to his father’s wishes to let her enjoy her unfamiliar maturing life. She wanted to show off the estate to her new friends.

Now pacing the floor, Trevor talked to himself. “I suppose the day will come for me when I must choose a wife. Fortunately, I am not like some first-born sons who must marry for wealth or property. But still . . .  the thought of having to select a wife who will benefit my position and not embarrass it applies a pressure I do not care for. How lucky a noble was if he or she was permitted to find a life with someone they could love. I know many nobles near my age, however, seeing one still in love was rare. Marry the best and then take a mistress seemed to be the sage advice from the elders.”

“This is a big weekend for her. As a Caldwell, she has wealth, nobility, and beauty. She is a perfect example of any man’s dreams for love or financial gains. She is endowed with much to recommend her. Nevertheless, I feel utterly ill-at-ease with this horde of youthful men clamoring for her attention. With all the unknown visitors, Gus and I need to observe the activities of eight young male nobles. Mary is wrestling the control in her life away from me. Her naivete and not knowing men will overwhelm her during their stay, but I cannot follow her everywhere.”

May they all be real gentlemen. God, help me.

 

Since Mary was an eligible lady of wealth and title, flitting from guest to guest, Gus and Trevor would divide the task as chaperones. Trevor offered to oversee all the males while Gus remained at her side and watched the men who directly approached her. Wanting her safety and happiness; their protective instincts were accelerated. During the evening, Trevor often found himself watching through the outside veranda windows at his brother, ensuring he didn’t wander off, yet, still, give her, her personal space.

The evening went unexpectedly carefree.

 

“Good morning, brother Gus, anything to report?” Trevor asked as he sat at the kitchen prep table, eating breakfast away from the crowd.

“I’ve been looking for you. Where have you been all morning?”

“I helped organize the horses for the few that wanted to ride this morning. I’m happy to see our sister decline. Most of the men took to the saddle. Thank heavens for that. I did get a moment with Mary. She’s thanking us for being invisible. If she only knew we were peeking through bushes and keyholes, faces pressed against windows, and ears pressed against doors.” Trevor laughed. “I’m starting to feel like a detective, and you?”

“I’m starting to feel like a pervert.”

“Sorry?”

“A pervert! I think there are two young men we can rule out as chasing Mary for her money or title.”

“Gus, I think our most difficult time is going to be this afternoon when they form groups and begin the scavenger hunt. That’s 50 acres of prime hunting ground. We can’t watch her every moment. She will be upset with us.”

“Trev, I think you have arranged the event skillfully.  What do they have to find? The old water-well is one, the ice house that is covered over by brush, the tombstone, and the tree fort. Mary may remember where that is, but she was very young when we played in it. Are you still in agreement that we wander the grounds on horseback looking for anything untoward?”

“We must. We will tell them we’re there if they get lost. Yes, that’s it. How many are there? Let me think. With Mary, I believe there to be 16. That’s four groups, each with two males and females. Point those two perverts out to me and make sure they’re on Mary’s team,” Trevor chuckled.

“Indeed, your Lordship. I think they will find little interest in the ladies.”

#

As the sun rose over the manor, lunch was served on the terrace, while Trevor explained the scavenger hunt.

“Can I have everyone’s attention, please. Maps are being handed out with paths drawn, along with compasses, a list of the four areas to find, plus a piece of chalk to mark that you have been there. For emergencies, every group will be given a fox horn to be blown if help is needed. A gunshot will be fired when the time is at an end, or one group finds all items and has returned to the manor. Gus and I shall be on horseback should anyone get lost, injured or need directions. Over here are canteens of water for each team. Everyone is to have fun. You may begin when you have your party assembled. Winners get season tickets to all of London’s theaters. Good luck to all.”

Trevor sat down at his luncheon plate and began to nibble at his chicken. Watching the guests scatter was like the autumn leaves scattering in the wind. It was sad to think that his youthful sister was at an age where some young man could hold her in his arms. He knew he would be a gentleman were the situation reversed, but he had little confidence in all men.

“We can only go so far,” Trevor mused. “It’s been quite an experience to watch our sister grow into a young woman, don’t you think? Watching her countenance, frailty, her emotions and vulnerability have opened my eyes to women. They’re such soft, gentle creatures. How rightly they need all the protection; we can give them. Just from playing with Mary when we were younger, I could easily see the damage a grown man could inflict on a female with very little effort.”

“Indeed, Trevor. I remember realizing that when I was quite young as Mary was unable to do many things that you and I were doing. I recall you taking the blame for most accidents that were her fault. Seeing you teach and shelter her opened my eyes early. As lust grew in my body, I became painfully aware of what some women must have to endure. Sometimes, I look at our Mary and fear she will break.”

“That is our task this weekend. We may not choose her mate in life if he is here, but we can intercede if she falls for someone who will treat her ill. Are you done eating? The groom is bringing our horses. The guests have disappeared into the woods. Ready?”

 

Gus and Trevor split their directions heading toward the forest. There were many trails for people to follow, but most of those were riding and hunting paths, leaving the old roads overgrown, and the goals well hidden.

Trevor headed down the first path he had planned to observe. In the distance, a group was heard laughing with each other, as they wove through the tall stand of oaks. A second group nearby was studying the map. Soon the teams would hit the trees and brush lines where the hunting game thrived. He felt a bit melancholy for a hunt which they hadn’t hosted for years. He remembered charging his horse as the dogs smelled the fox, followed by being blooded at the age of 11. It was quite a ceremony the first time he tracked the fox. His face was smeared with fox blood, and alcohol poured down his gullet until he was sick. His father was proud. His mother was disgusted. However, he felt like a man.

“Hello,” someone behind him called, pulling him back from his victorious memories.

“Say, have you seen my group? I’m afraid it’s the one with only three people.”

Trevor laughed. “There is one group farther north, but they have all their people. I do hear a group down that way,” Trevor pointed. The young man, still in his riding clothes from the morning, started plodding in that direction. “Thank you, milord.”

An hour elapsed.  The woods seemed eerily quiet, too quiet, thought Trevor. He took a new path until he heard voices. Someone was calling for Mary. Then a second voice was heard, calling for Mary. His stomach lurched, and the sweat began flowing as he spurred his horse toward the callers. He spotted a young lady and gentleman wandering through the brush. He raced to their side.

“What is it? Where is Mary?” He asked excitedly. “Why are you two alone?” Barely giving them time to answer.

“Lord Caldwell, we don’t know where she is. She’s been missing for nearly 30 minutes. Colin went that way. Brenda and I came this way. Could she get lost on her own property, do you think?”

“No, I do not think. Where were you when you last saw her?”

“I’m sorry, Sir. I don’t know. We had found the old well with the bucket on a rope and then traveled on from there. I think the sun has been behind us all this way. I would say that way,” he pointed behind him.

“Why by the name of God are you walking this way then?”

“We finally assumed Mary had gone ahead of us. What can we do to help?”

“For now, if you find others, stay with them. Collect yourselves into one complete group. Stay on the edge of the forest where you entered, and I shall organize a search.”

Trevor raced down the path, before pulling into the low-growing brush.

Damn! One of the gents must have led her off for a bit of romance.”

With fear rising inside him, Trevor began to prepare for some unlikely event. Gus called his name as he galloped toward him.

“Trevor, have you heard Mary is missing?”

“Just now.”

They were alarmed hearing a fox horn split the air with its unique sound.

“I think that came from the direction of the ice house.”

Trevor reared his horse, striking off toward the sound as his heart started pounding like a caged bird, slamming against the sides. As he drew closer, an almost unbearable pain shot through his upper torso. Seeing a somber group standing outside the ice house door, he clutched his chest as more pain gripped him. Jumping from his mount, the faces on Mary’s guests revealed his worst fear.

Mary can’t be in there. Dear God, help me face this moment.

Slowly, he walked through the door, hearing Gus coming in behind him.

As they entered, Gus cried out. “Oh, Trevor. Dear God, what has happened to Mary?”

Trevor was still silent, unable to speak words meant to be heard.  His mind was full of horrific scenes of what must have been her struggle against her attacker. “I thought we might find trouble this weekend, but never this. God. Never this.” He stood there looking down at his sister splayed and twisted on the cold, damp floor.

God, know now that someday Mary will be avenged.

Trevor’s tears began as he knelt and quickly pulled her shredded dress down, which now revealed the beating to her face. Blood was still oozing from her mouth, nose, and hands. Mud and leaves tangled her hair; her legs and arms were scratched.

Gus left, embarrassed to be sick, as the onlookers watched. Cleaning his mouth with his handkerchief, he asked, “Did anyone see what happened here? Hear anything? Does anyone know who was with her?”

The girls wept; the huddled men grew pale. Two of the young men had been inside and relayed the disaster to those outside. Most of the men knew they could be suspects in this tragedy. They hardly knew Mary and thoughts of themselves came first.

For the first time during his life, Trevor had to lead everyone through this adversity.

Where will the courage come from?

He walked outside to the crowd that was gathering. “You,” he said, pointing to someone, “take my horse, ride to the manor. Tell the Butler to send a cart, horse, and driver with a blanket. Stay there to direct him here. Ask to have the Constable sent for immediately.”

Unable to view his sister’s body again, Gus waited while Trevor went back to his sister.

Startling Trevor’s now fragile bravery, Mary made a small movement showing life remained. He knelt and cradled her head, speaking soft, soothing words of encouragement. Her eyes fluttered then closed. “Gus, she still lives!” He shouted to his brother.

“What is it Trev? I can’t look anymore.”

“She still breathes. Ride for the doctor! Now!”

As Gus turned to leave, Trevor had more to say. “Tell the guests to gather at the manor, no one is to leave. Have Chandler keep everyone outside until the constable arrives. I do not want anyone changing their clothes. Now, go!”

Trevor looked down at Mary. Inside, his heart was splintering into fragments. Every moment with her seemed to be flitting away. Until now, he felt some pride in raising her, but that rapidly spiraled into oblivion. He failed her in the most ultimate way possible. Lightly rubbing her forehead, he tenderly spoke. “Mary. . . Mary.”  Agonizingly, he felt the pull of her soul on his. He knew she was dying and his own life bled into her, protecting her in her next life. He wanted to lift her and hold her in his arms, but he feared he could do more damage. Bruises were becoming more visible on her arms and face. One shoe was in the corner, and her dress was ripped down to her breasts. “Mary, why you? This should be me lying here. Mary, please do not let us live without you.”

He pleaded to any God that was listening. “Save her, please. Save us both.”

Only the sound of scuffling feet pulled him back from his prayers. “Yes, who is it?”

“It’s Roger, milord. Here’s the blanket,” gasping as he handed it to Trevor. “Our Miss Mary is hurt badly.”

“Yes, she is. Who’s outside?”

“Only I and the gent who came for me, milord, but two of the constable’s men are close behind.”

“Please wait outside and then bring the constable in when he gets here. Tell the gentleman to return to the manor.”

“Aye, milord. Can I do anything else, milord?”

“No. Even I do not know how to help her.” Trevor held out little hope. He prayed she was unconscious during the rape. He wondered how someone could come back from an attack such as this. The inevitable guilt began to bear its weight. Something was changing inside of him. He knew he would never be the same man again, and didn’t think he should be. Trevor wanted to die, himself.

The constable’s deputy called into the ice house, warning of his approach. The other officer remained just outside the door.

“Back here,” Trevor acknowledged, as he swept Mary’s hair from her face and checked her dress once again.

“This is Lady Mary, Lord Caldwell?”

“Yes,” Trevor despairingly responded. “This is just the way she was found, although I believe one of the guests discovered her here and blew the fox horn for help. I want to get her home immediately.”

“I am terribly sorry, Sir.” The deputy knelt beside Trevor. “She has suffered a most savage attack.”

“She is breathing rather shallow. I want to take her to her room. There are no words for this torturous rape and beating,” he stammered. “Why didn’t anyone hear her?”

The deputy had a quick look at the surroundings. “Let’s get her to the house.”

The two of them lifted her gently and laid her in Trevor’s arms to cushion the ride on the cart. The second officer remained on the scene, ensuring nothing was disturbed.

Arriving at the doors to the manor, the invited crowd gathered by the cart as Trevor carried his sister inside and up the steps. The housekeeper and Mary’s lady’s maid walked behind, crying as they followed.

When Trevor entered her room, he called out. “Someone bring me warm water and a cloth. Furthermore, bring a glass of brandy.” Trevor checked her breathing. It was still weak. “Deputy, I told no one to leave and wouldn’t allow anyone to come in and change their clothes.”

“Thank you for that. That will be most useful. The Constable should be here any moment.”

Gus came through the door. “The doctor is pulling in now.”

Trevor let out a small sigh knowing medical help arrived. The bowl with warm water came just ahead of the physician. Trevor moved away from her side, walked over and closed the door, leaving only he, Gus and the doctor with Mary.

“Lord Caldwell, you have done all you can. I need to examine her thoroughly. Do you wish to stay? You could send in her maid.”

“Gus and I will be outside this door. Call me, as soon as you can.” Trevor walked over to the next bedroom and collected a chair from there, placing it outside Mary’s door. He sat. Mary’s lady’s maid was standing there in shock. “You may be excused,” he told her.

Chandler arrived with two scotches for the brothers and brandy for the patient.

“Thank you, Chandler. Always one step ahead as usual.”

“May I and the staff wish her recovery to be swift?”

“Thank you, Chandler, and thank the staff for their prayers and hopes.”

“Father!” He whispered loudly. Trevor ran to his room and composed a note to Lord Earl Caldwell. His tears were blurring the ink as he penned the words. He trotted to the balcony and shouted for Chandler, who was now in the reception hall below.

For an old butler, he made his way up the steps quickly. “Yes, milord?”

“Find Richards, and have him take a horse.” Putting the sealed note into Chandler’s hand, he said, “Have him give this to Father at parliament.”

“Yes, milord.”

“Tell him, sharpish like.”

“Indeed, milord.”

Trevor returned to Mary’s door and began pacing the corridor. “Nothing like this has ever happened on this estate or the properties, to my knowledge. Was Mary a victim or a target?”

“Trevor …” Gus was weeping. “How could one do such a thing to Mary or any woman?”

“Only a dead man,” he whispered as he stared into nothingness.

“A dead what? What are you saying?”

“I will kill the bastard who did this, even if it costs my title or life.”

“I am sure we both feel that way, and father will too. However, we must remember we represent the English aristocracy. We have a long and proud history of a titled gentry. We don’t exact revenge.”

“The title be damned! I could not care less about it. Oh, God, I can feel Mary pulling me.”

“Retribution won’t bring her back, Trevor. Do not consider anything rash.”

Trevor downed his drink in one swallow and clasped his hands behind him. He didn’t want to hear any more of Gus’s admonitions. The long hallway, covered in fine oriental carpeting, masked the pacing sound of boots. The din from downstairs were the guests, the deputy, and Chandler. No doubt, the Constable was arriving.

The doctor poked his head out and said Lady Mary had little time. He wasn’t going to put her through the exhaustion of having her re-dressed.  “She has a cracked skull in addition to the internal bleeding which is slowly draining the life from her. She also was brutally sexually assaulted. Seconds are precious now.”

Trevor looked at the doctor’s grim face and knew the worst was moments away. He stared at the door he had to open. For a moment, he thought he heard her call his name.

Entering, each brother took a hand on either side of the bed. They looked at one another. Tears were falling unashamed when Trevor heard Mary whisper, I.  . I”

“Yes, Mary. Gus and I are with you. You are safe. What do you want us to know?” He placed his ear near her mouth and heard her constricted raspy voice and her final exhalation of breath. “No …no!” He watched as she closed her eyes for the last time. She was gone. He kissed her cheek, and the back of her hand before strolling over to a reading chair in her room and sat, staring at her. He had no words. He felt empty. Something snapped within him. In the far distance, it sounded as if Gus was speaking with the doctor through a breaking voice. He couldn’t accept that his sister was gone, forever.

How does one’s life change in an instant?

 

“The doctor is speaking to me,” his mind told him. Trevor didn’t reply. He watched the doctor walk to the bed and pull the sheet over her face. He and Gus left the room, closing the door.

Trevor walked back to the bed observing her small frame in her large 4-poster bed. She loved  her canopy bed. How many times had he fixed it due to her jumping into it? He hauled his chair to the bedside and pulled the sheet down to her neck. There was a peaceful countenance on that battered face. It felt odd. Slipping his palm under the sheet, he pulled her hand out so he could hold it. Mary’s hand had grown pale while he held it. Perhaps her spirit was leaving her body. His mother had been the only religious one in the family. Had she been alive, she may have been able to explain Mary’s spirit and where it went. Trevor looked round the room, hoping to catch a glimpse of some mystical soft fog ascending the room and through the ceiling. She was at peace, now.

Trevor turned within himself; refusing everything: questions from the Constable and even his brother. Hours went by before he felt his father’s presence enter the room.

Trevor revived partially when he heard his father’s wailing. Still watching Mary’s body lying there as if she would wake up, his father’s lament seemed to crack the small world that he had built against the outside world. His blatant cry shattered Trevor’s private domain.

As devastated as he was, Lord Caldwell looked to his son and felt a chill. Gently, the Earl laid his daughter back down and circled the bed to greet his son. Trevor rose, as was customary even if the Earl was his father.

“Trevor, look at me,” he demanded, shaking his son’s shoulders. He received nothing but a stare that pierced through him. “Be seated.” Earl Caldwell left the room to consult with the doctor.

#

Trevor remained by his sister’s body, long after she was placed in the ground. Day and night, through the rain, he remained with her. The family and staff now worried for him. He became unreachable. Attempts to bring him into the house met a quiet but resolved resistance.

“Father, he’s still sitting out there talking with Mary. I believe he pauses as if listening to her answer. Has the doctor examined him completely?”

“Gus, his medical condition is a severe shock. He refuses medication, which could help temporarily. Trevor must feel he needs to suffer her hurt or see her into her next world. He is punishing himself, in a way, and there is little we can do to help him, perhaps for a very long time. I was never actually aware of the special relationship he had with Mary.”

“You weren’t here, Father. When you were, he would take her punishments for her. He taught her many things, he trained her to ride every horse we have, including his big Friesian. He pampered her, took her places, sang to her. The day she died, Trevor said how much he enjoyed watching her mature but didn’t like the idea of men crowding her. I think he felt like a father to Mary, more than a brother, being seven years her senior.”

“He did become her father, in essence. I knew he was standing in for her sometimes and allowed it to a point. But this! I find it hard to grieve for two people at once. In principle, we have lost Trevor, and there is no telling how long this remorse will last. You will have to assume his duties on the estate until he is stable once more. You and I have done all we can. No one can get through to him, not even the Constable or doctor.

#

Several days later, the door to the study unexpectedly opened, and Trevor walked in. “May I speak with the two of you about a matter which is important to me.”

“Of course, you can, Trevor. We are here grieving but still a family. What is it you want us to understand? You worry us too; you see?”

“That’s where I wish to start.” Trevor exhaled a long sigh and walked to the bar, pouring a drink before he began. “Anyone else?” he asked, holding up his glass.

“I think we all could use one of those.”

Trevor poured two more scotches, handed them around and began pacing before his family. “I know Mary’s death is as hard for you two as it is on me. I am finding difficulty in accepting it. I am ashamed of being weak. I know better in my mind, but in my heart, I feel I failed her.”

His father interrupted. “Trevor, you seem to want to carry the guilt of this. There certainly isn’t any weakness. No one can handle the death of a family member very well. There is no fault or shame here, and there is no guilt that you should bear.”

“Yes, I know that father. If you kindly wait until I am finished before speaking, Sir.” Trevor sighed and took another sip. “I know Mary is gone. I am sure you think I don’t seem to realize that, and you worry for me. Grieve for her and not me, or I shall be guilty of stealing her sympathy if you continue on this way. Gus, I know you’ve heard me speak with Mary. I do know I am doing that. I am under no illusions that she may be hovering above her own grave and watching over me. However, I do believe she is somewhere and can hear me. I am comforted when I talk to her. I am under no illusion that should the wind gust hard, or the rain pours down, that it is a sign from her. In time, it is likely that will end all too quickly. I am cognizant of the fact that both of you and perhaps the staff think I am going insane. I am not. However,” Trevor paused, gulped the last bit of his drink and refilled it. “I need to be away from this house for a while. I need to change my environment and find a new perspective on life if I ever want to assume the title. This perpetual cycle of mourning must be broken. I have been weakened to my very soul by the brutality of Mary’s death, and the thought that the man who did this is still free. I have given this a lot of thought and talked with Mary. When the detective is finished with me, I shall leave for, however, long it takes. I don’t know where I will go, but I will ride the train. I will buy the railway ticket and start where the tracks lead me. I will keep in touch now and then, but I must divest myself of all that has been around me for my lifetime. I want a different life for the foreseeable future. It’s as if I must start over. The old Trevor is an empty shell. My responsibilities here will not fill the void. Gus, Father, I hope you can one day understand and forgive me. I believe Mary has forgiven me.” Trevor finally sat.

Gus started to speak, but his father stopped him. “Son, you may do what you think is right for you. You do seem to understand what you are doing to yourself, and that gives us some comfort. I don’t want to lose you, too, so go and find yourself if that’s what you need. I have become quite aware that our title, honor, and history do not supersede family, unlike the way we have lived. I wish you luck my boy. If I can be of any help, allow me to do that. Gus will be here to tend to your duties. I will be in London. Please advise me if you are  leaving England.”

“I do not intend to forgo Mother England, but I want to be lost to the world. I don’t wish people to know who I am. Perhaps, it will be just what a leader needs … to see the other side of life. Thank you, Gus, for what you will do for me.”

“May I speak?” Gus asked, looking at his father.

“Gus, please excuse me,” his father somberly spoke.

“Trevor, when Mary was barely alive, I asked you what type of man could do this, and you said, a dead man. To your knowledge at this time, is your intent revenge?”

His Lordship violently got to his feet. “Trevor, you are not thinking of hunting this man.”

“I haven’t decided father. Mary will lead me.”

“But Trevor, Detective Marshall is positive that it was no one who was visiting here that weekend.”

“So he says. I know that, too.”

But Mary knows. Trevor thought to himself.

“Affirm to me that you will not go looking for her killer.”

“I’m sorry, but I cannot make that promise. However, I will tell you that it is not an obligation that I have placed upon myself.” Trevor stood there, staring into his father’s face. “I am resolute in my decision.”

“I believe you, son.” Lord Caldwell sighed, sat down, not entirely convinced.

“If you will excuse me, I shall attempt to find Detective Marshall.”

“Trevor, he’s down at the ice house. Why not wait until he returns.” Gus admonished.

“I am not afraid to be where our sister fell. It was a part of her and so shall it be a part of me. Thank you, both for your understanding and support.” Trevor turned and left the room.

 

Trevor walked, rather than rode to the icehouse. Meeting the detective and his men, Trevor asked if there was any news other than the footprints made by worn boots.

“You can be proud of your sister. Lady Caldwell put up a valiant struggle. She did not give up. I’d say she learned that from her brothers.”

“How do you know this?”

The detective removed his handkerchief and slowly unfolded it. There in his palm was a human eyeball. “It seems she gouged out one of his eyes. It’s not uncommon for women to fight like that if they are on their back, but rarely are they successful in this type of attempt. Their nails and knees are two of their best defensive actions.”

Trevor looked at the brown eye. “Well done,” the inspector heard him say.

“Well done, Sir?”

“Yes, I was telling Mary, well done. Inspector, I will be spending some time away from this estate perhaps as early as tomorrow. Is there anything further you wish to ask me?”

“Where might you be headed?”

“I don’t know yet. If you do not mind, I may stop by the Met, on occasion, and speak with you about the case.”

“Any time you wish, milord.”

“Was there anything else you’ve discovered?”

“We did find a set of hoof prints that do not match any of the shoes that your horses wear. I see yours are forged with your family crest. I never knew nobles did that. This was a worn shoe missing a nail in two feet. Definitely, not from your estate, but fresh just the same. Be well on your journey. Contact me if you discover any news.”

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