“Lucy, you stay here. I have no idea how long this will take tonight if she has not returned home. Lilly has always been a well-behaved child as she’s grown. I cannot think of any situation where she would leave her cousin and a ball behind.”
Sir Blevins looked at Kip. “Do you carry a weapon, Kip?”
“Not on my person tonight, but there is one in my bench seat.”
“Fine. Give me a moment.” Sir Blevins walked to his study and closed the door.
“Kip, you have a firearm with you? Is that all the time?”
“Yes, Miss. We are likely targets for theft all the time. Our customers are often responsible persons of great value within the realm, too. I carry several weapons if the truth be told. That is supposed to be a secret.”
“I understand. I feel protected in your presence.”
“Perhaps that is not a noble assessment of me. Miss, as I said, I am a man and a coachman. Do not become all too familiar to me,” Kip laughed.
Lucy smiled. “Do all drivers carry weapons?”
“I cannot say. Most that I know, do. We have countless ways to defend our person and our rider.”
The study door opened, and Sir Blevins came out with a slightly bulging jacket. “Let us go, Kip.”
“Take care – both of you,” Lucy said as she watched them to the coach. It seemed her uncle wanted to ride atop with Kip. She laughed, seeing him struggling to lift his increasing bulk up the wheel peg.
A few moments later, Sir Blevins spoke. “Turn left down that street, Kip.”
Kip reined the team up the short circular driveway, pulling to a stop in front of the door. “Do you wish me to wait here?”
“Yes, I will call if I need you.”
Being near midnight, it took a few minutes for someone to come to the door. Most of the second-floor lights were unlit. Sir Blevins entered the residence, and Kip did not hear from him for half an hour. Could this other young lady be missing? A sick feeling was creeping into his gut. “Mary, are you here?” Kip called out to her, but nothing was heard except a sudden gust of wind rustling the trees, on the quiet night.
Sir Blevins returned to the coach and waved Kip down from his bench.
“Yes, sir?” Kip asked.
“Her uncle is not surprised that she is not home yet. It isn’t often that she is out this late, but it has happened. However, he was taken aback to hear that she left the ball over an hour ago without Lucy. I am going to stay with him until there is some word. Do you have a card?”
Kip flicked his calling card out of his inside pocket. It always happened so fast, it appeared magical. Kip worked on that little aspect of his job while in his times of wait.
“I imagine before the night is over, we will be at the nick. They could want to speak to you if we’re looking at something horrific here. Thank you, Kip. You have been a valuable help. Heaven knows what might have happened to Lucy had you not waited.”
“Good evening, sir, and the best to all of you. I will make a return stop at the ball grounds. Should there be any significant news, I will return here. May I visit in the morning?”
“Kip, what are you doing back here?” Asked Marc.
“There is a young lady, Miss Blevins’s cousin, who has not returned home after leaving here with two gentlemen. Before retiring for the night, I wanted any further knowledge known about one woman and two gentlemen, or the coach. Have there been any strange rumors? Do you know?”
“I know they have not returned. I think Kyle saw them. Is there worry among the family for her safety?”
“Possibly. They may seek help from the Met before morning.”
“I see. I will canvass the other drivers and determine who knows about an unknown coach in which she could have arrived. We will all keep an eye out for it.”
“That would be of great help to the family. Thank you, Marc.”
The next morning, as promised, Trevor Kipling, visited the home of Sir Blevins. He was shown into the study.
“Thank you for stopping by, Kip. I wish I had good news to report, but I have not. Lilith Caldwell did not return home last night, and we called upon the men at the Metropolitan several hours ago. Miss Lucy is naturally upset and has not risen from her bed as yet. The police may look for you, but I doubt it, as you saw no one yourself.”
“Did you say, Caldwell, sir?”
“Yes, do you know the name?”
The shock of hearing his family name associated with the disappearance of a young woman was too much of a coincidence. “There is Lord Caldwell, I believe. I may follow up at the Met, so they don’t have to hunt for me. Is Lilith Caldwell a relation to his Lordship, do you know?”
“I believe there is some type of distant relationship.”
“Please, allow me to be of any service that I can. Good day, sir.”
“Thank you, Kip. And thank you for taking care of my niece. She said she felt well-guarded with you.”
“It was my honor, sir.” Kip turned and walked to the door. As he received his top hat, he saw Miss Lucy watching him from the balcony above. He looked at her while fitting his hat, then walked through the open door.
His knees were shaking as he pulled his carriage home. “This can’t be happening again, and I don’t believe in coincidences,” he reflected aloud.
Kip arrived home and changed. Pacing the floor, wondering if there is any association to his Caldwell side of the family. He remembered that eerie feeling he’d had late last night. Dressed in his finery, he decided to seek out his father before the police. He could only start at the House of Lords. It was early. The members were just beginning to arrive. Kip would park his team with the others until he saw Briggs pacing in. Team after team of coaches rolled in bearing the noble lords of the land. He became fascinated with the coaches themselves and felt his stood proud against any of them. Finally, he thought he saw a coach arriving with a crested, gold painted “C” within the coat of arms on its door. That has to be father, he told himself. He tied the reins to the brake and jumped down. The gentleman was about to climb the steps when Kip shouted, “Lord Caldwell!”
His father stopped, looking for the voice that had called out to him. Suddenly, Kip saw his father recognize him. After almost a year, his father looked much older. Kip was not quite the picture of the Lord apparent either, but still, his father turned and walked towards him. They shook hands.
“It is good to see you, Father.”
“Son, I cannot believe you are here standing before me. Never knowing where you were, I have worried this past year.”
“Father, I know you have to be inside, but I must speak with you as soon as possible.”
“Certainly. Is this an emergency?”
“I believe it could be.”
“Wait a minute, Son.” William Caldwell ruffled through his brief to see what was on the floor today. “I believe I will be needed for two hours this morning. Shall you return for me?”
“Yes, but we need privacy for what I wish to ask you.”
“I know the very place, but my driver has gone on. You will have one when I leave this building?”
Kip smiled. “Yes, I will, Father.”
He returned to his coach after watching his father climb the stairs. Before he could pull out, the Stokes driver, Clyde Dorset, and daughter happened to rein their team in next to his. He couldn’t resist a broad smile, and the young lady saw it, to his embarrassment. Kip thought, he just might wait on his father. She was an exquisite pixie.
“Good morning, Dorset,” he called out. “I see you have a helper today.”
“Yes, Kip. This is my daughter, Rebecca, whom we all call Squeaks.”
Kip tipped his hat to her. “That is an unusual name,” he said looking at her. “May I ask how that came about?”
She blushed modestly. “His Lordship started calling me this name when I was not yet one year old. I understand the staff carried on with it, and here it is with me, twenty years later.”
“Squeaks, Kip is an independent driver,” her father mentioned.
“Oh, he is the type to avoid, is that what you told me?” She said it purposely to tease her father, which embarrassed him.
Kip found it amusing. “Yes, miss. Your father is right. We have no higher authority to answer to, as you do, for our behavior. However, we do have to rely on our honor and reputation as gentlemen drivers if we wish to make a living in this trade.”
“Kip, my daughter, is speaking out of turn and jesting, I believe. I am sorry.”
“There is no need to be sorry. I have heard rumors that your daughter hopes to drive one day. Should that be the case, she will be smart to learn the other drivers while you are with her.”
“Squeaks, since you have put me in a rather uncomfortable predicament, I will say that driver Kip has one of the best driver reputations in London. I will tell you more when he is not beaming with pride as you see him now.”
“I never beam, sir,” he said through a grin.
“May I have a closer look at your horses?” Squeaks asked. “They are magnificent?”
“Please do, miss. I am most proud of them.”
“I prefer not to be called miss if you do not mind. Hoping one day to rein for His Lordship, and be accepted among the drivers, I would prefer Squeaks or Dorset.”
“Then Squeaks, it is.” Kip found amusement in that and laughed a little too loudly.
Squeaks laughed at his laughter. She climbed down the wheel.
She looks most fetching in her livery and tiny top hat with a bow. Kip thought. “You have a very striking livery, Miss Squeaks.”
“Thank you, kind sir,” she said as she curtsied, causing more laughter. “His Lordship had a special livery made for me when I was old enough to ride on the bench.”
“Is that so?” He was beside himself, feeling guilty for being happy. His smile just wanted to burst forth and be seen. God, I can’t stop smiling.
“Kip, she has been the apple of his eye since she could run through the castle, squeaking noises at the dogs.”
“One can see her being the apple of many eyes.”
Did she just blush?
Clyde came down out of the box, and the three of them discussed his horses and their history.
“These must have set you back a considerable pound or two,” said Clyde. “And this coach, too.”
“The horses have a brisk high-step, which makes them look elegant. Nearly all are true black with a few chestnut-colored ones that pulled in a reddish color from previous breeding lines. Yes, sir, they did cost a pound or two. I wanted to offer the best possible ride that I could.”
“You have achieved that, I can see. I believe you provide a decent ride for more than a lot of Lords parked here.”
“Not as many as you think. Most Lords have their own stables, but occasionally I come here. Miss Squeaks, you may rein them anytime your father permits.”
Her eyes grew big and bright. “I am of age, sir. I need no permission. However, I do need the time.”
“Squeaks, watch what you say.”
“Yes, Miss Squeaks. If I were to take you riding on the bench, I would feel better with your father’s permission.”
I can’t stop staring. Where are my manners?
“She leaned closer to Kip, “I will get his permission. I will storm the battlements of Stokes Castle to drive this excellent attractive team.”
Kip laughed. Their eyes met, and the smiles slowly disappeared as something else overtook them, emotions, perhaps. An image of his sister flitted through his mind and was gone. Mary?
“Being an independent, my time is my own. Here is my card,” Kip said, doing his magic card flicking trick. “I will be available when you are. Furthermore, I should tell you that these horses are brilliant under saddle, as well. Do you ride?”
“Since I was four, sir.”
“You are apt to put me to shame,” Kip quipped.
“I believe I will, at that,” she smiled.
Clyde Dorset could see his daughter was enjoying herself as a woman, a stage he feared she would never feel comfortable with. He climbed into his box and let them talk.
“Miss Squeaks, do you realize I am the envy of every driver here right now? They are all looking at you.”
“I beg your pardon, miss. I am that, but only when it is true.”
Squeaks cast her eyes slowly over the waiting teams, and everyone was looking her way. A sudden thrill ran down her spine.
“Do you think it is because I am a female driver-in-waiting?’
“In-waiting?” Kip laughed quite loudly at that. “Are you the Driver Regent?”
Now she laughed loudly. “I think that is a good phrase for what I am. His Lordship will believe that to be very amusing.”
“You speak with His Lordship often?”
“Almost daily. I do many things for him. I read to him. He discusses his matters of Parliament with me – wanting to get the Commons side of thought,” she smirked.
“That’s piffle, and we both know it,” Kip replied with a laugh.
She is enchanting.
“Yes, you are correct. I read to him little anymore.”
They both chuckled with delight. Kip could feel it happening. She was creeping round his heart. He felt it hammering against his chest.
Please, cast your sweets in my direction, small lady.
“Getting back to the envy of me – yes, there is interest in the Driver Regent but also the lady driver.”
“I am no lady, sir.”
“Woman, then. You are most definitely a woman. Even with all the heavy livery, a man can tell these things,” he smiled.
Thinking she would put him on the spot, she asked, “And how does that manifest itself?”
“Why, Miss Squeaks, you should know the answer to that. Of course, it is your … ahem … um … sweet little top hat with the big black bow. Men do not wear bows, you know.”
“I thought mine looked different,” Squeaks laughed.
Oh God, I am dissolving into mush and cannot stop it. I want to keep her and put her in my pocket.
Her father, overhearing all the conversation, was happy for his daughter to find her femininity. She seemed to be captivated by Kip, and Clyde did not think he was too worried about that.
“Do you carry a comb and brush for your horses?”
“A driver is never without his comb and brush, milady. If you wish to use them, you only need ask.” Kip started to his jump peg but waited for her to ask. She didn’t. She was playing a game with him; it seemed. Such a tease … how amusing. I see I will be challenged with her.
“Ahem … it appears you wish to practice those feminine wiles on me. I must admit to being very susceptible to those. Please be gentle with me. Do not assume that I know when you are jesting. I just may have to kiss you to get you to stop.” Kip looked at her father and winked. Down deep her father knew he wasn’t kidding. He understood the attraction of his own daughter.
“Driver Kip, I have been raised by my father, the staff and His Lordship, spend most of my time at the stable and paddocks, leaving some lessons unlearned about these wiles of which you speak.”
“Just how many are staffed at Lord Stokes’s small, unassuming castle, if I may ask?”
“The truth, madam, if you would, please.”
“I would say … many.”
“Many … as in fifty? How many men would that be who work there? Plenty of women teachers I would think. It’s like living in a small town where you were raised.”
“You seem very knowledgeable about the women,” she started to giggle.
“I drive many women who are alone but wish to visit or shop during the day.”
“What, may I ask, do you see?”
Squeaks was stumped for words. “Do they ever ask you inside the house?” She was serious with that question but did not let on.
“Do I detect a bit of jealousy? And we have only just met. I must be making a good impression on you. A driver never discusses his rides, unless he is to warn others. And on no occasion, speaks of a Lady.”
“My father keeps reminding me all the time.”
“I would like to add my own caution to you in this trade. If you come to know me, and I hope you will, you need to persuade me why you have come to select driving as your profession. I will worry about you. You will not be safe.”
“You won’t talk about it all the time, will you?”
“No, but don’t be surprised if you see me following you one night.”
Squeaks was surprised that he was so open with his words to her in front of her father.
“Miss Squeaks, it has been a real pleasure to meet you for the first time. I hope there will be other occasions. Perhaps your father will permit you to ride with me. However, I must leave now. I will be back in two hours.”
“I doubt we shall be here. Thank you. I have liked meeting you, too. I hope I will be driving those … ah … elegant high-stepping horses someday soon.”
“Good day to you both,” Kip said, tipping his hat, hopping the wheel, and pulling his team out of the yard.
“Father, I like him.”
“That was obvious to both of us.”
“Obvious to you and me?”
“No, obvious to him and me.” Clyde laughed.
“You must like him, too. I would have expected a ‘talking to’ after that conversation.”
“The one thing everyone knows about Kip is his honesty and honor. Somewhere in his life, he has been educated, and honor has reigned heavily within his family. You do not have to be noble to be honorable, you know.”
“Yes, I guess you are right, Father. So … will you give me your consent to ride with him one day? You know I do not need it, but I would like to have it regardless.”
“Squeaks, I have waited several years for you to begin to feel and act like a woman. Today I saw it. If it is because of Trevor Kipling, I am fine with that. I was serious when I told you he was one of the finest and most sought-after drivers in London. Perhaps, he would allow you as a second driver one night in his coach. He may even let you drive it, and he rides rear footman.”
“Oh father, I cannot believe that. That is too much to hope for.”
“You couldn’t see how he was looking at you, as I did. Even seeing his face, you could not read it. I believe only another man could.”
“What are you trying to tell me, father?”
“I believe he may be a serious suitor somewhere in your future.”
“Suitor? Have you ever actually explained what that means? Does it mean marriage?”
“Perhaps. I do not know him that well, but I am sure there is much interest in you, as there will be from many others. Take your time. Do not make any decisions about any of them. Spread your friendship around to many men, as long as I can know who they are, too.”
“Father, it sounds like you are trusting me now.”
“I think you handled yourself fairly well with him. You almost stood all of your ground. I think he had you with the staff at Stokes Castle.”
Clyde saw her sigh with a happy smile. It was a different look to her. He hoped Kip was in earnest, and he had no reason to think otherwise.
Kip could hardly believe the whistling that he heard coming from his own mouth. In the glorious days of his youth, until now, he never remembered doing that. Nobles didn’t whistle, except for their horse, perhaps. His mind began to swim, causing light-headedness. Quickly, he turned a corner and pulled his rig to a stop. He sat for a moment with his elbows on his knees holding his head, trying to come to grips with the situation he was enduring. If this was love overwhelming him, Kip wasn’t sure he would live through it. Closing his eyes, Mary swirled around and around as if on a carousel. Once again, he felt she was with him. But how did she feel about it all?
“Driver … driver, is your coach available?