The Noble Coachman – Chapter 23

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Chapter 23
The Bribe

 

When Kip returned to the hospital; Inspector Marshall was questioning his Rebecca. She was not being released for another day until the swelling went down, and they could ensure her nose bone was set correctly. The apostles had waited for him and then went home for some sleep, as had the other drivers. He hadn’t realized he had been gone that long. Kip wasn’t nearly as tired as he should have been.

He knocked gently on the door to her room, and heard, “Come in.”

“Miss Dorset, I am thankful that you will heal, and now that Trevor Kipling is here, I think I will leave you in good hands.” The Inspector smiled towards Kip. “I shall see you in a few days. Good-day.”

Kip pitched his hat on a nearby table and sat beside Squeaks on her bed. “Is it all right to kiss you?” He asked quietly.

“No, I’m sorry. No ugly girl kissing allowed. I look horrid.” She started to cry.

Kip snorted with a smile. “I am not looking for an ugly girl or even a pretty one. Nevertheless, if you insist. I guess I shall find someone in another room. I’ll be back when I can.” Kip started for the door.

“Stop that,” came the whiny raspy voice.

“I’m sorry. Where you speaking to me?”

“You said I was ugly.”

“I said no such thing. You really did bump your head. I shall believe that is the reasoning for your misconception of my words, milady.”

“Then what did you say?”

“Is that your pouty face; it’s hard to tell. I said you are not pretty. You interrupted before I could finish. I was going to tell you how … nope, I don’t think I’ll say it now.”

“Then don’t tell me!” She tried to cross her arms to strike an attitude but found them rather heavy.

“Pouty and testy … hmmm. Since you are the injured party, I guess I will tell you that I didn’t think alive could look so beautiful. Meaning you, of course. I couldn’t sleep much last night. How about you?”

“Oh no, I was snug in a strange bed.”

“Miss Rebecca Dorset, I love you just a tad more than your army loves you.”

“Really?”

“Yes, your army fancies you quite a lot.”

“Not them. You.”

“I guess I should begin saying it more often, now that everyone seems to know we are more than friends.”

“How do they know that?”

“Because we’ve seen your underwear. You know, you have struggled a whole lot more than you’ve had to if you’ve been putting those on every day.”

“How mean of you to show the drivers my embarrassment.”

“Let me tell you, they love you a whole lot more now. You shared something with them, at this moment in time you are one of them. You allowed them to laugh at you. Besides that, Clyde is the one who is at fault here.”

“I need to have a serious talk with my father and His Lordship.”

“Not about your underwear … to Lord Stokes?”

“I most certainly will. You want to be there?”

“Is that remotely possible?”

“Yes. You bet it is. Now that I will not be driving, I will have plenty of time. I wonder who’ll drive for him.”

“I will, Sweets. I will see him later today and offer my services. Don’t worry about him.”

“Why do I love you so much?”

“I think it’s my charm and chestnut hair that seems to be longer than yours. What say you?”

“Oh, and here I thought it was the hero whom you are. You know, while I was in that dark, I remembered your obsession with protecting women. I was weak, Kip.  I could never have saved myself. And then … and then I realized every driver out there—the hundred or so that I have met or seen could have done that to me. They and you are that strong. I fought several times, and I was snatched up like a toy and hurled to the wall. I became a rag doll, quickly.”

“Oh, God, sweets. Can we talk about this later tonight? I am barely holding myself together right now. I hate you seeing my weak side. What you’ve been through …” Kip was barely keeping his tears at bay.

“I’m sorry.”

“God, don’t say that either. Listen, you need to rest as I do. I will return early this evening to see you. I want to respond to your thoughts on the drivers, but not right at this moment.” Kip leaned over and kissed her forehead. “I love you, sweets, more than I thought love could ever be. Rest now. I’ll be back.”

 

#

 

Kip could hardly believe the trembling in his body. He found his horse and rode far from the city where trees and grass grew. Solace is what he sought. The thick fog that comes with the night crept silently away, as Kip sat on the damp ground, hugging his knees. Warrior kept nibbling the back of his head, sensing low spirits from his rider. Kip was smart enough to know that he was experiencing mental exhaustion from the shredding of stress. “Strange how God girds you when you need it most. That should be the time that you tremble with fear. Instead, you rise above it, surpassing the person you thought yourself to be. I could have lost her so easily, in which I would follow.” Kip spoke to the heavens and maybe his sister, too. “My life is Rebecca. I wish Squeaks could have known you, Mary. You are nearly the same age, but as different as the sides of a coin. Had I lost Squeaks, the devastation would have ruled my world forever. I love her beyond my own life. There are a lot of levels to this building relationship that need explanations, and there is still the threat of her not wanting any part of my heritage.”

 

#

 

Kip was admitted to the Stokes Castle with fanfare. He was embarrassed about that. Lord Stokes almost hugged him. Clyde had tears of joy.

“I left Squeaks only an hour ago. She is in very high spirits. I hope no one tells her she’s been injured. She doesn’t seem to know,” Kip smiled. “I don’t believe she expects you because it appears she will be home tomorrow, and I wish to do the honors.”

Kip was forced to listen to glorifications of thanks and comments on his heroics.

“I have come to explain more to both of you than you know. For Squeak’s sake, I still wish this to be kept to yourselves for a bit longer.”

“Sit down, Kip,” His Lordship commanded. “I do feel there is some involvement of you for her being kidnapped.”

“You are correct, Lord Stokes,” Kip agreed, finding a seat.

“Scotch?” asked the Butler.

“I know it is very early in the day, but I think I can use one myself.”

“Yes, Sir. A bit of fortification is worthy of this hour.”

“Please begin. Your name isn’t Trevor Kipling, is it?”

“Not entirely. Kipling was my mother’s maiden name. How did you know that?”

“You said you came from a titled family. I found no people of wealth with the name Kipling in the registry. Who are you really?”

My name and title are Viscount Trevor William Hamilton Caldwell, son, and heir to my father, Earl William Hamilton Grant Caldwell, the Sixth Earl of Norcaster.”

“You are a Viscount! I thought something but never this,” lauded Lord Stokes.

Clyde was going into shock again, Kip feared.

“I am the reason Squeaks almost died.” Kip began his story from the beginning about the life and the death of his sister, but most importantly his deep and abiding love for Rebecca.

“And your title is the reason you wish to still be Trevor Kipling?”

“It’s all for the sake of Squeaks. I know she loves me; she even proposed to me at the hospital,” he smiled. “I am sure that comes only from gratitude at the moment. However, I do not know if she would accept a life of nobility. She loves her driving very much. I am willing to play the driver for years if need be to allow her, her dream. Someday, she will need to be told, and she will have a difficult decision to make. I am selfish in trying to stave that moment, as long as I can.”

“And your father?”

“Has given me his blessing. Perhaps you can understand his thinking that nothing is dearer than family or the love of one. He will welcome a commoner into our family with open arms if it makes me happy.”

“Well, I cannot think you could have brought us any more surprising news than this. I am sure Clyde, who looks positively speechless, and myself welcome you into the Stokes family as long as Squeaks permits it. Her wishes will come first, no matter who you are.”

“Will you allow me to court her?”

“I believe so. What do you say, Clyde?”

“Yes. Yes, of course,” he responded in a feeble voice.

“One other thing, your Lordship, I will be happy to be your driver until either one of your drivers can return to duty.”

“I am going to feel rather strange having a Viscount of the realm as my driver, but someday it shall make another interesting story.”

“Indeed.”

“I am going to return to Squeaks later. Would one of your maids gather some clothing for her?”

Lord Stokes saw his Butler leave the room for the clothing. “Kip, Squeaks has been praising these drivers in London as gentlemen and so has Clyde. I don’t know what to make of their calls-to-arms if you will. I am overwhelmed and shall mention that in the House. I wish I could repay them in some way.”

“Your thanks is all they will take. Perhaps a note in the daily paper would reach them all.”

“Brilliant.”

Morgan returned to the room carrying a satchel and handed it to Kip.

“I will leave now and return with Squeaks tomorrow, I am told.”

“Thank you, Lord Trevor,” expressed Clyde.

“Remember, I am Lord Trevor at the moment. I will be Kip tomorrow. Good-day.”

 

Kip returned to the hospital late that afternoon, carrying flowers, a wrapped package, and her clothes. He could see she was now going through the stage he went through only hours before.

Squeaks looked down.

“What is wrong, my sweets?”

“I feel weak as if I couldn’t move from this bed.”

“That is completely normal. Did not the nurses tell you that?”

“No. So, how do you know?”

“I have been through that myself today. It is the stress leaving your body. You do not realize what you put your body through when tensions were high, and especially for a prolonged period of time. You were always tense. And when it’s over, your body tries to relax and does a relatively good job of doing it.”

“This is good, then?”

“Yes, my love.” Kip leaned in and kissed her forehead and took her hand.”

“Are those flowers for me?” She cheered. “No one’s ever brought me flowers. You seem to be the first in my life for everything. Are those my clothes?”

“Yes. First, I should check to ensure your boy’s undergarment is in here.”

“I will never live that down, will I? ”

“No, I am afraid you won’t. Sorry. Perhaps this will help.” Kip handed her the small box covered in cloth and wrapped in ribbons.

“A present? For me?” Squeaks tried unwrapping it with one hand.”

“Do you wish some help?”

“No. Oh no. These are rare. I want to have the whole experience.”

“Suit yourself.”

Kip pulled up a chair, leaned back in it, crossing his arms and watched the struggle. He thought he would fall over from laughing.

Squeaks managed to pull the bow into a knot. She was trying to pick the knot apart with one hand while holding the other end with her elbow. She finally sighed and looked toward Kip.

“Kiiiiip?” Squeaks looked over at him with defeated eyes.

“Yes, dear?”

“You know I’m weak.”

“Yes, I do. I believe I heard that. Hmm…yes, I am sure I just heard that. Should I find a nurse?”

“Tsk.”

“Tsk? There you go again. I don’t know what that means, really.”

“Would you please untie this present,” Squeaks said in exasperation.

“Oh, that. Here let me get the ribbon off for you.”

Squeaks opened the box to find several pairs of lady’s lacy knickers. She inhaled loudly and smiled broadly. Then she frowned.”

“You’re frowning. Wrong size?”

“I see there is a split in the middle. Is that the natural way these are made or are these the ones you said you liked?”

Kip let out a howl of laughter and kissed her gently on the mouth.

Just as she was holding them up with one hand to see how they worked, the apostles walked into the room.

Kip turned red.

“Oh, my, men. Maybe we should leave.”

“No, don’t go,” said Squeaks.

“Yes, go,”  said Kip.

“Hmm… I think we’ll stay. This ought to be more rewarding.”

“See what Kip just brought me?”

Kip wished the floor would open up and swallow him. “Squeaks, I didn’t want you to be the laughing stock of the drivers.”

“They wouldn’t have known if you didn’t show them. Now you have something to share like you made me do.”

“How was that, Kip, walking into a woman’s intimate apparel shop and asking for knickers, and lacy ones at that?” Marc laughed.

“Yeah, and what did you say when they asked for a size?” Lucas carried on.

“All right, men that’s enough,” Kip said in cordial tones.

“Oh, I don’t think so. Wait until the Brotherhood hears this.”

Kip bravely faced them and said, “I think you gentlemen are jealous.”

“Would one of you fine gentlemen tell me if they are naturally made in this fashion?” asked Squeaks.

“What fashion would that be?” Matthew asked in all seriousness.

“You know … with this split down the middle.”

“Kip! Did you mean to get her that kind?” The apostles laughed hysterically.

“They are kidding you, Squeaks.” He pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his brow.

“Wow, now that I think of it, you’ve been through a lot of effort for nature calls. Everything has to come down. Why with us …” Marc elbowed Lucas in the ribs.

“Kip, do they come with instructions?” Everyone laughed, even Squeaks after she said it.

 

#

 

Several weeks later, when Squeaks’ face was nearing normal, and Kip was still driving for Lord Stokes, she wandered out to talk with Kip.

“I am ready to speak to His Lordship and my father about my boy’s underwear. Do you still wish to listen? I know you didn’t believe me when I’ve told you how I have scolded His Lordship. I am ready to show you proof.”

“I wouldn’t miss this for the world. I’ve really come to like this Lord.”

“Come inside with me. First, I will find Mr. Dorset.”

Squeaks went to find her father, while Kip waited in the kitchen. He was quite at odds with all the kitchen help staring at him. They knew he was driving for His Lordship but never ate at their table.

Squeaks returned, bidding Kip to follow her.

“Hello, Clyde. You’re looking much better.”

“Thank you. It won’t be long now before I can climb the wheel.”

“That’s good to hear. You have any notion of what Squeaks is up to?”

“Nary a clue. I can’t imagine why she’s bothering His Lordship. However, I do think he enjoys her interruptions once in a while. It’s nice to see us both invited.”

Squeaks had been in asking Lord Stokes for a meeting. He acquiesced. She opened the door, requesting her father and Kip enter. Lord Stokes wasn’t expecting an audience.

“Please gentlemen, would you take a seat.” Kip would have rather heard that from Stokes, but Clyde sat, and so did he.

“All right, Squeaks, what is this you bother me with?”

“I have brought the men in my life into one room for a discussion.”

Kip was being stared at and felt like he should leave. “Should I be here, Miss Squeaks?”

“Yes, especially you. Now, your Lordship, Kip seems to think I am having fun with him when I tell him that you and I have talked. You remember when I spoke to you about being a footman that night and the problems that we had.”

Kip was red as a beet.

“I do indeed. Is that the point of this meeting?

“Well … no, that is not my main reason.”

“And what is your main reason?”

“You like fundraisers for charity, do you not, sir?”

“Squeaks, just tell me what it is. You do not have to patronize me.”

“Is that what I’m doing? I have an idea where you could be looked upon as a great and giving Lord.”

“Squeaks!”

“I think I spoke out of turn the day Kip took me on the picnic, and now I do not know what to do about it.”

His Lordship and Clyde looked to Kip, who shrugged his shoulders.

“What did you do?”

“It was almost a … boast, about who was the better coachman, he or me.” She hesitated.

“I see no problem or charity anywhere near this, so far.”

“I told him to practice. I told him to tell his friends to practice.”

“Practice what?”

“All right, here it is. I said that we would have a coachman derby. Furthermore, a horseman derby.”

“Where have you seen such an event? I have never heard of one?”

“Does it sound appealing?”

“Where have you seen one of these events, I repeat?”

“I haven’t. I made it up.”

“I see. I think I need you in the House of Lords. You have been gifted with the art of wheedling your opponents into certain comforts before pouncing on them.”

“I want to laugh at that, but afraid to.”

“I suppose I figure into this somehow, so I can be a great and giving Lord.”

“Yes! I will drive you for free if you help me.”

“You drive for me free, now.”

“I do? I thought my earnings were going into a bank for me. I need clothes.”

Lord Stokes started laughing and holding his stomach. The look on her face was one he’d never seen.

“I don’t have money? I need a corset and a frock. I have to wear other women’s clothes if I want to look like a woman.”

Lord Stokes stuttered, “You need a corset?”

“Have you not noticed I should have one?”

Squeaks was ready to pounce. “You men! You and Father raised me. Somewhere along the way, you forgot that I was a girl growing into a woman. I had no idea if my undergarments were a man’s or a woman’s. And that’s why I jiggled the other week – because you and Father never noticed these,” she said, pointing to her bosom. Kip did.

“Oh God,” Kip muttered with downcast eyes.

“When I wanted to wear a borrowed frock the day of the picnic, he looked at me and made me change into riding clothes. Do you know how many years I have had to strip completely from the waist down when I didn’t have to?”

All the men were blushing and smiling with their heads down. No one looked at Squeaks.

“So, how much is this guilt going to cost your father and me?”

“I could go on.”

“I think you have made your point. Now, if we can reach an accord, you will tell no one about wearing men’s fashions underneath, and I will do what?”

“Well, it’s too late to hide the fact that I’ve been brought up in boy’s undergarments and the missing pieces I should have had. It became apparent during my rescue. Ahem…”

“So, these drivers know of your maturing embarrassment?”

“Kip, the man I hope will marry me, very bravely walked into a woman’s intimate apparel store and purchased some knickers for me. He brought them to the hospital.

“Oh, heavens,” said Clyde. “You’re a better man than I.”

“Mr. Kipling, that was another heroic for you on the day. One that seems did not make the next day’s newspaper. God give us strength.”

Kip was speechless.

“Again Squeaks, what is this guilt trip going to cost me, so I can be a great and giving Lord?”

“You will allow your grounds, far from the house, to be used for a Coach and Horseman Derby … and, you will contribute some prizes to the winners. They will have to pay a small fee to enter. That keeps out the Whitechapel types. That entry fee you can donate and be a great Lord. Noblesse oblige, sir.”

“You don’t even know what that means.”

“Excuse me, Your Lordship. Privilege must be balanced by duty towards those who lack such privilege.”

“You read that somewhere. I bet you have been saving that one.”

“Sir, the fact that I read it does not make it any less true.” Squeaks smiled.

Kip was awestruck at her forthrightness.

“You do belong in the House of Lords.”

“Sir, with all the respect due to you, I am asking to borrow your land for several days. There will be charity money for you to award. You will pay for prizes. It will be a way to thank the drivers. We need no accord.”

“I think we do. I would like to wipe the slate clean with that. You may hang it over my head on your wedding day.”

“Hmm…” Squeaks strummed her fingers in front of her mouth, scheming.

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