The Noble Coachman – Chapter 26

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Chapter 26
Derby Day Two

(next to the last chapter)

 

Early the next morning, Clyde and his friend Dirk were down at the field ensuring the proper set up for the steeplechase. Fences were being pounded into the ground, and ditches were being filled with water. The course was a half mile long, but the entrants would circle the course four times, making it a total two-mile run.

Bradley and Squeaks were doing the final grooming on Regent, a purebred Arabian, Lord Stokes’s personal horse, who had done some flat racing by a former owner. As Squeaks entered her late teens, she took to Regent and began working with him. Her father told her with what she had taught Regent, she should show well in the race today. It would be their first race together. She was nervous.

“Bradley, do a nice job on that tail. I’m almost done with his mane. Did you feed him lightly this morning?”

“Yes. Gee, look at him gleaming in the sun.”

“He’s beautiful. I wish His Lordship would ride him once again.”

“What next Squeaks?”

“Rub down his leg muscles, and then run him in the paddock, while I get ready. Do we still have those horse brasses that no one knew what they were meant for?”

“Yeah, I know where they are. You want them?”

“Yes. I will be down within half an hour.”

 

Kip was dressed in his gentleman driver outfit, boots, and top hat. The Queen Mary was spotless, flowers were in the vases, and the drapes clean and pressed. Inside he placed his new formal attire, sporting a black velvet collar, and embroidered cuffs which matched Squeaks. The top hats were also made of the same velvet set off by a purple hat band. This was one of his family crest colors, and he wanted to fit it in somewhere. Squeaks would have a bundle of purple chiffon bows at the rear hat band. The bow ended in two scarf ribbons, hanging down about a foot from the band. It gave it a very feminine look. He designed it. Perhaps a Kipling livery line would be in his future. He had worked all this through the seamstress he had visited one day. The seamstress suggested small darts be sewn in. Kip wondered what she meant. She told him that wearing a man’s straight coat would not accentuate her female allurements. He readily agreed to the darts. When he went to fetch the clothing, the seamstress said she had never sewn so elegant yet understated attire. Kip was glad to hear this as that was exactly the image he wanted. Be seen but not seen. He placed his harness brasses and an etched leather bridle in the coach.

Ion would arrive at the parade site at lunchtime. He had his own formal attire, but Kip had a matching top hat made for him. Kip brushed his Friesians one more time before leaving.

 

Squeaks arrived on Regent and placed him in the temporary paddock with all the horses. She walked over to see her father and Dirk, sitting at the entrant’s table.

“Excuse me, gentleman, I wish to enter the steeplechase event.”

Her father looked at her and said, “Sorry, no women allowed.” Then he and Dirk broke out laughing. “Yes, my child, you are entered. I know I will be a proud father today no matter your placement. You are causing quite a stir among the single gentlemen here. In fact, all of them, I believe. We’re always being asked if you are participating in anything. I think several have signed up just to ride with you. Little do they know that you’re a jumper.”

“Father, I forgot to tell you. I will ride with Kip in the Grand Parade.”

“I’ve been waiting to hear that. I figured you two would enter.”

“He asked me yesterday. When he came to dinner, he brought a box with a beautiful livery for me.”

“I hope that man isn’t going into debt over you.” Clyde knew that Kip was a noble and money was no problem.

“He wanted to give me a gold watch, but I told him to return it.”

“A gold watch?” Stammered Dirk.

“Father, can I borrow yours until the parade is over?”

Clyde pulled on the chain and slipped the watch off his vest, giving it to Squeaks.

Dirk remarked, “I haven’t seen Kip yet. Does he have any other events?”

“I don’t think so. Only the final one.”

Matthew and Marc crept up behind Squeaks and tapped her on the shoulder. “How are you today, Miss?” Asked Marc.

“I am feeling rather gay. I plan to enter the steeplechase.” Squeaks saw them grinning. She stood there proudly with her leather pants, dark-green wool blazer, and her red tam, which she cocked to the side. They didn’t believe her. Kip had never mentioned it because he didn’t know it either. They were in for a show, whether she placed well or not. Her biggest excitement was having Lord Stokes see his horse in the race.

“I guess you have a fair chance in that one as any other.”

“Why are you smiling?”

“Well, we have a few steeplechasers that are now drivers. You will have competition.”

“I certainly hope so.”

“Have you seen Kip today?”

“No, but I know he intended to watch the steeplechase race.”

“That’s good. He should be here soon, then. They’re having the open event now. Want to go watch?”

“I might as well,” she said, as they walked down the slope that overlooked the large field. “Exactly what is the open?”

“Any horseman may show off any stunts that he can do with his horse. It’s amazing what these animals can be taught. Judging is difficult for this one. I see many of the lords are beginning to show up with their stables for the Grand ending. I am sure Kip will be entered in that one. He’ll have some big competition with the in-service stables and coaches. He has a chance, though. At least, he should finish in the top five and get a horse brass as a prize.”

 

Lord Stokes arrived at the tented table with Dirk and Clyde. “Well gents, how is the derby faring?”

Both immediately stood and were signaled to be seated. “Your Lordship, I think you have an excellent event to be associated with. There have been few disputes over the judging. The coachmen are having a grand time. I hear there may be more in-service entrees next year. Even though the prizes are small, they seem to covet them.”

“Next year?”

“Sir, I have made no promises to anyone. I have heard mumblings about ‘I’ll beat you next year’ and words like that. I think the steeplechase will have more entrants than expected and plenty of on-lookers.”

“And why is that, do you think?”

“Because our Squeaks rides in that one.”

“Does she now? When is that?”

“This open event is nearly over. There will be a half-hour pause to set up the steeplechase obstacles in the big viewing field. When they are completed, a horn will be blown, calling all participants.”

“I shall stay to watch this myself. Is that Lord Clayton over there?”

“Yes, sir. Many Lords are coming in for the final Grand event.”

“This is becoming more attractive by the moment. I shall take a stroll.”

 

Squeaks was watching intently at the open event when Kip sat down behind her. He easily looked over her head, seeing Matthew and Mark, “Morning mates.”

“Good morning, Kip.”

“Everything fit?”

“There are darts in my coat.”

“Yes, I know. Your seamstress suggested them. I had no idea what they were.”

“Kip …” Squeaks sniffled. “They’re beautiful. Thank you.”

“Where are they?”

“In our coach. Father brought the boxes.”

“I still have your hat. Are you excited?”

“Terribly. I told Father, but His Lordship doesn’t know, yet.”

“Did you know you will drive, too?”

“No! No, I didn’t know that. How is that to work?”

“After the opening speech, we take the coach. Each one of us will parade around the ring. You will go first. I will go last to finish any other movements they wish us to make after the ring trot. Trot. You must trot.”

“All right.”

“I understand that after the steeplechase, while all are eating, several deep holes will be left from the previous race. You will have to deftly go around them.”

“Do others know?”

“I don’t know. I believe all the independents do.”

“Is that fair?”

“It wouldn’t matter. They should be trained to look for such hazards all the time. There may be others that I don’t even know about. We’re not out there solely to look pretty.”

“Squeaks, can we have our private talk after this is over. I need to know if you will accept my suggestion.”

“Yes.”

“Yes, to my suggestion, or yes to our meeting?”

Just then the steeplechase horn blew.

“I must go. I have to get my horse and get down there. Bradley should have him ready for me.” Squeaks jumped up and ran back to the paddock.

“Kip, aren’t you thrilled for her?”

“Embarrassed,” Kip said, “I never knew she could jump. This is all a surprise to me. I know she is anxious to feel part of the Brotherhood, but she didn’t have to enter this as proof.”

 

Bradley handed the reins to Squeaks and wished her luck. Once more, he reminded her of the weaving around the barrels in the big field.

“That will be no trouble for Regent.”

 

Kip and his apostles stood because of the large crowd which had formed ahead of them on the slope. Everyone wanted a higher view which could allow them a bit more visibility into the woods where half of the path led. For once Kip’s height came in very handy.

The trumpet blew, and all the entrants walked in, single file, leading their animal. Squeaks was sixth walking in. The crowd murmured when they saw her. Someone asked if children were allowed in. Someone else said it was a woman, and everyone shouted him down. She must be crazy if that is a woman. She’s wearing a tam. It must be a woman. Kip was grinning from ear to ear, and the apostles kept elbowing each other and laughing.

Kip saw that the horse was a thoroughbred Arabian. “Look at her horse, lads. How will she ever get on it?”

They all laughed. “Ten to one, she’s boosted,” said Lucas.

“I’ll take that bet,” replied Kip. Loser rides rear footman for a night.”

“You’re on. So, how is she going to get on, do you think?”

“I don’t have any idea, but I bet she won’t need any help. They didn’t put a horse block out there for her.”

“Looks like there are about twenty entrees. That seems like a lot to me. I don’t know that many former steeplechasers. Must be a lot of in-service I don’t know about.”

The ring announcer told them to mount their steeds. Kip watched as the rider next to her came over to assist. She curtsied to him but dismissed him. There were murmurs among the crowd. Kip spotted Lord Stokes, Clyde, and Dirk behind him.

As the riders mounted, all eyes were on Squeaks.

“Now, what’s she going to do?” Someone in the crowd asked loudly.

“What is she doing?” Stokes asked Clyde.

“You’ll see, Sir.”

Squeaks walked out in the front of the horse while holding the reins. She tapped her crop on the ground twice. A hush fell over the crowd. As if on cue, Regent got down on his front knees and then went down on his back legs, crouching like a stone lion figure. Squeaks easily slid into the saddle and patted him on the neck, and talked to him. Regent rose majestically into a standing position, and everyone clapped and whistled.

Kip felt so proud of her, he wanted to weep. She won everyone’s heart, not just the drivers.

Lord Stokes puffed out his chest in pride. “She’s on Regent,” he said loud enough for Kip to hear.

“I owe you one, Kip. That was incredible.”

Kip was stuck for words. His heart was pounding so heavily against his chest; he could hear nothing around him.

All the horses lined up at the end of the field, Squeaks felt very smart in her boots, tam, and corduroy vest and wool blazer. As she sat there waiting for the gun to sound, words came back to her. Let the others lead for half the race. She didn’t understand why, but she would let them lead.

The gun sounded, and Squeaks held back while the pack congested itself trying to weave through the barrels. When it cleared, she took off like a shot, catching up to the pack too quickly. The big field had two fences before going into the woods. Five riders went down trying to get over them. Squeaks could see that the pack jostled each other for the lead, therefore, forcing mistakes. Squeaks held back again and even came to a dead stop, before sailing over the first and second fences alone. They turned into the woods where there were men if one fell, was injured or tried to cheat by taking a shorter route.

Squeaks was starting to calm her insides and do more concentrating on the race. “A rider will always see ahead and compensate for something unexpected.” Kip’s words came to her. She passed another three entrants who were thrown into the muddy water jumps. She kept her head down and watched the two jumpers in front of her. If something went wrong with them, she knew to be ready to react. She could tell the jumps easily by their movements. The rider ahead of her was suddenly knocked from his horse by a low hanging branch. Squeaks ducked her head and had to jump the rider on the ground.

Kip and everyone was milling around, waiting for them to come into sight again. The barrels had been removed from the field, and two fences were erected. They were very close together. Kip thought he had never seen anything like that. As the riders came back into the field, only three made it over the close fences. The failed riders were in a pile near the fence when Squeaks came through. The crowd murmured again. She’d never make it.

Squeaks pulled back on her reins, essentially stopping her horse. She trotted him around at the end of the field until the fence was reset and riders were walking away. Squeaks used her riding crop and whipped Regent to a fast start. Everyone thought she was headed too fast to the double fence. At the right moment, she pulled Regen’ts head up, and he flew over both at once. A huge round of applause was heard. People were jumping up and down at the feat, she accomplished.

“Kip,” Mark shook him. “Why aren’t you saying anything?” This is fabulous. Her skills will never be doubted after today.”

“I am too choked up to speak. Excuse me.” Kip had to walk away for a moment to dry his eyes. He happened to catch Lord Stokes doing the same thing behind the crowd. Kip gave him a moment and walked over to him.

“I see we are both overwhelmed by our Squeaks,” said Lord Stokes, seeing the reddened eyes of Kip.

“Where did she learn this?” asked Kip.

“I thought you taught her,”

“Not I, sir. I’ve never done this in my life, only a fox hunt or two. Flat races yes, but not this.”

They both were silent.

The remaining four riders came back into the main viewing field and saw that four fences were erected, each one taking the rider across the field.”

“Here they come,” said Kip. “Oh, dear God, she’s still in the race.”

They both watched as the first rider missed seeing the first fence and had to repeat it or drop out. That put him behind Squeaks. The second rider had no difficulty. Squeaks took her time and was flawless over the fences.

Coming into the third pass, another fence had been added to the center with water on the other side. Very easy to miss if you weren’t watching. Squeaks was second of four. The third jumper passed her and failed the water jump. Squeaks was too close to stop. She approached the water and fence with great care. At the last minute, Regent bounded over the fence and the rider in the water without his hooves kicking the man.

As Squeaks and the two last jumpers left the viewing field, she picked up considerable speed which she had been holding back. She and the horse knew the path now. She had caught up to the first horse and was staying right behind him until the open field at the end. The first jumper began whipping his horse. Steam was coming from the horse’s nostrils. Squeaks pulled alongside him. She gave Regent a small whip on the final part of the field and finished first by a horse length.

Kip turned to his Lordship, and they shook hands. Both were beaming with pride. The crowd was wild. Top hats went sailing in the air. One would have thought it was a betting race. It seemed they all wanted the little woman to win, and she did not disappoint. She managed feats unseen by most people, the double fence, the horse bow and the phenomenal water jump.

The three winners were brought to the center field. Kip couldn’t hear anything being said, but the announcer handed horse brasses to the winners. Apparently, he had plenty to say about Squeaks, which caused the other two winners to applaud her. As Squeaks accepted her prize, she bowed and had Regent bow on one of his front legs. The applause was deafening. Kip could see those cherry dimples from where he stood.

 

She will be my wife someday.     

 

Finally getting Regent settled, she found her way to the lunch buffet. There was applause as she entered the area. Lord Stokes stood and motioned to her where they were sitting. Squeaks was stopped and congratulated many times on the way to her seat.

His Lordship motioned for her to come sit next to him.

“My dear Squeaks; you have won the day and the hearts of all here. We cannot be prouder of you at this moment. How did you learn to jump?”

“On my own. I’ve had a lot of time in the years before I was allowed on the bench. Father would drive you somewhere, and I would saddle Regent and go riding. You had stopped riding him, and he needed to be worked. You see, it’s all your doing,” she smiled. Everyone laughed.

His Lordship made everyone lift their glasses, and he toasted to her great success. “What did you win, Squeaks?”

She hadn’t looked at it, assuming it was a nice ornament for her horse. Everyone heard her gasp as she read the inscription molded into the brass. She read it aloud. “Squeaks Derby 1867, First Place Steeplechase.”

Everyone applauded. She sat down and ran her fingers over the lettering. The motif was of two knights with lances, charging at each other. Around the edge were the words. Tears came to her eyes, and His Lordship put his arm around her. Her father was slapping her knee.

“This is the first you have seen of these?” Clyde asked.

“Yes, I had no idea. I am so honored.”

“It was His Lordship’s design and derby name.”

Squeaks looked toward Lord Stokes, threw her arms around his neck, and kissed him on the cheek. Everyone grew silent seeing anyone touch His Lordship. But Lord Stokes laughed, and the festive lunch went on.

Several times during their meal, Squeaks caught Kip looking at her. He hadn’t eaten much. He looked worried, and she understood why. Before this day was over, changes will have been made, she told herself.

“Miss Dorset,” Kip called to Squeaks, “You have some explaining to do.” Everyone laughed. “It surprises me that no one knew of your skills in a steeplechase.”

 

Ion was brushing down the horses when Kip arrived. “Are you ready Ion?”

“That I am. Thank you for picking me to ride with you.”

“Ioan, you match me more than any other, in height, build, and courtesies. I think we make a splendid fit. Someday, I will ride rear for you.”

“Do I take it that the young lady headed this way is second driver?”

Kip turned to see her grinning face. “She is, indeed.” He wanted to sweep her into his arms and smother her with kisses. “Congratulations, Miss Dorset on a spectacular race. His Lordship and I were speechless. Perhaps you will teach me a trick or two.”

“I will be most honored to do that, Mr. Kipling.”

“This is Ioan, our breast-less footman. I think we had better change.”

“Does everyone know that story?” Squeaks asked.

“Yes,” replied Ioan with a smile.

“I will change in Lord Stokes’s carriage over there.”

“All right. We have a lot of competition in this one.”

“I see all the in-service teams that I have come to know. I don’t think they hold a candle to you. I’ll be back in a moment.”

Kip climbed in and made fast work of getting redressed. The crease in his trousers was razor sharp. He had to feel his cravat without the mirror. His boots shined, and his watch gleamed. He packed his old clothes in a satchel and put it in the rear box. As he stepped out, Ioan whistled.

“Kip, I would think you were a noble dressed as you are. I want the name of your tailor.”

Kip laughed. He reached in pulled out the two velvet top hats. Ioan was taken aback.

“Kip, this is magnificent. Please let me pay for it.”

“No, it’s my payment to you for today.”

“Thank you!”

“Don’t forget Ioan, you are first on the coach after lighting the torches.”

“Yes, sir. Will do.”

Kip looked over Ioan’s shoulder and saw a dream walking towards him. She was majestic. As she neared, both Kip and Ioan removed their hats and bowed. “Your Ladyship,” said Kip as he replaced his hat. Squeaks curtsied, and they laughed.

“Turn around and let me see it.”

“I want my hat. Those are beautiful with the purple bands.”

“I said, turn . . . around.”

As she twirled, she looked beautiful, but he laughed when he saw the silver watch, which was too big for her.

“Why are you laughing?”

“The watch.”

“Well …”

“Give it to me and wear this one.” Kip pulled the gold watch from his pocket and fitted it on her. He took the silver one and put it in her pocket.”

Kip looked into Squeaks eyes, and he wanted to die. He wanted to drown in those light blues.

“Ready for your hat?”

“Since last night.”

Kip pulled out the very feminine hat with the chiffon bows and tails.

Squeaks gasped, and so did Ioan.

She took it slowly into her hands and turned it around and around and kept looking it over. Kip watched her amazement.

“I designed that, I’ll have you know.”

“Kip, it is stunning. I don’t want to wear it. I just want to sit and look at it,” she smiled.

“Well, here …” Kip took it from her and snugged it on her head. “We have to get moving. You see all the other carriages are moving.”

Squeaks adjusted her hat, looked at the coach, and stepped up the wheel peg.

Ioan had lit the lanterns and Kip was coming aboard.

“Kip you have a new set of reins and halter. They’re etched. And you have jewelry on them. I hope we can win a horse brass for you.”

“I would like one of your brasses very much. Here we go.”

 

Kip reined his beautiful blacks into the procession. There did not seem to be any particular order. He only saw a few independents, and none of them had second drivers or footmen. The more opulent in-service coaches were a mix of single drivers or two drivers. Very few had footmen, which surprised him. They were led into a formation where they parked their team only several feet from the next one. Kip realized that was on purpose. That was a feat they were looking at. Would the horses grouped close together spook the team? There were twenty-two entries.

They were asked to leave their brakes off and come to ground so everyone could see the drivers and their livery uniforms. Kip saw two other independents that were dressed smartly but not in formal tails.

As they entered the field together, as a threesome, the crowd grew loud. He knew they had spotted Squeaks. Once all were seen, they were told to bow, but Squeaks curtsied, which brought small laughter to the crowd. Next, they were to walk half of the field, but the teams were expected to stand still. Two teams and their coaches moved to follow their drivers and were immediately eliminated.

All the drivers turned and could use any method to draw their team to them. Kip split the air with a whistle, which Soldier and Warrior answered immediately. They were the first team to move to their driver. They stopped in front of Kip and stood still. More than half of the remaining riders had never taught their horses to come on command. They were eliminated.

“Kip, there’s only seven of us left,” Squeaks whispered out of her smiling face.

The other two independents were still in.

“Squeaks, independent horses respond to whistles every day. We had an advantage there.”

It was called out that single drivers and second drivers were to mount the box, followed by the first driver and footman. There were no teams left with a rear footman.

One of the field handlers, indicated to coach number one to begin the parade around the ring. Then the second coach was alerted and so on until all seven were ringing the field with their second driver. Again, the crowd began murmuring when seeing a small woman manage a coach and turning two large horses. One single coachman used a whip to keep his team in line. He was asked to leave the field.

“Kip they’re really judging the driver and the horses independently.”

“As they should. You are doing splendidly. Keep smiling.”

Clyde was standing next to Lord Stokes when he spotted Squeaks. “You didn’t tell me Squeaks was in this. She looks so beautiful and all grown up.”

“Sir, I only found out about this before lunch.”

“Just look at their stunning livery. Kip spared nothing. They look regal out there.”

“That they do, Your Lordship.”

 

The six remaining coaches were stopped close to the on-lookers so they could have an opportunity to see them. The announcer then told the audience that at the end, they would be the judges of the Grand Team. Everyone clapped to know they would take part.

The teams were directed to change drivers if there was a second.

Another team was eliminated because the two men crossed in front of each other in the box. Kip and Squeaks and one other team stepped to the ground. The first driver went around the rear of the coach and the second driver passed the heads of the horses. In tandem, they both climbed the wheels, which indicated their passenger was balanced. Once ready to begin a new round, they were surprised that each coach was presented a real passenger.

A lady and gentleman walked up to each coach. Kip saw what was happening and told Ioan to tend them, which he was doing. Ioan was perfect as Kip and Squeaks kept their heads straight ahead. Ioan opened the door, lowered the step mechanism and offered his arm to the lady. He raised the step, waiting for the signal to close the door and then closed it.

The final two passes around the ring began, but they were ordered closer to the fence. It was only moments into the trot that Kip saw the first ground hole that a team in front of him had been dragged through. He didn’t know about the ones in front of that one, as his eyes were on the ground. The crowd became very attentive to the coach and team, perhaps now understanding what drivers endure.

Suddenly, a half dozen men on horseback, dressed as highwaymen, galloped into the ring and tried to disturb the drivers or the team. Kip was smooth as glass, and so were Warrior and Soldier. No other team reacted well-behaved. The horsemen were rearing their horses or traveling face on towards them. They tried to edge the competing teams against the fence. Squeaks thought this was a nightmare.

“Am I supposed to be helping you in any way?” Squeaks asked. “Should I pull out the pistol and shoot?”

“Do any have masks on?” Kip asked.

“Two of them do. I can’t believe this is happening.”

Kip started laughing.

“One is headed this way, Kip.”

“All right, let’s give them a show. Reach down under the seat and find the pistol. Wait until I say go, then point the pistol in the air and fire.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really. I am having so much fun; I don’t care if we lose for this.”

As the masked man drew closer, Kip pulled his team out of formation and whipped them into a gallop. The audience was stunned. He was watching for holes while Ioan shouted about the masked man.

“He’s getting closer. Definitely in pistol range,” Ioan yelled.

“Now, Squeaks.”

Squeaks stood, holding onto Kip’s shoulder and fired the pistol into the air; not once but twice.

The onlookers were astonished. The masked man rode away, and Kip pulled his coach to a stop. Both he and Ioan went to each side of the coach to see to their passengers.

“By God, that was fun,” said the gentleman inside.

Kip tipped his hat and returned to the procession which was coming to an end.

“Are they going to dismiss us, Kip?”

“I don’t know. I bet they didn’t expect us to react that way, but it was the right thing to do in that situation.”

As they pulled the coaches to a stop, they parked facing the gathered crowd. The announcer said the course designers had that activity planned in but didn’t expect such an exciting ending.

There was no question as to the winner. Even the remaining drivers came down to shake their hands.

The announcer walked in front of each coach team and asked for applause. The standing ovation went to the Trevor Kipling Stable.

Kip was presented with a gold ornament for his team. It wasn’t the usual brass. Ioan and Squeaks did receive the brass ones. Kip shook Ioan’s hand and looked down at Squeaks. He picked her up about a foot off the ground and spun her around and around.

“We must make our closing bows. Ready?”

As the applause continued, Ioan and Kip bowed, holding their hats and Squeaks curtsied. The crowd was quite vocal about the winners. Squeaks disappeared from the center and went to exit their passengers. Everyone laughed.

The riders mounted their coaches and slowly walked from the field as the crowd began to disperse.

“Squeaks, you have given me the grandest day of my life. Thank you.”

“Of course, it is the same for me, and the day isn’t even over.”

“Does that mean what I think it means?”

“Let’s go to your home to talk and kiss.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather I take you home?”

“I am sure. I am sure about a lot of things.”

“You know kisses get us in trouble.”

“Not me.”

Kip smiled. “Well, they can get me in trouble, then. You seem to want to leave me with all the responsibility of control.”

“I don’t do anything. I have no control over anything, do I? You once said that you would take over the handling and for me to only talk to the women about feelings. Father said that men are usually the dominant ones or something like that.”

“Yes, but you let me.”

“Let you do what? I don’t know what’s coming so how I can I let you? It’s a wonder you can control your own team,” she giggled.

Kip dangled his gold horse brass in front of her face. Looking sideways at her, he could see the cherub face. “I think you are toying with my affections. I bet you are sore from that steeplechase.”

“No, I’m not.” Squeaks quickly replied.

“So … kisses only, then. Am I correct?” He watched her hands as she constantly intertwined her fingers. She was nervous. “You seem a bit jumpy about something.”

“No, I’m not. I’m not.”

“If you’re sure then.”

“I think I said I was sure, just a moment ago.”

“Excuse me. You did say that. Maybe I’m the one who is nervous.”

“Do men get nervous before … you know?”

Panicky is more like it at the moment.

“Before what, Squeaks? Kisses?”

 

 

 

 

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