Clyde Dorset was still at a quite capable age for a driver when he fell climbing from the box because his boot heel slipped off a spoke. Squeaks jumped down from the bench. “Father, I think your leg may be broken.” After the doctor had left, Lord Stokes had a private talk with him. They spoke about half an hour.
Squeaks paced outside the door, hoping she would be given a chance to drive His Lordship. Finally, Lord Stokes left the room, and she went in to hear what her father was going to tell her.
“Father, I am sorry about your broken leg, really; I am, but I cannot help but be anxious to drive on my own.”
“Yes, I can see how broken-hearted you are over my injury,” Clyde smiled. “I must look at those boot heels and see if they’re worn. Remember that in the future. Squeaks, His Lordship has approved of you driving, but he has insisted you shall have a footman standing the rear for the first week. For that, I am relieved. You will not be alone. As you drive to areas where you will wait, it will be tedious unless it is some type of ball or meeting. There you will be with many other male drivers, that will wish to speak with you. The young ones will be immature and do stupid things to catch your attention. Most of them will swarm you since I won’t be there to flick the whip. That concerns me most, child, as it does indeed worry His Lordship. He believes you’re capable but a little gullible.”
“Father, we’re not going over that talk again, are we? Every maid in the house has told me about men and their needs. You are a gentleman, and I am a lady . . . of sorts. My behavior will respect the Stokes’ name. I want to experience more of life, but I will not be irresponsible with my conduct.”
“Squeaks, I am not worried about your behavior. The drivers are going to find you unique and highly appealing. You saw Kip’s interest in you. If you keep with the in-service drivers, I would feel better about allowing you out alone. I know all the ones that park at Parliament daily, but now and again there are independents, such as Kip. Their words may be crude and embarrassing; God knows, most young men are like that.”
“Father, this is the third time I hear the same words. I do not think you see me for the age I am. I will never put myself in situations, which would make either of us embarrassed. I am not your average naïve young woman. No one could be naive, living here with a staff of this size. I’ve slapped a few faces and felt my backside patted more times than you know about. And here I stand, still chaste. And I like Kip very much. You should be happy about that.”
“Is it him or his horses,” Clyde laughed.
“Who’s going to be my footman?” Squeaks quickly changed the subject.
“I believe Boots is being assigned to you. He’s looking forward to it, probably more than he should, if you ask me. At least, he’s big and strong.”
“Father, he can scare off anyone with that stern look he’s mastered. However, I don’t want him hovering. That will make me look scared. And I am anything but that.”
Clyde Dorset laughed. “You will be given your daily routes and times.”
“I think it is Lord Stokes’s normal routine. First, the House of Lords until midday, then it says ‘unknown’ after that.”
“That could be anywhere, Squeaks. Most likely in London, but you could have to drive through the rain or dense fog.”
“I understand that quite well, Father. Now don’t fuss. Start at this moment and begin to get well. Stay in bed and read. I brought you some books to choose from. I put them somewhere, here they are. Maggie should be up with your dinner soon. I have to go, Father. Don’t worry about me,” Squeaks said, kissing her father on the forehead.
“Good luck, Rebecca.”
Squeaks hadn’t heard her name as Rebecca for a long time. She really was on her father’s mind. Time would prove to him; she was capable of doing the job as it should be done, even with his constant counsel.
Squeaks went into her room and checked herself in the mirror. Although she had worn her livery for a long time, she would be alone, holding the whip and reins tomorrow, and people would look. She wanted to appear at her smartest. Feeling good about herself, she headed off to find Boots to talk about the route.
The following morning, Kip was at the House of Lords early. This time, he wanted to leave a note for his father rather than face him in public. Kip mounted the stairs and met with a reception desk attendant as he entered. He handed the note to the gentleman there and left.
When Kip was descending the steps into the yard, he had to wait for another coach to let its passenger out. He noticed it was Lord Stokes exiting his coach and then stopping to talk with his coachman. He carried a second driver standing rear today. Kip thought that a bit unusual, but then he saw why. Squeaks, the petite young woman in her livery uniform, with raven hair piled under that beaver top hat, held the reins alone. Kip rolled his hand into a fist and placed it over his mouth to cover the broad smile.
She looks proud and majestic. I shall chase her scent and indulge myself.
Squeaks took her instructions from His Lordship, curtsied and hauled herself up the wheel peg into the box, then reined the coach to the waiting area.
Kip returned to his coach and followed since it seemed she would be waiting today. He wanted to speak with her more and find out what happened to her father.
For the next half hour, she stayed on her bench, rather than on the ground. The footman was up and down several times talking to her or pacing. Apparently, he wasn’t a second driver at all. Kip knew her Lord outranked his father. He was not aware how long the Stokes had produced heirs, but it was more than several centuries. There was no getting away from the fact that all the other waiting drivers were watching every move she made. Most of the waiting teams were owned by the higher peerage who had their private stables. As an independent, he was close to being the odd man there. He knew she was admiring his coach and horses. Perhaps, she would speak a few words with him.
He pulled a horse’s comb from his bench seat and climbed down to tidy their manes. “Miss Squeaks, I hope all is well with your father today.”
“He fell yesterday getting down and broke his leg. He will be in bed for a few weeks; I feel.”
Kip could see she was repressing a guilty smile. “I am truly sorry to hear that. Such inconvenience for him. Please tell him Kip sends his regards today. If I can help him in any way, please allow me to do so.”
“Kip, that is most kind. I think father will agree and allow me to ride with you and your team.”
“I am well pleased. Are you no longer the driver regent?” he laughed.
She blushed. “That is correct. I am His Lordship’s first driver for some time to come; I hope. I mean . . . I believe.”
“And do you work seven days a week?”
“I don’t know. There is another driver, of course, plus a fourth in training. They mainly carry the family or do odd jobs that need a coach or wagon. At least once a week, my father was allowed to rest. I should think that will be available to me, as well.”
“Do you have any reservations about being alone with me, as we go riding with you driving my horses?”
“I believe I have no reservations at all with you, even if you are a man and independent.”
“I wasn’t aware I was being tested, but I think I have just been complimented. I’m not so sure I like a woman being comfortable with me. I want her to be excited about my company, and find me mysterious.” Kip laughed.
“I will be excited; I know,” she replied in a child-like way.
“Yes, but it will only be for my team of horses. However, I will allow you to use me just to get to them.” Kip heard a faint giggle from her.
“Hearing no rebuttal on that subject, I am a bit saddened. I thought it might be my horses and not me. Should you have a free day soon and you have been given permission by the Butler, your father, and His Lordship, the Prime Minister, the Queen, and The Arch Bishop, please send me a note. I will gladly set aside the day.”
Squeaks bubbled up with laughter at his remark. “No, you too, are part of the excitement. I just didn’t know if I should say that. I can’t remember talking with a man outside the castle walls. I’m afraid I don’t know what and when I can speak. You will forgive me and . . . and correct me?”
Boots, her footman, came from the rear and gave Kip a stern look. Kip was nearly half a foot taller than Boots. Kip smiled at his attempted scrutiny. “With honor, Miss Squeaks, I will be glad to correct you. Look around at all these fellow drivers who will be your close friends someday.”
“Kip, this is Boots. He is a footman who will be in attendance with me this week. Somehow, I doubt my father will be happy about being good friends with all of them.”
“I must admit, I am guilty of those same thoughts. So, Boots, can you drive as well?” Kip asked, wanting to ingratiate himself to her overseer.
“I do not. I can do anything with the coach, such as change a wheel. I can saddle and ride a horse, but I have never driven a team.”
While Squeaks patted his horses, Kip continued. “Everyone at Stokes Castle must be proud of this young lady for her skills. By the way, what is your primary function at Stokes Castle?”
“I mainly serve at table and other odd jobs, such as assisting at the front door when guests arrive.”
“I know how important that job is, serving table. How many are on staff at Stokes?” Kip asked, catching a glance from Squeaks.
“Counting outdoor as well?”
Squeaks held her whip horizontally by both palms as she bent her head and clicked her boot toes together. Here comes the embarrassment.
“Perhaps a total of eighty to eighty-five. They have lovely gardens and grounds.”
“Eighty-five? That many, mm?” Kip let out a little sigh that only Squeaks could hear. He saw a smile being stifled as he noticed her profile.
“Miss Squeaks, would you care for my comb and brush, which I have been holding?”
“No, not at this time. It appears you have brushed them this morning.”
“I have. We, independents, do not have grooms or stable boys to do our work. We love our horses and prefer to tend them with great care. It bonds us to our horses.” Kip was getting so rattled at her looking up at him when he spoke, that he wasn’t sure if he made sense anymore.
Kip burst forth laughing at her response. She did not know her own unbridled charm.
“Who did you drive today, Mr. Kip, if I may ask?”
“You may ask, and I will answer, no one.”
“I came to deliver a note to someone inside. I have completed that. I stay to talk with you and keep you company.”
“But you are giving up fares, are you not?”
“I am. However, I have my priorities.”
“Am I one of your priorities?” Squeaks asked, in pure innocense.
Thankfully, one driver approached them under the guise of looking at Kip’s horses, so Kip introduced Squeaks to him. Then another walked over … and a third and a fourth. In little time, the peerage drivers were coming to meet Miss Squeaks of Stokes Castle. Many remarked on her name, and Kip heard the story repeated. She was being swarmed, so he took to his bench to watch and listen from overhead.
After another half an hour, “Excuse me, gentlemen, you are exhausting me with your questions.” She threaded her way through several men, hopped her wheel peg, taking to her bench.
Kip knew any minute she would glance his way, so he looked elsewhere, pretending to be unaffected by her popularity. The lads drifted away, suddenly not interested in his horses today. He laughed to himself.
“Miss Squeaks, it has been delightful seeing you this morning. I must be on my way. Don’t forget to watch for your master coming down those steps over there.” Kip pointed, in jest.
“I know where he exits,” she said, sporting a small frown like she had just been insulted. “It has been amusing seeing you, too. Will you be here tomorrow? Will I be a priority?”
“If you wish me to be here, I will be most honored to keep you company for a while.”
“I must admit; that gathering was a bit frightening. I was pleased you were near. I thought Boots was going to start growling.”
“He does have a face to warn people away.”
“Yes, if you do not mind, I would like your company until I can get used to this. I cannot pay you.”
“Miss Squeaks, I think I am offended,” he smiled, lifting his nose in the air. “If you think I would ever do such a courtesy for money, you have much to learn about me. And I hope you will want to do that, as I wish to do that with you. Until tomorrow then. Good day.” Kip tipped his hat and ruffled the reins, pulled away, allowing Squeaks to wonder if he was in earnest.
Kip was thoroughly entertained and immersed in emotions by the lady driver this morning. He pulled out of the yard, feeling he had acquitted himself well. Perhaps later, he might wait out on the street and watch for her exit. He would like to see how she reined.
Kip did not want to scare Miss Squeaks by following directly behind her, so he allowed several coaches to pass before entering the main thoroughfare. There were shouts for his service, but he was more interested in watching the young lady. She amazed him. He was stunned at her actual talent of turning that team. Several times she had to pass men calling to her when they recognized she was a woman. She paid them no mind. Nearing an ill-behaved horse with its frantic driver trying to calm him down, she negotiated her way around the disturbance without a pause and used a very deft hand to guide the team away without swaying the rider. Kip felt she was quite skilled in her craft. He planned more than hoped they would meet for a drive soon.
Kip veered off and looked for fares for the next several hours while waiting to meet his father in an outlying pub.
Arriving home with His Lordship, Squeaks felt very good about her first day out. The Butler saw to the coach door, but Lord Stokes stopped to talk with his new driver.
“Well, Squeaks, how did it go today, waiting with all those men?”
“Sir, I spoke with independent driver Kip for about half an hour. Then many drivers came over to introduce themselves. Although Kip could have been out taking fares, he stayed to watch over me along with Boots. I will say the drivers were very polite and friendly, asking if I needed any help, but there were so many of them. I finally returned to my box, and they left. Then driver Kip left.”
“Squeaks, do not ever become comfortable and think they are mates. You are a woman after all. I do feel, as your father assures me, that the drivers are polite. They are gentlemen, at least most of the ones in service. However, it is something I wish you would not totally rely on. Always be on your guard. Being a woman, you are a target for thieves; not knowing you do not carry money. Have you been trained in the use of a firearm?”
Yes, sir. I’m quite good, I’ve been told, sir,” she laughed.”
“I believe I was more nervous than you, today. Go see your father and let him know of your day and then find me in my study. I would like to talk a little further with you.”
Squeaks retired the carriage and team to the stablemen. She could do it herself, but today she was the driver in the box and not the staff on the ground. She had earned it. The staff was smiling, seeing that she was going to play first driver to the hilt. Anxious they were, to hear how the day had gone.
Clyde heard the coach coming to the back stable. He pulled himself up in his bed to a sitting position, waiting for his daughter to rush through the door, bursting with excitement. He was not disappointed.
She knocked and then did not wait for a command to enter, and upon seeing her cheerful face, her father said, “Did you not tend to your team, young lady?”
“But Father that is a stableman’s job. I am the driver.”
“Come here,” he said, holding out his arms to her. “You seem to have won the day.”
“I believe so Father. Well, almost, anyway.”
“What happened?” Her father looked more serious.
Squeaks told him how she had met many drivers today and how Kip stayed to watch over her. “There are so many, Father.”
“I have warned you, child. And that is the worst that happened, even though that could have been serious for you?”
“You would have been proud how I worked my way around a rearing horse with his driver on the ground, hanging on to the reins. I gently guided our team away from him. I don’t think His Lordship shifted at all. However, he does want to talk with me after seeing you. And Kip and Boots were conversing about the staff. I’m afraid Boots told him how many work here. I could only look at the ground.”
“Did His Lordship seem mad about anything?”
“Father, you know His Lordship. He’s concerned for me. He never gets mad at me, even when I was little. I don’t think he wants me to trust other drivers.”
“I see. Well, we have been over that a hundred times. I suppose he wants to know how that part went today.”
“Oh, His Lordship did ask me if I have been trained with a firearm. I told him I had.”
“All right, dear. Run along. Don’t keep him waiting.”
Squeaks kissed her father and hurried out the door.
As she left the staff area and headed into the family’s quarters, she tugged on her uniform jacket and checked her skirt. She wanted to look smart. She held her small top hat, having piled the long flowing ribbons inside. If Morgan, the Butler, approached her, she would hand him her hat and laugh. She was disappointed; he didn’t appear.
Squeaks knocked lightly on the door and heard the word “enter.”
“You wanted to see me, Your Lordship?”
Lord Stokes pitched his feathered pen on the desk, rocked back in his chair, clasping his hands behind his head. “Did you have any other issues today that we need to discuss?”
“I do not believe so, milord.”
“After an hour of men talking at me, I felt they should be doing other things, so I returned to the bench.”
“Oh, they should be doing something with their time rather than looking at you, is that what you thought? And you decided to climb on high, so they could go on about their business?”
Lord Stokes covered his laugh with a cough. “So far I hear nothing that should be confessed. This Kip chap, I believe I know who that is. Yes, he is a very well-respected independent driver. I have heard his name mentioned at the club. For evening affairs, he will dress in tails and bring his fine coach and horses. For normal fares during the day, I think he has another coach, fancy but not so elegant.”
“I believe he delivered a note to someone inside.”
“I called you in here to find out how you felt out there, and I wanted to compliment you on negotiating past the horse that was acting up in the street. Getting around that disturbance, you showed great skill. I was well pleased.”
“Oh, thank you, milord. I enjoyed my day. I will hope tomorrow brings a longer drive.”
“Perhaps it will, but I will be in Parliament longer.”
“I will be fine, milord. Will you send the footman with me?”
“Yes, Squeaks, all this week.”
“Yes, sir. Is that all?”
“Yes, that is all. A beautiful drive today, Miss Squeaks.”
She curtsied and left the room with a huge smile. Morgan stepped inside to pull the doors closed and saw Lord Stokes laughing to himself.