"It was only a kiss, Papa. I asked him to kiss me. I wanted to know what it felt like. And at first he would not, but I persuaded him."
"Only a kiss? Do you expect me to believe that? The boy was unclothed to the waist!" Papa sounded more bewildered than angry.
"I wanted to know, Papa. I hear the stories, and see the..." Sally fell silent. That was a step too close to The Scrapbook. She turned her hands over and scrutinised the other side.
"See the what?" It was the steely growl that Papa never used with Sally, and she shivered despite herself. Time to distract him.
"It was not what you think, Papa. Toad did not..." She blushed at the thought of saying such things in front of her parents. "He would not even let me..."
The ducal mien fractured again, and he turned to take Mama's hand. "I am sure I do not wish to hear this." Papa always said one should not ask a question if one did not wish to know the answer, and sure enough, he did not pursue the direction.
"Whatever the reason for your shameless behaviour, Abersham is very much at fault in this. He should not have come to see you, especially not against his father's express instruction. He should have left as soon as he found he would be alone with you. He should certainly not have kissed you, nor anything that followed."
"You and Uncle Nick would have kissed any girl who asked when you were eighteen, Papa. You cannot deny it. And Toad is the better man, for you would have despoiled the girl, if you didn't think you'd get caught."
Mama protested. "Sarah. That is quite enough." But Sally ignored her.
"I heard you, you know. Two years ago when Toad was sent down from Eton, you took him to the library for a scold, and I was sitting on the window seat behind the curtains."
"Sarah," Mama said, again.
But Sally continued. "Uncle Wellbridge was cross, and you said, 'What is a man to do when a girl insists he take her virtue? It would be ungentlemanly to decline.' You all laughed and laughed, and you told him how to do it so she would not feel as much pain, and Uncle Wellbridge warned him not to try it with a noble daughter. You said he should make the parting gift reflect her selfless sacrifice. Did you not?" Haverford blanched, and she pushed her advantage. "I would have let him, you know. I would have done anything he wanted. But he refused, utterly. He would not even—"
"Stop right there." Papa was white and his voice and hands shook. "I really do not want to hear this. Cherry?" He turned to his wife, and she took both of his hands in hers.
"Sarah," Mama told Sally, coldly, "it is not for you to criticize your father, nor is his behaviour under discussion here."
She was going to support Papa? That wasn't fair. From what she had heard before she entered the room, Sally had thought her an ally.
Papa took a deep breath and took in, seemingly for the first time, the child-like dress he had insisted she wear. "You are no longer a child, Sarah, but if you must behave like one then I can only assume you are not yet ready to leave the schoolroom. You understand, I trust, that you will be punished?"
He stood then, towering over her so thoroughly that she shifted back in her chair, torn between fear and defiance.
"You will be sent home to Margate to think about what you have done. "
As if she cared. If David was to be sent away, then she would rather be at Margate, where she could think about him, and write to him, and not be forced to pretend to be happy.
But Papa was not finished. "You will make your come out next year, and you will choose a husband worthy of you from those who present themselves, or else I will choose one for you. And none of the candidates will be the future Duke of Wellbridge. Wipe that defiance off your face. Do not think to oppose my will in any way, Lady Sarah, for you shall be closely watched until I am convinced you can be trusted. I tell you now, young lady, you will have to earn my trust, for I have been deeply disappointed in you."
Sally avoided her mother's returned glower. If Papa thought she could be forced to give her consent to a marriage, he was much mistaken. She would write to David, and he would find a way to rescue her, as he had promised.
Papa stopped his pacing and met her scowl with his own. "Do not think, either, that you will continue your correspondence with Wellbridge's heir. That is at an end. No more daily letters. No letters at all."
Sally's mask of indifference dissolved, and she leapt to her feet.
"Papa! No! Papa, you have to let me write. You have to."
"And have you further defy my authority? Make a scandal from which I cannot extract you? Pant after Wellbridge's son like a shameless..." He caught himself, leaving Sally to wonder what word he had been about to utter. "No letters."
"But Papa, he is my best friend in the world. It was only a kiss, Papa. And only to show me. He was helping me, Papa, truly. I was curious, Papa." She had to convince him, to coax him. He had never refused her before.
"No letters," her father repeated.
"But I have to be able to write to Toad," she whined, her voice shaking, on the verge of a gale of tears. She could not live without David's letters, without sharing everything with him in her own. She could barely live without him, even after all these years he had spent away at school, but also his letters...? She could not. On a sob, she insisted, "If you send me off to exile in Margate and don't even let me write to my best friend, I will die, Papa." Mama would understand. "Mama, make him see!"
"What a pity you are a duke's daughter, Sarah," Mama said, her voice icier than ever. "You could otherwise be very successful on the stage."
Sally flushed red and shot her mother a black look. She could not bear to be here any longer. She was halfway to the door before the manners drilled into her for a lifetime forced her to turn and give a reluctant and foreshortened curtsey. "May I be excused, Papa?"
"You may," Papa said gravely. "Go to your room and think on your sins, Sarah. Your meals will be served there until I can arrange passage to Margate."
She gave him a final glare, and flounced from the room.
She would run away. She would escape this very night, and go to David before they could send him back to Cambridge, and if she were killed by a footpad crossing London alone in the dark, Papa and Mama would be sorry, and it would serve them right.
But when she got to her room, she found her maid had been ordered to put a pallet on the dressing room floor and stay with her.
How could they! She begged Polly to run away with her, or at least to let her go without telling the duke and duchess. But Polly would only say, "I dare not, my lady," until Sally could have screamed.
In the end, she allowed herself to be prepared for bed, but she lay awake, waiting until Polly was deeply asleep. Lock her up with a jailer, would they? She would see about that.
YOU ARE READING
Never Kiss a ToadRomance
[A Victorian romance continuing family stories begun in the various Regency books of Jude Knight and Mariana Gabrielle.] David "Toad" Northope, heir to the Duke of Wellbridge and rogue in the mold of his infamous father, knows Lady Sarah "Sal" Grenf...