Toad, Piero, Bey, and Zajac flopped into chairs in Toad's study after yet another fourteen hour day. Behind them, Blakeley picked up their coats and hats, stacked their books and satchels, and poured brandies.
"I have taken the liberty of ordering a meal in, since your half-day is tomorrow and you have time to sit at table, rather than wolfing down whatever filth might be had at a food stall. May I assume all four of you will partake?"
"Yes," Toad replied. "Excellent. Kind of you to think of it, Blakeley."
"Very good, Your Lordship."
Blakeley left after ensuring the drink was no more than the stretch of an arm away from any of them.
"I do not believe it, Abersham," Bey began, continuing the conversation started on the walk here. "Not for a minute. Hawley?"
"Captain Hawley from this day forward. He more than earned that in five minutes."
"Well, of course, if it is as you say. But he came to our defence? All of us?
"Even Zajac, though he didn't insist on Your Lordship, of course. It was a sight to behold. And then he sent us out so he could 'have a chat' with Bechand. I'll wager Bechand has bruises."
"I'll wager Bechand never mistakes one of our titles again, bruises or no," Piero added. "Even Bey. And Zajac, you may not be a lord, but your mister will come with an extra-low bow from this day forward."
Zajac laughed aloud. "A tot of deference will be a welcome thing after all this time."
Blakeley reappeared, clearing his throat at the door.
"The food is done already?" Toad asked, sitting up from his comfortable slouch across a loveseat.
"No, my lord. Captain Hawley has come to speak with you. I told him you had guests and he suggested if they were your school friends, he would prefer to speak to all of you."
Everyone in the room sat up straight, trading nervous glances, all but Zajac setting aside their drinks.
"Shall I show him in?"
"I'm surprised he waited to be asked," Toad muttered.
With a frown, Blakeley corrected him. "Captain Hawley always shows enormous respect for the House of Wellbridge, and it would be impolite to suggest otherwise, my lord." How Toad wished his parents had never told the insufferable man it was his job to improve his charge.
"I suppose you are right. Yes, please show him in. And you will wish to bring gin, if you have it. He prefers it to brandy."
"I will see if we have such a thing, though I cannot guarantee it."
Blakeley left and Piero whispered, "Maybe it will be good news. Maybe he's come to say he killed Bechand with his bare hands, and we will be let out of work all week."
"My mother would never condone him killing the head of the programme, and he knows it. He'll never go against Missus Bella's wishes."
Blakeley knocked quietly on the door jamb. "Captain Hawley, my lord."
The captain tossed his cap and coat on a side table, and Blakeley immediately retrieved them as he set down a new decanter of ice-blue liquor. He carried the torn, grimy apparel away to be hung, as though they were of a quality to warrant it. If Toad knew Blakeley, and if the captain stayed long enough, everything needing mending would be patched and sewn.
"Blakeley has brought gin for you," Toad said, crossing to the table, stopping for a glass along the way. "May I pour you a glass?"
"Might not want to be so 'ccomodating once I say my piece, me lad. Your friends, neither."
Nevertheless, Toad poured and handed Captain Hawley a glass. "After what you said to Bechand this morning, you have more than earned the right to blister our ears for anything you like."
"An' so I shall."
Piero picked his drink up and sat back, feet crossed at the ankles, in imitation of his brother. Bey went to the sideboard to refill his glass, and Zajac turned slightly in his chair and hunched his shoulder, as though he expected the captain to hit him or steal his brandy.
"Wish ever' one of you to know I think you do right good work in the yard and on board the ships. Got little complaint about any of you, and I 'spect you en't gonna have no trouble in a real company. Some of you could even get a offer from Missus Bella once your schooling is done." He nodded at Piero and narrowed his eyes at Toad.
"But I got summat to say to each of you 'bout the way you been doing things since we been in Marseilles. Ever' last one of you is actin' like a right idiot, one way or t'other. You en't got your fathers here to thrash you, and that frogified fellow, Bechand, don't care if you grow up good men or not, 'long as he gets paid cash money. So, I decided it falls to me. Missus Bella would want me to."
Bey rubbed a hand over his face as he sat down, then let out a belaboured sigh at the same time Zajac groaned.
"You two, Bey and Zajac, en't got no head for serious matters, and you en't lazy always, but enough to cause trouble. Don't have to be solemn all the time—time enough for havin' fun in life. But you can't sit still 'afore a ledger long enough to add the numbers, and you can't keep your face straight when you should. I seen you laugh when your teacher was showing you the new order of things in the warehouse, like you en't got to know how that works 'fore you could manage things. Zajac, I 'spect you can't tell me now how much we got for them silks your father sent you to sell, nor wrote to him with the payment. And you, Bey—give you all my shares of Seventh Sea if you could tell me where the keys are you was to keep track of this term."
Zajac and Bey both sat up in their chairs, paled, and took on a more serious and solemn mien than anyone in the room had ever seen.
"Thought so." Captain Hawley said, and their greyed faces both flushed identically. "I catch either of you late in the mornin' e'en once more, I'll set you both tarrin' and slushin' ever' ship in port until you graduate, and don't much care what that Frenchman says about rotations."
He pointed at Piero next. Piero straightened and his knuckles turned white, grasping the arm of his chair.
"Lord Piero, you might be the hardest worker I ever seen on ship or land, but you don't take no 'nitiative. You been mostly put in charge of the yard refit, but you just go 'long, doin' what anyone else says, e'en if they know nuffin' 'bout nuffin'. Yer a blessed lord, Your Lordship, so puffed-up you could barely fit yer head in a door, but soon as you have to order around a man what works for you, you en't got a word ter say."
Piero, as a lord, had probably never in his life been spoken to so plainly by anyone but Arturo. His shock was evidenced in his lax face, mouth dropped and eyes sunken, and the fact he had to swallow to regain his voice.
"I... I don't want to cause anyone else problems out of ignorance."
"You had three terms now to stop bein' ignorant, and mostly, you en't no more. You want to be the man in charge someday, best you learn how now. You got three more terms left to learn it, 'afore you end up a common tar takin' orders from a first mate the rest of yer days. If you could get a man to hire you on, and I'll tell you true: that man won't be me, if all you could do is move crates where yer told to."
Piero's mouth snapped shut and he gave Captain Hawley a sharp nod. By the look in his eye, Toad expected the entire shipyard, probably including Toad and Captain Hawley, would soon be subjected to Piero's lordly and unreasonable demands until the next time the captain grabbed him by the scruff and shook him.
Without warning, as Toad was pouring another glass of brandy, Captain Hawley turned on him with a dark, angry look, reminiscent of the duke on the verge of high dudgeon. Toad's hand shook so badly, he spilled his drink, and didn't bother picking up the glass or cleaning the spill.
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...