Striding across the room, the captain shoved a fingertip into Toad's chest. "As for you, Abersham, I'd never say so in front of that bloody frog, but if your mother was here, she'd have the bo'sun take a cat to you by now, and you better believe I still can. You are a disgrace! You leave that sweet young girl back in England, tell her you'd do anything to marry her, e'en give up your family and all your money, then spend nights with that ball-breaking whore?"
Toad backed away from Hawley's jabbing finger, but ended up against a wall. "But, I—"
"I know you throwed her over, and good riddance. Least d'Alvieri learned from your bad example and left the pox-ridden slut alone. But she e'nt the first you had in Paris, and it didn't take you but a few hours to fall into bed with some girl you never met before. I done plenty of that in my time—still do—but I en't promised from the cradle and got someone waitin' at home for me. What in the name of hell was you thinking, treating Lady Sarah so shabby? By all that's holy, I should call you out, just 'cause your mother would say so, if not the young lady herself. She could take you with a pistol, Abersham; I seen her practice with Missus Bella, and by rights, she should put a bullet in you. You shame the lady, taking up with whores when she's at home waiting, writin' you letters all the time. When's the last time you write her a letter? En't give me one to send this month past."
That was unfair. Toad had sent a good-sized packet of letters as soon as they had arrived in Paris, at least three a week for the past month. He just hadn't sent it on a Seventh Sea ship, because he found one leaving sooner. But before he could defend himself, the poking started again.
"Would serve you right to end up shackled to someone like that countess 'stead of Lady Sarah Grenford, and the dukes was right to put distance between you, if that's how you act as soon as a day goes by. That poor girl, stuck with you all her life? Better I drown you at sea than force such a ne'er-do'well on a kind, gentle lady like that."
"I've not been with any woman since I left Paris the last time, and I resent the implication that I don't care for Lady Sarah."
"Don't care what you resent. I seen you try to do better; I do. But you spend a good, long time figgerin' out you best leave them girls alone, and no reason to believe you won't start up again when someone else comes along."
"Believe it when I see it, boy. 'Til then, I got my eye on you, and you best know I will tell your mother anything I see. If she tells your lady, I can't know, but you better believe I hope she will."
"You already report everything to my mother," Toad grumbled.
"Not ever'thin', no. En't told her 'bout your comtesse and them cats, nor 'bout any of them girls—so far. But I 'spect you to start actin' like a man betrothed, and right now."
Toad hung his head, but nodded his agreement. He'd been trying to act like a man betrothed for four months now, and doing a good job, he thought. Ever since he got Sally's letter calling him out for his affaire with the comtesse.
"And another thing, you jackanapes. I 'bout had it with your disrespect for Missus Bella and the duke. 'Nother word bout how bad you got it with your parents, and I tell 'em that, too. I en't took to His Grace too well at first, nor he to me—en't neither of us like the idea some other man would pertect Missus Bella, when we both thought it our own job. But after all this time, I got to admit he done a good job from the first, and brung the best out of Missus Bella, even more than Huntleigh done, and she loves him. He got some fine qualities, the duke does."
At that, Toad became mulish. His father had done nothing since Toad was sent away but get in the way of anything that might be to his son's benefit, and had only written to berate Toad for not writing his mother and tell him not to come home.
"Wipe that sour look off your face, boy. Your father loves you and raised you honourable, even if a bit lopsided on right and wrong, and too apt to chase after lightskirts. And he's solid behind Missus Bella to train you up right and proper to be a good kind of nobleman, and I can't fault the man for that. If you wasn't such a buffle-headed fool, you would be listening to the duke and learnin' 'bout things, 'afore you inherit everything he owns. Way you been actin', you dishonour your name and your parents what done nuffink but good for you all the days of your life, and you are a damned ungrateful nocky-boy, pretendin' they don't. You work hard, there's no doubt of that, but a grown man en't afraid to speak to his own father."
"I'm not afraid of him! I just don't like him."
"That is a load of bollocks. Like him just fine 'til he put rules on you, and that makes you a insolent little boy, fightin' 'gainst what's good for you, not the man Missus Bella wants you to be. I had it with you and your feud with the duke, and the way you been treating Missus Bella for it, and it stops today, or I throw you out of that shipyard, hook or crook, e'en if I got to kill that man, Bechand, to do it. You understand me?"
"You sit down and write both your parents a letter this very day, and not one of them mean little notes you been sendin' with 'Just fine. Nothin' to report.' You 'pologize for bein' a rock-headed devil and give Missus Bella ever' bit of news you got, so she could stop worryin' herself to death over you. I spect to send two messages on the way tomorrow—'stead of Bechand's letter to your mother. I don't have your notes in hand in the morning, I send his. Got it?"
Hawley grasped the lapel of Toad's coat, as though he might throw a punch, but he just shoved Toad's shoulder into the wall.
"Don't much care, neither, whether Seventh Sea hires you on, no matter who's yer mother. And you better know for certain: Missus Bella gives over the hirin' to me, and she en't gonna care if I hire you or not, 'less you show yourself worth the money. She told me so herself."
With a gulp, Toad held out his hand to Captain Hawley. "I'll do better, Sir. I promise. And I'll write to my parents today."
With a disdainful glance at Toad's outstretched hand, he said, "Name of God, you will, boy, and I'll shake your hand when you get to be worth a damn. Until then, stubble yer whist and show me and Missus Bella what yer made of. Blakeley!" the captain yelled. "Bring me my coat, man!"
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...