In the two weeks following her father's abdication, Sally refused Lord Richard Wentworth, a younger son with a kindly disposition and a thriving estate inherited from his mother, and Sir Peregrine Bexley, a baronet from Devon who kept apologising for his presumption, but who claimed to be in thrall to her lovely eyes.
Both had applied to her father first and been sent on to her.
When word got out that the Duke of Haverford was referring all of those who aspired to wed Lady Sarah Grenford to the lady herself, Sally was deluged.
The following week, she refused eight proposals, three of them eligible and five her father would have rejected out of hand. Sir Mark Lethbridge had inherited a heavily mortgaged estate and continued the ruinous path his father had begun. He needed to marry an heiress or flee the country. Bampstead was a drunkard, Viscount Kertidge was forty years her senior and had buried three wives, and Lord Richard Wyeth was a bully. If she had planned to consider any of them, she might have given a second thought to the Earl of Seddon, until Elf told her he had three children by his mistress, and if she could have overlooked that, she could not ignore that he had no intention of giving them up when he started a legitimate family.
Any of the other three would have made her an appropriate husband, but none set her heart singing. She refused them all.
She sent an angry letter to Toad through Grandmama Winshire's kind offices.
I am so angry with Papa that I just have to tell somebody, or I shall scream. He has started sending my suitors to me to refuse. It is so unfair. He knows perfectly well it is all his fault I am not betrothed to you and, therefore, safe from their pestering.
How can he be so cruel, he and Uncle Wellbridge? I have asked more times than I can tell you 'when will you allow David to come home'. But they will not answer me. They tell me to set my mind on another man, and I will not, David. I will not.
They are wrong; I know they are. Whatever it is they think you have done, it cannot justify keeping you away from home and from all those who love you and miss you, especially the closest friend of your childhood, who thinks of you often.
Elf says the truth will out, and I must be patient. I told him I am not patient, and I never have been, as you well know, dear friend, and he just laughed at me. Can you imagine? I have had my fill of the male species, my dear David, and anxiously await your return.
With my promise to be more cheerful in my next,
Your grumpy Sally
Even then, afraid Grandmama might read the letter and even more afraid Toad might laugh, she did not do what she most wanted. She did not beg him to defy their parents and come fetch her away.
Early the following week, she and Emma were chief attendants at the wedding of another of the Beauties, to a younger son who had shocked the older generation by training and working as an architect, instead of dicing and drinking in idleness until his brother's wife produced a son to replace him as heir. A good architect, too, Papa said, and promptly gave him a commission for a row of townhouses Papa was building as part of London's rapid expansion.
Elf retired to his parent's country estate in Oxfordshire, and Sally had ten more proposals in the next six days. One fool even began his speech with, "Now that you have been disappointed in your expectations of Lord Elfingham..."
By the end of the week, Sally had had more than enough. Papa would have to do something. If she had to reject one more suitor, she would run mad. She would sneak down to the wharves and stow away on a ship and run away to find Toad.
But when she stormed into his study to tell him so, what she saw stopped her in her tracks; her Papa on his knees before her mother, his head on her breast and her arms around him. Sally stopped in the doorway, and neither parent noticed her.
"He has been more of a father to me for nearly thirty years than my own ever was, Cherry. I cannot believe it." Papa sounded as if he had been crying. Crying! Papa!
"And to me, my love." Tears were streaming down Mama's face. "From the time he arrived in England. How angry we were, that the family black sheep was going to be duke, and how kind he was to us all."
At Sally's words, her parents turned, and she could see the effort they made to control themselves.
"Sally." Mama held out a hand, and Sally crossed to take it. "Sally, my darling. Grandpapa Winshire is dying. Your Grandmama has sent for us."
I cannot know if you have received the letter I sent six days ago with our sad news, so I will start by saying it again, though just writing the words makes me want to weep again. Grandpapa Winshire is dead, David. I cannot believe it, though I was allowed to see him in his final hours, to follow his coffin to the church, to spend these past days with my poor Grandmama, who has aged ten years and sits, bewildered, staring into nothing.
He had a massive seizure, they say. A servant heard something falling in his office, and found him on the floor by his desk, unconscious. He never regained consciousness, but died several days later, with Grandmama holding his hand and all his family around him.
Cousin James and Cousin Sophia have picked up the reins of the dukedom and I must now remember that Elf is no longer Viscount Elfingham but the Earl of Sutton.
I am staying at Winshire Palace with Grandmama. All the women she has taken as daughters in her long and busy life would be with her—-daughters-in-law, goddaughters, stepdaughters, foster daughters, and many more. But she clings to me, and I won't leave her.
It comforts her to talk to me about dear Grandpapa, and I have heard many, many stories this past week. I admire him more every day. Oh David, how I hope for what they have had! Though their marriage was long delayed, thanks to the interference of their meddlesome parents, they came together at last and completed one another.
But I must think of Grandmama and not of myself. Yesterday, she told me that last time he left her, she could not follow, but this time, he would wait for her beyond the gates of Heaven and they would soon be reunited. We fear, Papa and I, that she will simply fade away, so she can once again be with her beloved. Are we wrong to want to keep her with us?
I must go. She has woken and is calling for me.
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...