With her nose a few inches from the window of the Haverford private carriage, Sally watched the countryside. The familiar route between Bath and Bristol looked very different from the train. Papa was an eager supporter of the railways, and their family had been among the first passengers when the line from London was completed last year, using it to speed the trip to the Wellbridges' country estate outside of Bristol.
Before that, though, the Haverford carriages had made the trip at least once a year so that the two families could relax together at Wellstone. Wellstone, where she and Toad had once been young and innocent and she had believed their future was together.
Which she would still have, and this maudlin mood was silly. Toad wrote several times a week and Papa appeared to be softening. And Sally had friends and family to keep her company while she waited.
Her sense that her friends were abandoning her was just ridiculous. She was not losing Henry and Emma. She was happy for them. Really she was.
Henry, who had finally accepted Elf's repeated proposal, insisted on waiting for her wedding until after Christmas, after a full year of mourning, but Sally and Henry were on their way to Chipping Niddwick in Gloucestershire, to be bridal attendants for Emma.
Peter Tarrington had asked for Emma's hand on his visit to Winds' Gate, and she had agreed to a short betrothal, just long enough for her chosen attendants to be able to wear the mauves and purples of half-mourning. Sally and Henry had travelled down from Winds' Gate to London, and stopped for a few days in London to be fitted for their gowns.
London had been a shock. After all this time in Winds' Gate, Sally remembered the entertainments of Town, and not the grime, the crowding, the fog, and the constant reminders of poverty beyond anything she could imagine.
In the country, at least near the estates she knew, hardship among the poor was the concern of the ladies of the area, to be addressed in person with food baskets, cast off clothing, useful work, and whatever other measures seemed necessary.
The poor of London were too numerous and too dangerous for such a direct approach. Sally had known from the nursery that she must never leave Haverford House without an escort, never go down certain streets or into certain areas, never carry more than a few coins in her purse, never give money to a beggar or stop to speak to any of the countless street brats who swept crossings, ran errands, and sold small items like matches.
She had pushed those boundaries sometimes, and been frightened back behind them by the anger and loathing that flamed in the eyes of the poor, no matter how they hid behind obsequious fawning.
Yesterday's encounter still haunted her. She had stopped on her way to the carriage to buy flowers from a skinny girl outside the modiste, and was turning away with her small bunch of violets when a memory surfaced.
"Beckett?" She was the personal maid of one of the other Beauties of Sally's first Season. Sally had often encountered her in attendance on her mistress, and had even borrowed her services from time to time. She was a wizard with hair and Sally's had a tendency to slip during more vigorous dances.
They had even spoken about their shared preference for country living during one of those hairstyle repair sessions, at a house party with Lady Maud. That had been before Christmas and Lady Maud had a different maid by the time of her wedding in March. Sally had never wondered why.
Beckett was considerably thinner, no longer in a neat uniform but in layers of clothing mended until they were a network of patches and darns. And the wary eyes were new, too. Those, and the little child sleeping in the shawl tied to the former maid's back.
"Keep walking, my lady," Beckett begged, her glance darting to Sally's hovering footman and then to the carriage where Henry and Antonia stood waiting.
Sally fumbled in the pocket she kept tied to her waist under her gown. "Here." She pressed a coin into Beckett's hand. "For you and the baby." No need to ask whether she had been dismissed or was managing. Clearly she hungry, and frightened, too, looking all around as if danger was about to pounce.
"Thank you, my lady." She bobbed a curtsey as she slid the coin into her waistband, her eyes continuing to scan the area.
"Does the baby's father not have work?" Sally persisted. Perhaps Papa could find a place for a married groom or footman or gardener.
The ex-maid's fear was subsumed for a moment in resentment. "Not he, my lady. Your sort don't work."
Ah. She had been seduced by a gentleman, then. Or raped. Sally's mother and grandmother refused to follow the usual practice of blaming and dismissing such a maid, pointing out that girls in service were particularly powerless a maid when a man of Sally's class decided to make one the object of his desires.
"Please keep walking, my lady," Beckett begged. "If people think you've given me anything worth having, they'll take it off me."
"Then come with me." Sally's mind was racing, deciding the details. "You cannot wish to bring your little cherub up here in London, and you could both start a new life in one of the villages my family supports." She would buy a train ticket and write a letter, and within the hour Beckett could be far from these ugly streets.
It took three hours and most of Sally's remaining pin money, but the hardest part was persuading Jane Beckett that her luck had changed. When Sally waved her off at the railway station in the late afternoon, hope was in the ascendant.
This morning, they had left London themselves, escorted by Elf and chaperoned by Antonia for the journey to the wedding. Elf was currently elsewhere on the train, seeking information about their arrival time. And Antonia had gone to sleep over a book.
Henry's voice pulled Sally from her reverie. "A penny for your thoughts, Sally."
"I have been thinking about Jane Beckett," Sally admitted.
"That was a good thing you did. She will be safe at Sutton Howe. The Winshire women have always supported the refuge there, since your Mama's aunt began it. I shall, too, as Lady Sutton." Henry blushed as her voice lingered over the title she would hold once she was married.
Sally barely noticed. "I have been counting, Henry. The baby is three months old, and one year ago Lady Maud was with us at the Tarrington house party. The baby's father was almost certainly dancing attendance on us and the other ladies when he wasn't ruining an innocent maid."
The door at the end of the carriage opened, letting in Elf and a blast of noise and smoke before he closed and latched it behind him and joined the two girls. "We are twenty minutes from Keynsham." He bent to drop a kiss on Henry's hair. "We are no more than ten minutes behind time, the conductor says."
"The carriages should be waiting, and it is but an hour's trip to the Tarringtons." Sally went to wake Antonia, leaving the couple a moment of privacy.
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...