"Are you suggesting... Is my mother suggesting I should—"
"Need to supply your own crew, mind," Hawley interrupted. "Missus Bella and me e'nt gon' give you sailors we paid to train."
Ah. Hawley had not been given leave to encourage Toad's schemes, only to abet them.
The serving girl returned then and set down the glass and plate, enduring Hawley's wandering hands with calculated giggling grace, looking over her shoulder at him on the way out. Hawley took up his fork and began eating as continued to outline Toad's mother's instructions.
"How much for the ship?"
"Missus Bella will take a note, my lord. And I been meaning to 'vest a bit with your new company. 'Spect it ought to be near enough the same. And she said to tell you she will make Toadstone Hall ready for you, and tell the queen it is near time to call you to take Harburn's seat in the House of Lords."
"She is suggesting I return to England?"
"She is suggesting it en't up to the duke where you live, Harburn, nor her neither. You're a man grown, and more than one person to speak for or against you." Toad sat back and put down his pen, studiously looking away from Hawley's disgusting table manners. "She en't going to do nuffink to tear your father down or defy him in public; the duke don't deserve that from the woman he loves. But she en't going to let Wellbridge's pride get in your way. Or Haverford's neither. E'en after you made your father cut you off, she's givin' you what choices that are in her power. 'Partment in Paris, ship made for royalty, estate aired and ready for you. Take 'em, your blessed Lordship."
"I—I shall. Will you... will you send her my thanks?"
"You got ships. Send your own thanks with your own sailors." Putting down the fork, having inhaled everything but the fruit, Hawley stood, cleared his throat, and ended with, "You'll do fine, Harburn. I en't goin' ter bet against you, and nor is Missus Bella. But en't either of us bettin' 'gainst the duke, neither. Thing is, Harburn... you got time on your side, and he e'nt."
"Do you, Your Lordship?" With that, Hawley tipped his hat, gave a short bow, and left.
Should you find some other man can make you happy
I beg you accept his suit.
"One moment, Blakeley."
With fond memories of our younger years
Cordially, by god?! Cordially? He scratched out Cordially.
"I thought you were off making arrangements, Blakeley."
"I am... er... I was. I came upon Captain Hawley, and he suggested you would be changing ships, and the d'Alvieris with you?"
"That was fast. I haven't even had time to order it yet. Yes, if you would be so kind as to enlist Arturo's man to help, all three of us will board the family frigate."
"The family... I'm afraid I do not understand, my lord."
"My family frigate. Now owned by the Managing Agent of Delphinus Shipping and available, at the convenience of the d'Alvieris, for transport to Italy, and shortly thereafter, to England."
"England, my lord?" Blakeley's blank look was, for once, not feigned. "Did your father not say--"
"I will be of age in a matter of weeks, Blakeley, and will have a vote in The Lords. I have been neglecting my duties purely because the duke demanded it. He can make my life miserable, I have no doubt, but he cannot close the border to me, nor dictate my course as a peer of the realm."
"No, Sir, but will you not—"
"Also, along with the frigate, I seem to have acquired an estate outside Florence."
Blakeley stared in a way that suggested Toad had loosened the moorings of his faculties, and his lack of speech seemed to confirm that thesis.
"This triples the total of my residences outside England in the last hour, and I have dismissed everyone I had in my employ. I find myself desperately in need of a steward. I hope you will agree to continue in my service after your sojourn to England."
"My lord, I..."
"I will pay for your trip, of course, as you are handling my private affairs, and your new wages would obviously take into account the expanded nature of your duties."
"Lord Harburn, I would be honoured to remain in your service."
"Excellent." Toad folded the letter and sealed it. "We shall finish the arrangements before we all leave in the morning."
Toad folded the letter, touching it to his forehead with a silent prayer that Sally remember the old code and know how to interpret it. If she had forgotten it, or mistook his meaning even slightly, Toad will have ruined every chance he would ever have with her. How he could even write such drivel made him sick to his stomach.
Marry an Italian princess, indeed!
Every Italian woman he had ever known would emasculate him for marrying anyone but Sally. Maddalena would unman him with the sword Toad had taught her to use, and the dowager d'Alvieri would curse him with the evil eye if he did not marry Sal. The Lady Sarah's true love was, after all, in her mind, the only thing standing between Toad and one of Piero's younger sisters.
"I will yet purchase that stateroom to England for you, however, as I still need you to hightail it to London posthaste, and Wingatt or Margate or Wellstone if needed, to personally deliver this letter into Lady Sarah's hand at your earliest opportunity. Without allowing any dukes or duchesses know of its existence."
"I understand, my lord. I will see to it as soon as I can find an opportunity to speak to Lady Sarah privately."
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...