David is coming.
The thought was a beacon in the darkness of fear, anger and humiliation that hemmed Sally in.
David is coming.
She repeated the shining sentence over and over, forming it into a thread and then a cord, stronger and stronger, words to lead her from the dark labyrinth of her own thoughts.
Her maid and her family moved her from place to place. Into and out of rooms, carriages, trains. They dressed her, the familiar process of moving a limb or lifting a chin something she could manage without hearing what they said, without meeting their eyes. They put food in front of her, and she nibbled a little. They took away what was left and moved her again.
At night, she was never alone. When she woke crying and shaking, a candle always burned; her mother was always there. Or the maid, who would call her mother. And the words waited, battering back the monstrous nightmare thoughts that waited on the other side of sleep.
David is coming.
It had all been her fault. That was what people said. That was what people always said about a woman compromised, a woman assaulted. No one said it to her face, but she did not want to look into the eyes of those she loved best, for fear of seeing disappointment and contempt.
But David was coming, and he would take her far away from England to a place where no one stared or whispered as she was led, surrounded by the Haverford retinue, through yet another station or inn.
That was her hope and her salvation, until the morning she woke in her own bed at Haverford Castle, and realised she was in the wrong place.
David would be coming to London, and she was far to the east, in Kent.
The sun streamed in the window. Sally needed to get dressed, find her father, insist on returning to London. She grabbed a gown from the first hook in the dressing room, and bundled corset, stockings, and petticoat under her arm. What else would she need?
As she re-entered the bedroom, the maid, who had been sleeping in a chair by the bed, sat up yawning. "My lady?"
"Quick, help me dress. I need to speak with His Grace."
Thirty minutes later, she paused in the door to the breakfast room, where her parents were still sitting, though their plates had been pushed to one side. They were holding hands, not speaking. Had they grown older in this past dreadful week? Or had she not noticed how white Papa's hair was becoming, the lines on Mama's face?
Some movement of hers must have caught Papa's eye, for he looked up, and with a quiet word to Mama stood to greet her. "Sarah, darling. Come and have some breakfast."
Sally looked down at the floor as she crossed it, unable to bear his soft voice, as if she would shatter at a word. She stiffened her spine; her own precious words made her strong. David is coming.
She bent to kiss Mama's cheek and sat between the two of them. "How are you this morning, Sally?" Mama asked.
"Better, thank you. Mama, we need to go back to London."
"We thought to stay in Margate for several weeks, Sally," Papa said, still in that 'humour-the-invalid' voice.
"I have to be in London," Sally insisted. "Mama, please make Papa understand."
She had been gone for more than two weeks, between the time at the wedding and the time since. David would not give up on her, would he? But he would not know where to look. No. That was stupid. The whole of London was no doubt talking about her, and any urchin on the street would know she was in Margate.
But she could not risk missing him.
"I have to be in London," she repeated.
"We thought it best to let the fuss die down a little," Mama said. "People are being very..." Mama paused for a word and Papa completed her sentence, "...ignorant, foul-minded, and cruel. Best have nothing to do with them, Sally. Here at the castle, you can relax and forget about your ordeal, and by next Season they'll have some other scandal to amuse them."
She would need to explain. "They do not matter, Papa. I will not be here next Season. David is coming."
"As to that, I suppose your Mama has told you his father has called him home. Sally, I am still not easy in my mind. I want you to be happy. I am just not convinced Harburn is the man to whom I can give you with a clear conscience."
Sally waved off the irrelevancy. She was marrying David with or without Papa's blessing.
"No, you do not understand. David could be in London even now. I expected him weeks ago. I need to go to London, Papa, so that I am there where he thinks to find me."
Mama was still using her careful voice. "Expected him, Sally? He has sent you a message?"
"Yes." Sally unbuttoned her neckline so that she could reach inside her corset for the note she wore like a talisman close to her heart. "Here. This is the letter I received at Winds' Gate, just after Christmas."
Papa's eyebrows drew together, and he opened his mouth, but shut it again at a gesture from Mama, and instead rounded the table to read over her shoulder.
Sally bit her upper lip. She had not intended to show them, but they had to be made to see how important it was for her to go back to London.
"What is this about pictures? His more carnal assets? Sally, what is that depraved jackanapes talking about?" Papa's volume increased word by word, and Mama gave him a nudge.
"More quietly if you please, Haverford, and to the point. Sally, he says he was coming just after his graduation, but that was weeks ago. Have you had further messages? I don't think Winshire's grandson was at his cousin's wedding, was he?"
"No, Mama. Bey didn't come. I suppose David needed to go somewhere else first, but he will be here soon, and I must be in London waiting for him. See?" She pointed to the places in the text. "My heart is yours. Be waiting for me. Yours is the first face I wish to see. He is coming for me, Mama, and I have had my bag packed since I returned from Winds' Gate after receiving the letter."
"Your bag packed?" Papa had gone that shade of white that heralded one of his rare bursts of temper. "You have your bag packed? Knowing how I feel about Harburn, what I am trying to save you from, you would still elope? Abandon your family and all sense? Sarah, I forbid it! I should have killed the boy when he asked for your hand in Paris. I would have, had I known he already planned to elope with you! He admits to wickedness in the very letter in which he tries to seduce you from your family. And where does he mention marriage?"
Sally, reeling from the revelation that David had made a formal proposal to Papa, caught fire at that, though her voice was cold, and considerably quieter than Papa's. "In Paris, apparently, Papa. To you. And what answer did you give him?"
"Once I heard about his 'wickedness'? I told him no, of course."
"No. You sent him away. I wonder..." she turned to her Mama, reaching blindly with eyes that swam. "Mama, David asked for my hand and Papa said no. He has gone in search of a way to keep a wife. Of course he has. We could have been wed by now, and I would not be..."
She ripped her hands from Mama's and turned on her father.
"You did not ask me. You did not even tell me, Papa. I have been waiting and waiting, and you sent him away. I could kill you for that," she hissed, her teeth bared, feeling as though she'd like to tear out his jugular with her canines. "I am returning to London. You can take me, let me go in a carriage, or lock me in, in which case I will find a way out and go on my own. Walk if I have to." She relieved her feelings in a roar of anger.
Papa turned to Mama, his anger replaced by concern. "Her trials have turned her mind, Cherry."
"Nonsense," Mama replied. "She is just very angry, Anthony, and I entirely agree with her; she has every right to be furious with you. And so do I, when it comes to that. Sally, leave us now, will you? We will discuss this more later."
Whatever Mama said, Papa did not again mention the pictures, or the proposal, and two days later, he consented to their return to London.
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...