Even within the closed carriage, the mob was a palpable presence, their catcalls and laughter penetrating where their bodies were denied. Haverford and his ladies had entered the house by an internal door from the house, and the carriage inside the coach house, invisible to the scoundrels who hid in trees or tall buildings watching Haverford House for any movement. And four identical carriages had left in quick succession from the mews, to fan out in different directions across London, each surrounded by footmen, grooms, and hired guards.
The diversion should at least reduce the nuisance at the railway station, where the Duchess of Winshire was waiting in the private Winderfield railway carriage to take Sally to Wind's Gate.
Haverford eyed his daughter cautiously. She sat rigid, the lift of her chin and the flare of her nostrils the only sign that she heard "The Tart and the Toad," the most popular of the raucous ditties about her supposed peccadillos, started in a loud baritone and taken up by a dozen voices before ending in yells and insults. And blows, undoubtedly, from the batons of the grooms.
She was leaving with reluctance, after what Cherry called, with wry amusement, 'an exchange of firm opinions, Haverford style.' Both he and Sally had lost their tempers, but the blows from her side cut hard because each was true.
Perhaps she exaggerated a little when she said he could blame himself and his own behaviour for the rabid response of the ton to her fall from grace. But beyond a doubt, every poor decision he had made since his first scandal when he was fourteen had come out for an airing, as well as the rumours that nearly destroyed Cherry before their marriage, the claims of adultery and murder that marred the Wellbridges' courtship, and innocent incidents from Sally and Abersham's youth twisted into something dark and evil.
"You will be protected at Winds' Gate," he assured her, and himself.
It was an ancient fortress, and the Winderfields would guard her well. Keep her company, too, while she fretted about Abersham's continued absence.
The dratted boy was on the top of her mind, of course. "And you will send for me, or send David to me, as soon as he arrives." That was the promise she had demanded before she would agree to leave London, where she was trapped in her own home. And not safe there. Five times, intruders had invaded the house: curiosity seekers looking for souvenirs, and a couple of news hounds hoping for some gem to help sell their papers. One had penetrated as far as Sally's private suite, where Wakefield cousins and guards caught him and beat him before throwing him back into the street.
"I have promised, Sally. As soon as he has made satisfactory answer to your Uncle Wakefield's questions." And that was his condition. If Abersham could convince Haverford's clever brother he was not a rabid beast, then Sally would have her heart's desire. Haverford no longer trusted his own judgement and was tired of standing against his entire family.
Cherry nodded, relaxing her own rigidity a little as the carriage outstripped the crowd. "And we will send on any message from him, my dearest."
Both women glared at him, daring him to comment. He said nothing.
"I don't understand why he hasn't come. Or at least sent another messenger."
Sally's unshakeable confidence in Wellbridge's absent heir had been dented by the continued silence, though she insisted Abersham would have a good reason for the delay.
Since the argument in Margate, Haverford had carefully avoided the topic of the rejected proposal. Cherry, though, had told Bella, and now Bella and Nick were cool with him, too.
He had been right about avoiding London, though. Each excursion out in public had been an ordeal, though Sally was as physically safe as they could make her. She went nowhere without several cousins, watchful servants, and guards supplied by the Wakefield enquiry agency.
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...