"Do you require medical care?" Penchley asked.
Blakeley stretched, cautiously. "I do not think anything is broken. Thank you for asking, Mr Penchley. What I need is a way to get a message to Lady Sarah Grenford. I promised my master I would put it into her hands, but it would seem that is impossible. Sir, you once before did a great service for the Marquess of Abersham. I know he was grateful, is grateful. But if you can help him by delivering a letter to his betrothed, I know his gratitude will know no bounds."
So, it was to be an abduction! Penchley almost reached for the soggy object Blakeley was pulling from his torn pocket. But it would not do to appear too eager.
"I would not wish any further harm to come to the lady," he warned.
"I assure you, Mr Penchley, my lord means nothing but good to Lady Sarah. He will be beside himself when he hears what has happened. When I left him, he was travelling to Italy to prepare a place to bring her as his bride. I am sure it is all in the letter, and that it will bring comfort to her in this time of trial. Will you not help me, Mr Penchley? Help them?"
Penchley allowed himself to appear persuaded and watched Blakeley limp away up the alley before knocking on the door. He resisted examining the letter until he was safe in the duke's study; for once, glad to find His Grace away from the house. The paper had been damaged in the scuffle and soaked in the puddle, and he had to unfold it carefully. The ink had run, but enough remained that the message was clear.
Abersham was not coming back. He had abandoned poor Lady Sarah.
Should Penchley show the letter to the duke? Perhaps not. Had it been an elopement plan, he would have no choice, and would have done his duty. But this would merely hurt the lady to no purpose, and would distract the duke from Penchley's real news.
Lord Bortham had taken a turn for the worse, and was not expected to survive the week. And the governor's ship was due to set sail within days.
"Damn it, d'Alvieri! They said the new ship would be here five days ago! When I return to Livorno, I will be dismissing at least a half a dozen men from our service."
"You will not," Piero said. "Two at most, and only after we hear their side of things."
They had been stuck ashore for more than a fortnight, after a gale blew them off course and into the shoals in a lagoon, and they had to limp the frigate to the nearest port, Porto de Aveiro in Portugal. There were no ships headed in the direction of England, no ships in port owned by Seventh Sea, Kopet Dag, or Delphinus, and their messages might as well have been sent on the north wind, for all the help they'd gotten.
They were living in relative comfort, waiting for what seemed an increasingly unlikely rescue, while the frigate was undergoing repairs. But Toad had spent nearly every minute of their confinement trying to pace a hole in the floor of the room they'd let.
"It can hardly be held against you that we were delayed by a gale. Your mother is a sailor; she will remind Haverford that travel is treacherous."
"I did not even send a letter, Piero. I assumed a letter could get there no more quickly than I. They do not even know I am coming."
"You are overwrought. Calm yourself. They will wait for you. Your Sally knows you will come for her, does she not?"
"But what if she does not? What if she has doubts? Haverford will stoke her misgivings, if she has them, just for spite. I cannot lose her to one of her bloody cousins out of naught but unnecessary delay."
Piero sat up from his semi-reclined position on the armchair. "You are not losing your Sally. We have been held up by circumstances beyond our control."
"Haverford will not give a whit for my circumstances. If Sally is suffering, he will do anything he thinks he must to alleviate it, even act against her wishes or against her interest, once he unleashes the ducal temper."
"We will be in England in a matter of days, and London the day after that, where your Sally will be waiting to become your wife."
"Pray, forgive me if I doubt your certainty. I do not wish to entertain false hope."
"Better false hope, than no hope at all. Come. Let us take a walk into town and find our dinner in the market. You look like a caged cat."
Piero threw Toad's jacket at his head, so he caught it and pulled it on, grumbling, but not about anything in particular, letting himself be led to his next meal. On the way to the market, however, they found themselves boxed in among the crowd, following behind two Englishmen who hadn't seen Toad before he heard their topic of conversation.
Piero paled and shoved Toad behind him, stepping between him and the men trading opinions about when Lady Sarah Grenford would join the ranks of the demimonde. When one of the men opined, "She might not be forced to it at all, if a husband can be bought with her dowry. I heard Gills offered for her, but one can hardly take that as truth. And even if he did, we know how she ensnared him, do we not?"
"It would be just like Gills to find himself trapped by a lightskirt and come out of it with a fortune." Both men laughed and Piero shoved Toad sideways through the crowd to the edge of the market before he did murder on foreign soil before witnesses.
"I cannot stay here, Piero. If the rumours have come so far afield, I must get to England right now."
"You cannot get to England right now. You will be there as soon as it is humanly possible."
Slamming his hand against a wall, Toad nodded his agreement, but said, "I am not hungry. I will return to the inn."
"I will return with you, to ensure you do not turn around and follow our English gentlemen to their deaths."
"Do whatever you'd like. I shall be cursing the Dukes of Haverford and Wellbridge in my room."
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...