Chapter Fifty-Three: Part 1

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From the moment he and Piero stepped onto the dock in London, Toad was afraid he would accidentally come across his father, or someone would tell his mother he had returned, which was the last thing he wanted. He would rather act than react, thank you very much, and he would have reconciliation on his own terms. Besides, if any of the copious ducal whims had shifted against them for any reason, and Scotland were the best option for their union, he would take Sally away with no compunction. The fewer people knew he was in London, and the faster they acted, the easier that would be to arrange. 

Once they had stowed their bags at the lodgings in the Delphinus warehouse, designed for the use of ships' captains forced ashore, Toad and Piero hailed a hack to find a restaurant for supper. Toad casually asked the driver to take a route through Mayfair on the way to Simpson's Tavern, without making his intentions obvious to Piero, hoping to catch sight of Sally. But when they passed by Haverford House in the closed carriage, the door knocker was down, only a few lights flickering in the kitchens and the servants' quarters. 

"Where would they have gone?" he mused beneath his breath. When Piero raised a brow in question, Toad felt heat rise in his face, but he admitted, "The Haverfords. They do not appear to be in residence."

Piero didn't comment on the detour or try to cheer Toad, which might be the reason he was Toad's best mate. "Could they have taken Lady Sarah away for a rest after her ordeal?"

"They could. But Haverford never willingly leaves London while Parliament is seated. And Aunt Cherry uses the Season to solicit donations to her charities." Feeling the weight of a few years settle on his shoulders, he added, "Sally was so looking forward to the Season before I was taken to France; she talked all the time about the dancing and entertainments and the gentlemen whose hearts she would break. I flatter myself if I had been here, she'd have enjoyed every last hour of every party." Muttering quietly enough to be heard, he added, "I daresay she would not have been cut dead in public, damn Haverford, and she would not be subject to such nasty gossip."

"Can you not ask the Haverford servants?"

"No, no one at Haverford House will do or say or go along with anything not expressly sanctioned by the duke or duchess, and the ducal children are subject to the same oversight. It was much easier at my parents' house. Cook had a soft spot for Sally and would do anything she asked."

"Surely, one or two of her staff have a soft spot for you."

With a chuckle, Toad shook his head. "No soft spot outweighs the wishes of the duchess, particularly where Sally and Jonny are concerned." Toad opened the window to the driver and instructed him to drive by Dalrymple House in Grosvenor Square. 

"You will see your parents now? I thought you wished to wait."

He opened the window again, to amend: "Only drive by, mind. You needn't stop." Closing it, he explained, "If my parents are in Town, the Haverfords are probably not at Wellstone, unless all of their houses have suddenly become uninhabitable. That narrows their probable location to Haverford Castle or Wind's Gate, though they would always be welcome in Erzherzog, which is a more difficult journey."

Looking out the window, Toad's parents' house came into view, the front door wide open, the duke standing at the carriage block as the driver helped the duchess out. Toad withdrew his face and drew the shade. "There is the answer to that. The Wellbridges are in London."

"If we stop, they can tell you where your Sally is." 

"If we stop, I will be forced to speak to them without adequate preparation, which is certain to be disastrous. I wish to maintain the element of surprise and will choose the timing and location of any reconciliation. I will inform you of my intentions once I have decided upon them. And that is the last I will speak of it."

Piero knew better than to push, or Toad might wait even longer, just to be spiteful.
"Surely, the Haverfords do not need to flee the country," he posited. "Even if your Sally is utterly ruined at Court, she need not attend her queen, and she need not marry another when she knows you will come for her. I am surprised her father would abandon his duties to his monarch to attend Lady Sarah, rather than send her away with her mother, but such a thing is not unheard of. No, if they are not in London, then they will be at one of the country houses. At worst, they will have crossed the channel for a sojourn on the Continent. In the same situation, Arturo would clap Lena up in the nearest convent, but you English are heathens, so use manor houses for the purpose."

"Well, regardless, as yet, I do not know where she is," Toad said, suddenly weary when he had been enervated for days. "It has been a long journey. Let us feed ourselves and settle into our rooms. I can begin my search in the morning."

The next morning, Piero gathered all their workers to make report on the progress setting up the London operation, followed by an inspection of the warehouses, and sent the manager to make an appointment to see Firthley in the next few days. Meanwhile, Toad set the Delphinus London clerk to work for a few days in the sitting room in the company lodgings, so Toad would not have to make himself known to anyone who might know the Shipmaster of Seventh Sea, the only duchess in England known to all and sundry on the docks. But today, he would leave the clerk to organize what he thought Toad needed to see on the morrow; he had other business to attend.

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