When Toad arrived at the Erzherzog embassy, he found Etcetera had travelled home to his mother's archduchy, but the steward offered him a room, which apparently, Etcetera had left as a standing order. Toad declined but used the goodwill his friend had left with his staff. The steward easily agreed to loan the curricle and team Jonny had left in the stables, as well as a footman, otherwise at loose ends with none of the royal family in residence, to act as Toad's valet while he was in London.
"His Highness's secretary, Mr. McLeod, has been ordered to seek you out upon your return, but I'm afraid he has gone to Bath to take the waters. A trifling liver complaint, you see. I shall leave word of your arrival to await his return."
Back in the closed carriage, Toad directed the coachman to drive through Mayfair, then the park. He had thinking to do and people to avoid, and both could be accomplished famously in a moving coach. He had to make his presence known eventually, if only to determine the best way to protect his sister from men like him. But he could manage a few hours to get used to being in London again without anyone shouting at him. And if he wished to both hide from his parents and gather information, he would have to carefully plan whom he saw when and where, and with whose butlers to leave a card.
Perhaps he should look up Stocke. Since he had been prepared to either marry Sally or step down for Toad's prior claim, he might be willing to speak first without beating Toad to a pulp for arriving too late. And Sutton and Longford had wives. Surely, if he turned up asking to speak to their countesses, they wouldn't intrude upon the drawing room with violence? If he could get any of them on his side, they might help effect an elopement, if it were needed.
He could press Piero into reconnaissance among the upper classes, but he would have to make at least a few introductions first. In a pinch, Piero's valet, or possibly Etcetera's footman, might be used to gather intelligence among London's servants. It would be much more convenient if Blakeley were still in London, but the manager at Delphinus had confirmed he'd left for Italy not a week earlier.
When he began making calls, some with a card and some without, Lord and Lady Sutton had left London for a few days; Longford had rusticated with his bride to his estate in Gloucestershire; Stocke was somewhere in Town but not expected at his residence until evening; and Toad couldn't remember the name of the man Sally's friend, Emma, had married. The new Duchess of Winshire was not at home, and the new duke was at Westminster, where Toad would not set foot until he had settled with his father. He passed Firthley's house, but if he dropped by unexpectedly, Aunt Charlotte would alert Toad's mother to his presence without delay.
He even considered visiting his cousin, Jewel, since she would give him the worst of everything, embellished and embroidered to high Heaven, but he doubted he could stomach Lord Athol, after everything Sally had written. And Jewel would immediately run to Aunt Charlotte, who would run to Toad's mother. That was why they had used Piero's name to make the appointment with Firthley; if Aunt Charlotte heard "Delphinus," she would start sniffing around to find Toad, so better he was far away.
He also still had shopping to do, to appease Piero's sisters' never-ending obsession with fashion, and to satisfy Piero's mother and Lena that he was paying enough attention to the appointments in the home where he would bring his bride. They in no way trusted Blakeley, or any man, to provide a comfortable house for Lord and Lady Harburn, and had given Toad a list of things he had to install before he brought Sally home.
He must meet with his banker and visit his tailor while he was in London. To start, he had to determine how much he could afford to pay on the note Arturo held for his new residence. And once he knew the extent of that damage to his funds, he had nothing presentable to wear to his sister's ball—indeed, while he would never say so to Blakeley, after two years living in a boarding-house and on a loading dock, he had very few acceptable suits of clothes left at all.
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...