The music was loud in the Grand Duke's ballroom, but not loud enough to drown out the sound of Toad and arguing. "I do not wish to listen to you blather about peasants and guillotines this night, Arturo, when I am nursing a broken heart."
"You must listen to me, Abersham. If you were not so rock-headed, you would see we must—"
"No. And I will not say it again. I have paid you for the land, so it is mine now, and I will use it any way I please. I'll not join in your reckless plan to give the peasants free rein over us, and I'll not cede anything I paid so dear for. And I will pay your brother's note, too, now that I have access to my trust, if only to keep him from being subject to your dictates. At least one d'Alvieri need not be a traitor to his class."
"Says the duke's son who works as a sailor. I am only grateful we were not so foolish as to allow you to marry Lena. I should never have allowed you near my brother or this family."
"It is too late for regrets now, Arturo. Piero, let us go become drunk in some locale where I may mourn the loss of my betrothed in peace." Toad turned his back and walked across the ballroom toward the exit, not even deigning to look back.
Arturo growled at Piero as he turned to remove himself, "If you walk out of this room, you leave your d'Alvieri income at the door."
Piero followed Toad. Arturo tossed back what was left in his glass of champagne and stalked out in the other direction.
The rumours had reached Calicut before the Haverfords, though no-one they met was foolish enough to refer to them under the imperious eye of the duke and duchess. Sally pretended she did not notice whispering before she joined a group or after she passed, poorly-hidden disapproval on the faces of the English matrons and even some of their daughters, the occasional whistled or hummed snatch of one of those dreadful ditties, cut off when she looked to find the perpetrator.
The Governor General held a soiree in their honour — not a ball, which would have been inappropriate so soon after the terrible losses on the retreat from Afghanistan, but "an evening gathering, and perhaps some dancing for the young things. Lady Sarah will like that."
He personally presented some of his younger aides to her and her mother as suitable dance partners, so what could Sally do? Her apprehension eased as the young men behaved with perfect propriety, and before long she was enjoying herself, indulging the pleasure of movement and music, and questioning her partner of the moment about India whenever they stood out of a set.
The fourth dance was a waltz, which Sally had not intended to dance, but the Governor General in his next introduction said, "I believe your ladyship has an interest in astronomy, as does Lieutenant Trentham."
"However did he know that?" Sally wondered out loud as she allowed Trentham to escort her towards the dance floor. Her astronomical and mathematical studies — her hobby, as the ladies in her family insisted on calling them — were well-kept secrets, and the papers she had submitted to the Royal Academy of Science on her findings were all in the name of an anonymous S. Grenford.
An instant later, she guessed the answer to her question. "The navigator on the Arabella."
"Exactly," Trentham agreed. "Lieutenant Manderville has told half the English community what a charming lady you are, and how interested in the stars."
Sally caught the amused and condescending undertone. So Trentham was one of those 'don't bother your pretty head with thinking' men, was he? Never mind. It was only one dance.
He was good at dancing, too, though she had to put him in his place quite firmly when it came to maintaining the proper distance between them. A few sharp words established her boundaries, and after that she relaxed and allowed herself to be whirled around the floor.
Until all of a sudden, she was no longer in the ballroom. Trentham had spun her out of the open doors onto the terrace, and across the terrace so quickly that she was almost at the steps before she ripped herself from his arms.
"Lieutenant Trentham, you forget yourself!" she snapped.
He bowed, the smooth snake. "I meant no offence, Lady Sarah. I just thought you would wish to see..." he pointed upwards, and despite herself she followed the direction, catching her breath at the great sweep of stars flung like a lacy shawl across the sky.
"The Hindis call the Pleiades up there the Krittika, and that one? Betelgeuse? It is Andra, the storm god," Trentham continued, and Sally, who had been on the point of storming back into the ballroom, stopped to listen.
He named a few more, then said, "We'd get a better view from the lawn, away from the lights, my lady. Won't you come for a walk with me?" He offered his arm, but Sally took two steps backwards, towards the safety of the terrace doors.
"No. I will return to my mother now, Lieutenant Trentham. Thank you for the dance."
"Come on," he wheedled, "you know you want to." And he took a step closer and grabbed her by the arm.
"Take your hand off me," Sally said.
"Or what? You will scream? And bring all the old biddies out to see you alone in the dark with me?"
He had her left arm, fortunately, which left her right free to feel through the pocket sewn into all her skirt seams for the knife she wore strapped to her farthingale. "Or I will split you open like the pig you are," she said, pressing it to the man's groin.
It was satisfying to see the man leap back, but frightening when his face contorted into a furious mask as he dropped into a fighter's crouch.
"Bravo!" They had an audience, and he was clapping. "I was about to ride to the rescue, but the lady has rescued herself!"
The observer had been standing in the shadows of a lush bush beyond the terrace wall, but he now took the steps up from the lawn in a couple of long strides. He was in full evening dress, his crisp white tie and collar a stark contrast to his deeply tanned face — that part of it not covered by a neatly clipped beard.
How much had he overheard? How firmly was he on her side? And why did he look so familiar?
In the next moment, Sally knew him. "Lord Maddox! It is Lord Maddox, is it not?" She held out both her hands, and the newcomer took them, his head tipped to one side in question. Maddox was younger brother to Longford and Stocke, but had been travelling the world since before Sally's debut.
"Have we met?" he asked, and then his eyes widened and he grinned. "Of course we have. My little cousin Sally grown up into a fine lady. Whatever are you doing here in Calicut? Are you and Abersham on your wedding trip?"
Trentham snorted, and Sally glared at him before answering Maddox. "Harburn — he goes by his own title now, Maddox — Harburn and I are waiting until he has established his shipping business and I have helped my parents with their role in the Victoria and Albert Islands."
Maddox leaned forward to peer towards the terrace doors. "Your parents are here too? How famous. I daresay... But we have not yet put out the garbage." He raised an eyebrow, a trick most of the family seemed to have. "Trentham? That is your name? I advise you to make yourself scarce before I speak with my Cousin Haverford."
"Lady Sarah?" It was Sally's bodyguards, arriving late but determined to protect her. "Sir. Remove your hands from the lady or we will chop them off." Reassuring to know they would probably have arrived before Trentham could do any real harm.
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...