The change in direction set the other two women atwitter, but Sally ignored them, making the most of the last minutes as the balloon sank back towards the city, Maddox and his assistant making constant adjustments to bring them safely down in an open space.
For most of the half hour of the flight, Sally had felt they were floating motionless while the rest of the world flowed around them, but suddenly they were rushing towards the ground at great speed, skimming over a warehouse roof and then some slum shacks and dropping rapidly towards a long courtyard in front of a temple that bordered the river in the port district.
"Hold tight," Maddox advised, and Sally grabbed the edge of the basket with both hands. With a jerk, they grounded, dragged a few yards, and came to a halt.
Maddox cast an experienced eye over his passengers and clearly concluded that they were well. "Good," he said. "We'll just let the balloon deflate. Stay by the balloon until our escort arrives, please."
They had no need of the warning, as crowds were already gathering to peer and comment. But only a few minutes passed until first the mounted body guard arrived, then a troop of East India Company soldiers escorting the carriage with Papa, and finally the cart for the balloon.
Papa wanted to leave straight away, but Sally, half her mind still up in the heavens, didn't want the afternoon to be over. "Please, can I wait and come back with Maddox and the cart, Papa?" she begged.
"I will make sure she is kept safe," Maddox promised, and Papa agreed, as long as Sally's bodyguard remained with her. "I imagine you will be some time," he said. "I will send back a mare for you to ride."
With the two English ladies gone, Sally was free to ask the questions that had been burning inside, as well as to assist with the deflation and packing of the balloon, and the next hour passed quickly until at last she was mounted on a pretty horse from the Governor-General's stables, following the cart through the streets of Calcutta on the way home.
An hour later, during which Toad poured another half a bottle of brandy into the plant behind his chair, and Fratini poured an equivalent amount down his throat, they supported each other ascending the stairs, and Fratini gave Toad the key to Chiara's bedchamber.
"I will be just outside the door and will open the door in ten minutes."
"As we agreed."
Toad opened the door as quietly as he could and slipped into the dark room. At a whisper, he said, "Chiara, it is Abersham. We have but ten minutes."
She sprung from her bed fully clothed, her cloak tied at the neck, and pulled a bag from beneath her bed while he quickly stripped off his shirt. When she stared briefly then looked away, he clicked his tongue. "I gave you my word, my lady." He unwound twenty feet of rope from his waist, secured over his undershirt, and two shorter lengths from the pocket of his tailcoat.
"Arturo says you aren't missish."
"I can do whatever is needed."
"Good. You must tie my hands to the bedpost and leave me here. Use the rope to go out the window, and Piero is waiting around the back of the castello to escort you to Arturo. They have horses and everything you need to get to Livorno. Arturo is at the first meeting place you used as children, before your sisters found it. Do you know where I mean? For Piero and I do not, in case your brother wishes to break our thumbs for information." She startled at that, but he grinned broadly as he handed her the short ropes. "The things one does for ladies."
He slid to a seat on the floor in his undershirt, his hands above his head, which she tied with a tight knot, loosely enough to keep from entirely cutting off his circulation. "Now, use my cravat as a gag, then go. As fast as you can."
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...