Margaret could feel the noon sun streaming in on her arms as the black cover was lifted from her head. ‘Who are you?” She asked with annoyance.
“You can call me Reg, m’lady. I hope you have not been too uncomfortable. Our instructions have been to see you are well taken care of but removed from the realm.”
“Removed from the realm! Do you not think someone will notice that I am missing?” Margaret said, her ire rising.
“M’lady, we know who will be looking for you. That is why you are being taken to France. My Lady wishes it.”
“Yes, My Lady. She is of great wealth and land holdings. She fancies the same man that you do, so she is seeing that you are not accessible to him, so he will turn to her.”
“Oh, is that all? London people of high society just do away with their perceived competition, is that it?”
“My Lady does,” stated Reg, off-handedly. He had a lot of money in his pocket right now and was feeling cocky. As soon as he delivered his parcel to the proper address in Paris, he and Goose would have to disappear for a year with another fifty pounds in coin. That was enough to see them through life, he thought. He just had to get her there unharmed.
“What will your Lady do with me in France?”
“I would imagine she will release you once she is married to the Baron. She wants you unharmed which you should be thankful for. So, if you do not try to escape we will keep you safe, but if force is required, we have that permission, too.”
“Who is this Baron?” Margaret asked, feeling certain there had been a mistake made.
Reg continued to look out the coach window as if she had not spoken.
“There is has been some dreadful mistake, here. I know no Baron at all.”
Reg just smiled, not willing to play her little game. He had his orders, and that was all he needed.
“Where’s your friend, Goose?” Margaret challenged, hoping to get him talking again.
“Miss, do not worry about anything except yourself. It will take another day or better to reach the port for crossing.” Belfour offered.
“What about clothing and personal items that a woman needs?”
“My Lady has seen to all of that and there is baggage on the back of the coach for you. I might as well give you some instructions. Unless you want to sleep on the ground, we will stop here and there, at a tavern, preferably, to eat and sleep. You will not have your own room, but we will make it as private as we can. You will be accompanied when you need to . . . ah, well . . . refresh yourself. Should you try to holler out or escape, you will be tied to the inside of the coach for the duration of the trip – no matter what you need to do. I hope that is clear. As for the Baron coming after you it will be days before he has any directions in mind if he has any at all.”
Margaret sat there resigning herself for now. With a saddened heart, she realized that John’s note to her was in her bag still on the train. She wondered who this Baron was and who was his young lady who was sitting somewhere safe and comfortable. “What are John and Kindle thinking of, right now,” she asked herself. They both would be worried. “Poor Edith and Aunt Shaw; they must be sick from fear by now.” Being near Milton, she felt there may have been a chance of rescue but all was grim now. Still . . . she had the hope that John could see her or hear her. She would not give up on hope; it was all she could cling to from this horrible mistake. When the night fell, she would tell him that she was headed for France and more if she happened to know where they would stop for the night. She assumed Goose was the coach driver.
“Look Reg, if you want me to be manageable, you will have to make some concessions. I want my wrists to be unbound. In addition, when we stop I want you to find a book for me to read, or I promise you, I will go mad on you. You will most likely have to harm me and how will that sit with your Lady?”
“We will see,” Reg said. “We are going to be stopping for a bit to eat soon. I will see how you act and then make a decision whether to leave you unbound. In traveling the back way, were you to escape from the carriage, you will certainly be killed by wolves. There could be men wandering about, too. Somehow, out here, I doubt they would think you were a damsel that needed rescuing. They would have other thoughts and want to keep you. I want you to clearly see all of your options. Know that we are your safest choice.”
Margaret thought if there was any positive aspect to all of this it was the fact that they were not interested in her as a woman. Well . . . at least they were not going to act on it if they were. She sat and gave this whole incident a lot of thought. She did feel her best path was to settle in and do what she was told until some opening availed itself. She would cull them into thinking she was a weak, silly woman who would do what she was told.
John was nearing Milton. He had spent most of his time trying to dispose himself to Margaret. He had made plans for her search and rescue while traveling on his long train journey. He was disheartened when he caught a glimpse of her being pushed into a carriage while wearing something black over her head. He was almost sure she was being driven away from Milton. He would gather with Higgins and Branson and talk this over. Also, he would send a note to the Baron letting him know what he thought was going on once he sensed a direction. He knew the Baron would eventually amass an army if he had to and there was no sense marching them northwest to Milton if she was not close.
The door opened to Gilbert, and he reached in and kissed Eve before she had a chance to welcome him. “You surprised me by answering the door yourself, Eve.”
“I cannot lie. I heard a horse, and looked out the window and saw it was you. This is such a delight, please come in.”
“I wish I could sweep you into my arms and tell you all the ways that I want to love you, but this is a sad occasion that brings me here. It is your friend, Margaret. She’s disappeared and feared kidnapped.”
Gilbert caught Eve as she almost slid to the floor. Their butler arrived and took Eve’s other side while Gilbert guided them into the parlor and gently sat her on the settee. He sat beside her, rubbing her hands. “Eve, I am sorry. I know this is a terrible shock for all of us. Kindle is not himself, either. We have known about this since late yesterday afternoon.” Gilbert went on to tell her about Mr. Thornton and his gift plus all the plans that seemed to be birthing.
“Eve, I am here to ask if Margaret has ever mentioned anything unfavorable about anyone. Could she have spoken of anyone who would want to do her harm?”
“Oh Gilbert, you must find her. I have only known her very well for a short time, but she has never mentioned anyone such as you ask. As in any social circle, there were young men seeking her favors that she was not disposed to but not to any extent that something like this could happen.”
Eve leaned over to Gilbert and cried on his shoulder. He wrapped his arms around her and laid his head atop hers, not caring of the propriety of the scene.
“We will find her. We do have ideas of our own but wanted to eliminate anything you might know.”
Eve rose up, dabbing her eyes with the lace hanky.” What ideas?”
“I’d rather not say just yet. Should we be wrong, we would seriously ruin a reputation. Just know that we are taking some action, and Mr. Thornton is going to let us know if he has any more visions.”
“She’s never spoken of this Mr. Thornton to me. Either she’s just met him, or he may be in this kidnapping.”
“We gave that a lot of thought, Kindle and I, but we feel certain that he is as much in love with her as is my cousin. Strange, I know. Moreover, this Mr. Thornton did say they were new acquaintances. He admits knowing her for two days and declaring himself to her. Apparently, she has been in his visions for several months – and he lives all the way up in Milton of all places.
“That is an interesting, yet disturbing story. I wish I could have talked to Margaret about him. How did Kindle take that news on top of all the other?”
“He’s confused. It is dwelling deep within himself, and he is struggling, as I have never seen before. I feel very sad for him right now. If I thought about you in the same situation, I would be driven insane.” He leaned in and kissed her, holding her tight against him.
“I am sorry I cannot stay. We have many irons in the fire. I will probably be absent from your loving company until this is resolved but I will keep you informed of any firm news we have on Miss Margaret. I must go.”
They both stood and Eve walked him to the door. He pulled her outside just to the side of the open door and kissed her hard, taking her breath. He did not care that a livery boy was waiting there with his horse. Not saying a word, he turned, walked down the wide steps, and mounted his horse. He nodded his hat as he ruffled the reins.
It was early in the afternoon, and the sky was threatening rain as it always did in London. Baron Brampton took a deep breath and exited the coach when his driver opened the door. The grand portico shielded his driver and guards from the rain while he ascended the marble steps. The door was opened to him before he could knock. He adjusted his uniform, pulling down his coat to its sleek look.
“Good afternoon, Baron. If you wait in the parlor, I will tell Lady Carter that you are here.”
“Very good,” said the Baron.
He walked into the first room on the right with the large walk-out windows that were opened wide permitting a nice flow of summer air to flow through the downstairs. Feeling nervous about what he would say, he paced the room, pretending to study the offensive collections of God knew what. He hated this room. It did little to imbue him with self-confidence when he needed it most. He had never needed it before, in his life, at least where women were concerned. The female was an entirely different adversary. He had known many a man who had failed, never to learn the rules of such an opponent. Right now, he was no better off himself. She would be cunning, and she would act sorrowful but unknowledgeable. This was reconnaissance only. The best he could hope for was a small almost indiscernible change in her expression when she heard of Miss Hale being kidnapped.
“Baron, what an unexpected delight,” Lady Carter said as she whisked into the room wearing a very lovely dress which dipped low exposing her full bosom. Kindle thought it looked more fitting for a ball.
“She must be going all out,” he thought.
“What brings you here, today?” She said as she rang for the butler. “Would care for tea or something else?”
“Tea would be fine, Lady Carter.”
“Tea it shall be,” she said, catching the butler’s attention.
“I have come to see how you were doing since my visit of two days ago. I want to apologize for being so harsh. We have been such good and close friends, and I have dwelled unhappily over my previous visit. I could not let it go on any longer.”
“Baron, when you called on me you were honest and noble with your words. One hopes to always know the truth. I cannot fault you for your feelings for another. They are rarely maneuverable to one’s wishes. How is that going, by the way?” Lady Carter asked, anxious to hear his next words.
Kindle paused. He wanted to have her full attention. She had to be staring him in the face. “I have not seen her since last we spoke, but she did not arrive home as expected,” he said with sadness in his voice. His eyes were frozen on hers. There it was! A tiny quirk at the corners of her mouth that were quickly covered over, but mostly the eyes gave it away. They brightened for an instant.
“You say, she did not come home as expected? How frightful that must be for her family and . . . you, of course. What is being done about it?”
Kindle thought he might have an eventual weapon with disinformation in the future. “What can be done, really? We are having the entire route investigated, but unless someone receives a ransom note, we are at a loss, I believe. Her family is trying desperately to think of anyone wishing her harm. That is not leading anywhere. It appears there have been a couple of unhappy potential suitors. One is not in London at this time, and he will have to be sought out,” Kindle lied. As he sat there watching her controlling her emotions, he felt sick. She was a she-devil. If he hadn’t been a gentleman, he would strangle the information out of her, here and now. “What would cause someone to do such a thing?” he threw back at her, pretending to find interest in her answer.
“Kindle, I am sure I wouldn’t know,” Lady Carter feigned innocence. “Perhaps she has a jealous lover of which you have no knowledge. Maybe you have enemies and by taking the young lady, they wish to bend you to their way. Most likely you are correct in waiting for the ransom note.” That gave Lady Carter an idea to send them on a wild chase.
The Baron was astounded that she had included in her reasons the very cause of his current plight. She was even more devious than he originally thought. Purposely, she must want him to read between the lines. “This insidious bitch . . .” His thoughts were disturbed.
“How are you dealing with this, dear friend?” She asked.
Kindle had thought before he answered. If he suddenly played down his interest in her, lessening her value to Lady Carter, she might eventually let her go. Alternatively, would she kill her? He felt she had plans to kill her anyway.
“I am terribly worried for the poor lass, but I have been having second thoughts about her. I wish no harm to come to her, and I will do all in my power to find her and punish the perpetrators. However, after talking things over with my father,” his lies spilled from his lips like water, “he has opened my eyes to the disadvantages of marrying so decidedly below my station. I am coming to the conclusion that he may be right, but I would like to see her freed, and unharmed to confirm my feelings are changing.”
“Baron, you know I am happy to hear of your awakening to reality. What happens if she is not recovered?”
“I will probably dwell in misery feeling heavy that I was the cause of her death. I would probably never look for love again. I have already talked to Gilbert that he’d better have a son so I can leave the title with a male heir in the family.” Kindle was proud of that line, and it was even true.
“You mean that you do not think you’d marry if she is never found?” Lady Carter asked in disbelief.
“Naturally. Besides my own self-loathing, how would it look to my people and the crown if I were to go on with a happy life knowing I was probably the cause of a woman’s death? I am a soldier from the Brampton line of soldiers. Such matters weigh hard upon us. Whether she is never found, never heard from or is found dead, is of no difference. If there be any suspicion around me in the cause of her death, it will take centuries for the Brampton’s to hold their heads up again,” Kindle said, almost wishing he could remember all he was telling her. He had many lies to remember.
“My my,” said Lady Carter, “I had no idea your reputation was in such jeopardy.” She was bewildered and realized the grave error she had made. She would have to do something about this situation immediately before the young lady was found with her men.
Kindle could feel a sense of consternation in her. He had pulled his bow, and his arrow was true. He wanted desperately to smile, but this is where he could excel at this game. He had to get home and contemplate her next move. He knew how to play chess, and he knew it well. He had checked Lady Carter for the moment.
* * *
Margaret finally found some comfort in not being bound by her hands. She behaved well at the inn while eating. When she needed to attend to herself, she was accompanied to the outside privy door, and the tiny space was checked before she was allowed to enter. As she was seated in the carriage once more, she was surprisingly handed a book to read.
“There. You held your part of the bargain, and I held mine.” Reggie sat back and folded his arms across his chest in triumph watching as she turned to the front title.
“Raising Pigs for Market?” Margaret wanted to burst out laughing even under this ridiculous situation. “You expect me to read ‘Raising Pigs for Market’? I see that you do not know how to read, and you must have stolen this from the innkeeper, but I must admit you did hold up your end. I cannot say that I will find much of interest, but it will pass the time. Thank you for that.” Margaret couldn’t hold the smile back as she started flipping the pages and saw a pig’s reproductive organs.” Oh my,” she squealed, holding her hands over her mouth as she turned the book to Reggie for him to see.
He snatched the book from her hand to look closely at the penciled diagram. Margaret burst out laughing and snatched the book back. Now, Belfour was having a hard time not smiling.
As she sat thumbing the pages before getting down to the “page turning” reading, she felt she could lull them into giving her the information or giving her the benefit of the doubt when it came to trusting her. All her concentration would now go into finding out where they were headed tonight so she could tell John as darkness came upon her.
She started with, “How far into the night can one travel without light?” From there it led to what she wanted to know. They had another five hours of traveling but would bed-down somewhere in Doncaster tonight, albeit late. At lunch, Goose and Reg had been whispering among themselves and she thought she heard the word voyage, which she had not thought much of until now. She was told she was being taken to France, but it seemed they would sail from a very northeastern port. She struggled to picture the kingdom in her mind. Oh why hadn’t she paid more attention to that in school, she asked herself. It would come to her, or she would overhear it or wheedle it out of Reggie. After all, they told her she was going to France. What difference could it make to know from which port they would sail? She knew they would have to trust her to behave and walk aboard the ship as if pleased to leave. Was that her chance? She wondered.