“Good morning, Margaret. You look happy this morning. It must be because you are going home with that handsome husband of yours.”
“Yes. Do you know he spent the whole night with me in that chair, holding my hand? I woke in the middle of the night and found him still here.”
Outside the room, Branson heard that endearment about the Guv, and it reaffirmed that his boss was a passionate man. Those were sides he’d never shown to anyone, but Branson had always felt were there. He hoped to be that way, himself.
“I’ve brought you a frock today. I wasn’t sure about a corset, but I brought one along in case.”
“I’m afraid I have a hospital corset looking thing bound about me that I shall wear for a few weeks, I suspect. I’m waiting on breakfast and the doctor. John should return soon.”
“But, wasn’t that his driver?” huffed Aunt Shaw, which drew a stern look from Edith.
“Yes, that is Branson outside the door, listening,” she laughed. “I am sure he is here as my guard. I have a suspicion that John does not want to leave me alone or unwatched.”
“Well, I would hope so!” said her aunt, which sparked a chord in Edith.
“Mother, you see that Margaret is recovering. We know she’s happy about her marriage to Mr. Thornton. It might be best for you to return to your committees and teas in London. I know you care dearly for Margaret and she knows it, too, but you will soon be an unwelcome guest in their home if you continue these snide outbursts.”
“Snide, you say! Humph. I will see Margaret today, get settled into the home she will live in and then I will take a train home. God seems to have forsaken this part of England.”
“Aunt, nothing will ever compare to London and the circles you move in. You will find that nowhere else within this land. You are comfortable there. I am comfortable here. Let that be something we will both learn to live with.” Margaret gently spoke.
“Well, if you are sure you are happy?”
“Very happy, aunt.”
“I hope that wicked man does not come looking for you when I return. I’ll have my butler bar him from the house.”
“That is very wise, aunt. Perhaps, you should tell the police if he pesters you.” Margaret suggested.
“Oh, they know about him. Edith and Maxwell have seen to that.”
Again Edith snapped a frown at her mother.
“Oh, you went to the police, Edith?”
“Of course, we did, when you didn’t return home. We had no idea of the abuse you had received; we just wanted to find you.”
“So, how did you find me?”
“Mr. Bell wrote to us. We even went searching for you at his quarters on campus, but he’d been gone a day or two. He was here, perhaps. It seems you confided in him about the coerced marriage and not us. Margaret, I don’t mean that the way it sounds. It’s perfectly obvious why ” Edit said as she looked towards her mother. “Mr. Bell would have been in a better position to advise you.”
“Advise her of what?” boomed John as he entered the room. He didn’t know if he would ever warm to her aunt. The cousin was still undetermined in his mind.
“Advise Margaret of what?” he asked again.
“Edith and I were discussing why I confided in Mr. Bell before them of my difficulties with Captain Hartford, forcing me to marry him. That was part of the conversation we did not cover yesterday.”
“Here are you clothes, Margaret. We will leave, now, and see you later this afternoon, when you are settled into your new home.”
“I will look forward to it. Good bye, aunt.”
“Good by Margaret, and to you, Mr. Thornton.”
“Good day ladies,” John returned.
John picked up on Margaret’s look. “I’m sorry, my love. I’ll try harder to get along with your aunt. I just cannot forgive her insistence that you return with her to London. I know, you could not live here alone. We were not, yet, in a position for a second proposal. It was her attitude towards me, the city, and the fact that she didn’t respect you to have a mind of your own.”
“I never looked at it that way, before.”
“I know you didn’t. The loss of your family took all your thoughts and buried them to stave the hurt. I understood that but was powerless to intervene. Certainly, no one, including you, would have listened to me. But I felt I knew you and knew what was best for you in your future. I finally had to let go and hope you found your real feelings. I know that sounds a bit conceited on my part, but that’s how much I loved you. I knew you could and would love me if we only had more time.”
“Now, we have all the time in the world.”
“Thank God for that. Have you been served breakfast yet, or seen the doctor?”
“No, I’m afraid there is a bit more waiting. Tell me, are Branson’s horses still well? Is the coach in one piece or do I go home in a cab?”
John laughed and ruffled her hair. “He told you about that, did he?”
“Yes, he was quite funny about it.”
“He thinks those horses belong to him because he selected them. I do admit, he made a very wise choice, and I have never been sorry for what they cost, but they are still mine,” John smiled.
“Do not ever tell him that. Did you wear his little livery cap?”
“Only while I was within his view. I will admit, it took a bit of handling, and I certainly admire his skills more than I did, but I made it there and back.”
“Some day in the future, I wish to have a conversation about him, with you. He and I had quite a talk when we were alone.”
“Oh, you did, did you? Did he tell you he is an experienced driver and needs a raise in his salary?”
“Nothing of the kind. You will just have to wait and see.”
“I love you, Mrs. Thornton.” John sat down beside her.
“We discussed that, too.”
“What? You were discussing our love with our driver?”
“John, you know he’s more than a driver. He is almost family. You own horses that he belongs to; I think that makes us related, somehow, don’t you?” Margaret laughed, forgetting her rib, again.
“You see, that’s what you get for discussing personal things with our friend, the driver.”
John waited for her discomfort to ease and explain what she had meant.
Margaret knew he was waiting and kept silent.
A moment passed.
“Well, Mrs. Thornton?”
“You know very well, well what.” John returned.
“You said, ‘I love you, Mrs. Thornton’ and I said that he, Branson, and I had discussed that.”
“Mrs. Thornton,” John soothed, with a smile on his face. “I know very well what I said, and I distinctively heard what you said.”
“And then you said, ‘You were discussing our love with our driver,’ I do not believe I heard a question in there. Was there suppose to be one? Being your wife, does that include being a mind-reader?”
John sighed, pulled a bit of paper with writing on it from his pocket. He reached for a pencil near Margaret’s chart and scribbled on the back of the paper. He replaced the pencil and put the paper in his pocket, sat back and folded his hands in his lap.
Margaret watched his actions, trying to figure out what he was doing, knowing he wanted her to ask.
Another moment passed. John, now, had the upper hand. She put on her pouty face and looked at him with sad eyes.
It didn’t work. He just smiled back at her.
Another moment passed.
“Well, so much for not denying me anything!”
John almost doubled over laughing; instead, he moved to the bed and held her in his arms as he had last night. “I love you, Mrs. Thornton, and you can discuss that with the whole world if you care to.”
“All right you two love birds; it’s time for some food,” announced Nurse Pickering, as she entered the room.
“Margaret, your food will be a little more solid this morning. You know what that means; don’t you?”
Margaret looked bewildered.
“Didn’t your husband show you the list?”
“No, what list?” Margaret asked, looking at John.
“Margaret, it was a list of items and foods you should have at home, which includes, drinking prune juice daily.”
Margaret turned red. John beamed. “Did you have to tell me that with him in here?” she frowned.
John got up and walked out the door. He was bursting inside. If discussing natural body functions was an embarrassment to her, he’d give her time to adjust.
Nurse Pickering watched as John left the room. “Margaret, you are married, now. These things are a part of life. You almost act as if you have just met the man.”
“I have, really,” she said, looking at her eggs and toast.
“What do you mean, you have just met him?”
Margaret explained the two year’s separation and just returning to him only a week ago. “We hadn’t even kissed until a few days ago.”
“My, that is a story. It’s a beautiful love story if you had found a different way to be together than being beaten by another man. That explains a lot to me about your reluctance on these personal matters and his failing control to keep his hands to himself. You two make a sweet couple. I’ve heard about your husband, being a Milton native myself for 10 years, but I see a different man than I thought him to be. He’s very loving.”
“Nobody would recognize the man that loves me,” Margaret said.
“You are a very lucky woman,” replied Nurse Pickering.
“He’s already lied to me, though. What do you think I should do?”
“Lied to you? That’s unfortunate.”
“Yes, he said he would deny me nothing, and he just did.” Margaret waited for the laugh outside the door. It was there. She finally heard his booted steps move away from the door.
“Was he listening?” asked the nurse.
“I thought he might be, that’s why I said what I did. Of course, I was kidding.”
“The doctor should be in within a half an hour. He’s on the floor. You may dress and leave after he’s seen you unless he tells you different. Do you want me to come back and help you dress?” Pickering smiled.
“I don’t know. I might try it myself behind that screen first. I’m steady on my feet this morning. I’ll send my husband after you or another nurse if I need help.”
“All right, MISS Thornton,” the nurse said for amusement.
Margaret thought about her little joke and realized she was right. If her rib was not bound, they would be past the initial lusts of a newly married couple. She would have lost her virginity by now. That had not occurred to her, but she thought it must have occurred to John. Well, maybe not because of her injuries. He was being terribly kind and patient with her. She knew he really loved her.
John saw the doctor headed towards Margaret’s room and caught up with him. The doctor stopped to talk with John before going in.
“Mr. Thornton, I am sure this does not need telling, but it is my duty. I can hardly imagine what it must be like for you to bring your new bride to your bed but you must exercise great care.”
John felt like a child being admonished. Who did he think he was? “There are no needs for such words, doctor.”
“I am sure of that, too, but I cannot pick and chose who and what to advise. There are rules, and I am at their mercy.”
“Proceed, doctor,” John replied.
“There should be no pressure against that rib for a few more days. It won’t be fully healed for another three weeks, she may begin to move and lift as she feels fit. Unfortunately, she will feel good before she is completely healed and may try things beyond her capacity. Just take note of today and keep her from hurting herself for the next three weeks. I would like to see her in my office, each Friday morning for the next month.”
John and Doctor Wagner entered Margaret’s room as Pickering was leaving.
Margaret noticed the doctor had closed the door behind him and John came to sit beside her. He held her hand.
“Mrs. Thornton, are you ready to leave this place? We’ve enjoyed having you, but I’ll bet you would rather be somewhere else,” said Wagner.
“Yes, I am anxious to go and sit and walk and see the sun,” Margaret replied.
The doctor pulled another chair to her other side and placed her chart on his lap. “First we will talk a few minutes and then I will check that rib one last time. All right?”
“I’ve talked a bit with your husband about how you will feel well before you truly are. Take one more week of rest. After that you may begin to move about as you feel you can, but under no circumstances must you lift anything more than your handbag for three weeks. You will need assistance in and out of the tub for washing. And definitely, someone else must wash your hair.”
Margaret could feel John squeezing her hand in delight.
The doctor fished in his pocket for a packet and handed them to John. “Those are pills to ease the pain. Take one twice a day for the next week and then take them as you need after that. As I told your husband, I will see you for the next four Friday mornings in my office and any time you find you have any problems. The rib corset can be removed to wash it when you bath and if you feel at ease, it can be removed at night. Otherwise, keep it on during the day. Do you have any questions?”
“How about using the steps?”
“Have someone with you for a week or two. You will exhaust yourself quickly. There is nothing to prevent you from using steps, but you’re own strength. You must remember, you had internal bleeding for at least seven hours that we know of. It will take approximately, six to eight weeks for your body to build back to its normal level. You will be weakened from that alone. Your bed rest for these 5 days and a few more to come, plus the damage to muscle tissue; you will not be strong. The medication will hide that from you, so you use your head. Anything else?”
Margaret looked at John to see if he had questions. “I do not believe we have any more questions.”
“Are you ready for me to check your rib? I will push a bit on it to gauge your discomfort.”
“Yes, I am ready.”
“Do you mind your husband being here?”
Margaret thought that an odd question and quickly said, “No, of course not.”
John continued to hold her hand.
The doctor lifted her head and removed the pillow, so she was laying flat. John turned towards her to watch for her pain.
The doctor then proceeded to pull down the sheet and lift her gown above her breasts, exposing everything except her corseted rib area. Margaret was mortified, but it was too late. John was stunned.
John quickly looked at what God was about to bless him with and squeezed Margaret’s hand firmly. He knew she was in shock. He hadn’t expected that either, but after his quick perusal, the large blotches of bruises brought watering to his eyes. He squeezed his eyes tightly and brought his thumb and forefinger to wipe away the evidence. She was a man’s dream in body, but the nightmare she suffered was all too apparent. He wanted to look away but didn’t for fear Margaret would think he found dissatisfaction. She was firmly holding on to his hand as the doctor prodded her rib area. John heard her inhale through her teeth with a hissing sound. He lowered his forehead to her shoulder, so she knew he wasn’t staring at her nakedness. He leaned in and kissed her on the cheek while the tears began seeping from the corners of her eyes.
John quietly whispered in her ear, “You are exquisite, my love.”
Finally, the gown was lowered, and the sheet returned. John moved back as the doctor returned the pillow under her head.
“I think we can let you go, Mrs. Thornton. I believe it best if you take her through the back entrance where there are no stairs. When she is dressed, open the door, and a nurse will bring in the rolling chair and wheel her to the door. Mr. Thornton, you may want to sit her on your lap to absorb the bumpy ride.”
“I am eager to help,” he smiled at Margaret.
“Thank you, Dr. Wagner, for tending to my wife so well. I have been impressed with your courtesy and medical knowledge throughout her stay. We will see you on Friday.”
“Yes, doctor thank you so much,” Margaret added.
The doctor left the room, and Margaret was speechless over what had just happened.
“John, I didn’t expect . . . I mean . .I”
“Shh . . . Margaret. That took us both by surprise. I’m sorry your surprise was upsetting, but mine was magnificent. I am fortunate to have someone with such a beautiful body as yours. You are far lovelier than I deserve and expected. I’m afraid you have a few extra colors that I had never fantasized about, but we will heal them. I would have preferred to kiss you naked for the first time, but that still waits.”
John leaned in and kissed her lips passionately. He lifted her to his chest and ran one hand down her body over top of the sheet. Then he held her with both arms.
“I love you, John.” Margaret whimpered.
“I hope so because I would never give you up.” John kissed her again.