John sat alone in his chair one evening, thinking that it was nearly two years ago, that he lost all hope of happiness. Margaret Hale was the light of his life that seemed to have flickered out. He was seven years her senior at her young age of twenty two. She was small, well proportioned, and beautiful to him, but not a raving beauty by most standards. Educated and independent, the woman of his dreams had been swept away and he had never heard from her after that. He remembered the worst day in his life. Two years ago, he had thought they could iron out their differences and Margaret would fall in love with him. She was the only woman that he had ever loved and she was abruptly pulled away from him by family. At that time he had thought there was hope for them, but Margaret seemed to be keeping secrets which only enabled more distance. John vividly remembered the hurt he felt when coming to visit the Hales to find that she had a gentleman caller. The real bitterness from Margaret, and his own heartbreak, came when he saw her at the train station wrapped in the arms of a handsome young man. What was he to think? Before he knew it, his hopes had come to an abrupt end when her father passed away, leaving her a young woman alone in Milton. It seemed she would never be his wife. At the time he had thought that all the women before Margaret were simply auditions before his leading lady walked into his life. She was perfect in every way. She was a man’s woman. She seemed spirited and scrappy as well as educated and intelligent. Their short conversations were never riddled with the prattle of homemaking as most of his lady’s seemed to aspire to. Below her surface, he felt she was his soul mate. Margaret seemed to care greatly for his workers as he had come to realize was important to him, too. She had taught him more about their suffrage over his profit, but he still had to keep the mill running so they did have some income. He knew she was the other half of him. She succeeded where he failed. There would be no other woman in the world for him, but Margaret Hale.
John roused from his nightly melancholia and searched for his newspaper. Not finding that, he did discover a note from Adam Bell, which was unusual. He carried it to his chair and brought the lamp closer to read it.
The letter contained a rather cryptic note from Bell in regards to Margaret. He asked to visit. John was eager to hear anything about her and replied immediately.
John received Adam at the door and bid him to enter and settle down to the urgent business, the note had indicated. He was more than anxious to know anything about Margaret and Bell was the one to tell him. Although, he had seen Adam several times since Margaret left, her name was never mentioned when they spoke.
Both men sat with their drinks of scotch, while Bell began his fantastic story.
“John, you know I had a great friendship with Richard Hale and I feel a duty to watch over Margaret for the short time I have left. I had planned to spend my days in the warmer climates and live carefree for the rest of my days.” John interrupted.
“I’m sorry to hear that Adam. I never knew.”
“Of course, you didn’t John, no one knows but my doctor and Margaret. Several months ago, I finished getting my life in order, leaving everything to her. She was quite upset and it was hard saying goodbye, which seemed to extend my stay in London longer that I had planned. I am glad that it did.”
“And Margaret; how is she?”
“I’ll get to that. First let me say that I know you loved her then and love her still. It is plain for all those who know you to see this. That’s why I have come to you. I am sure in Margaret’s heart she holds you in the highest possible regard but circumstances prevented her from revealing her awkward behavior which you took for indifference in the final days before she left. I know why she did it, but I could not tell you. She did not want to impugn your seat as a Magistrate and she had made a promise to her family that she dare not break. She made the decision to give up her only happiness for someone else and that was her secret to keep. I could not interfere, although, I saw the heartbreak from both of you. Knowing you, I felt you would understand her secret that she carried, but I dared not insist myself into her decision.
“Are you here to tell me that you can tell me now?”
“No, I cannot tell you; nothing has changed, but I am going to tell you, regardless . . . to save her.
“Adam, please get on with it. Is she in some danger?”
“She could be in danger but she is definitely in danger of being unhappy in marrying Captain Grant Hartford.”
“Marrying? If she has an attachment, I daren’t see where I can do much about that. She’s had two years to rethink what we had once perceived to be heading towards us, and I never heard from her.”
“As she never heard from you.” Bell feigned a condescending look in his direction. “We have had some serious conversations since she’s known of my illness. I’ve tried to convince her to contact you and begin again. I thought I had Margaret assured of your confidentiality, when Captain Hartford entered her life. I remained to be the one to walk her down the aisle. For awhile I thought she might be happy, finally – putting you behind her, but I was wrong.”
John refilled their drinks. He was ready to begin pacing the floor if Adam didn’t get to the point. If Margaret was in trouble he would do everything in his power to free her. If his being a Magistrate had prevented her from saying words to him over two yeas ago, he would resign. Nothing meant more to him than she.
“John, let me tell you what has just come to light and we don’t have much time to correct it.”
“I wish you would get to the point, Adam.”
“I was sure you still felt the same about her and I can see that you do.”
“Adam, she was and is still the world I live in. I have been an empty shell since her coach rolled out of this mill yard. Whatever this is, I will fix it. I’m not sure how much more of this life I want to live knowing she is in it and she is not mine.”
“It’s going to take more than you and I with the time before she marries.”
“Then get on with it.”
“Let me go back. She seems most upset about lying to the police about her being at the train station and that you knew about it. She was never sorry that she lied, but sorry that you knew and she couldn’t explain. You chastised her because of her actions. That broke her. She couldn’t explain and you turned from her. I admit, there was nothing for either of you to do. It was very hard for me to watch. John, you will understand all when I tell you.”
“Tell me what, Adam? Bloody hell!”
The person, who you saw her with that night, was her brother.”
“Her brother? That can’t be.”
“He had come because their mother was dying.”
“Why didn’t Mr. Hale or Margaret tell me she had a brother?”
“John, he is being hunted by the Navy for treason. Several years ago, he and the other officers mutinied against a cruel Captain, as he tells it. I’ve known Frederick since he was born, and I cannot seem to find fault in what he did, after hearing the story, but the Navy did, which is expected. Several of the crew have been caught and hanged. His fate is no different. The Hales were devastated. I think that’s when Richard started feeling his faith was letting him down. He left his parish and moved here at my urging.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Knowing the Hales’, I should think her brother was brought up with a pious leaning and only the greatest of circumstances could have forced his hand. Go on.”
“I think you see it as it was, John. With her father’s passing and her situation with you, nothing had really changed. She still could not put you in a position to choose between her and your standing as a Magistrate and her promise. Knowing you had turned away from her, even when she said she could not explain, she felt lost to you. So she left for London, leaving her love behind, I feel sure.”
John hung his head. So much heartbreak had happened for both of them over his inability to believe her. Seeing her in another man’s arms had sealed his own fate.
“What is this marriage that you speak of?”
“When this Captain, in the Infantry, found interest in her, I began to feel some relief but it soon became clear it was anything but that. As you know, it would not be hard to love that woman, and I thought his feelings to be sincere, but I soon saw a difference in him. I believed him to know of my endowment to her and began to feel that he was after the fortune she will receive in the months to come. I watched the situation for a few weeks as he talked about their coming wedding. Note, I said he, not she.”
“Adam, I am going to become a madman soon, if you don’t tell me what we can do.”
“John, I can only go in the order in which I know and then what I think. Please be patient. It’s not like we can do anything tonight.”
“I know you’re right. I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry for you because this is going to get much worse for you before it can hopefully get better.”
“Whatever it is, I will face it.”
“It did not take me long to see the difference in Margaret. She seemed to be under a strain; her conversations were stilted when he was near. Even when it was just she and I, she was quiet and withdrawn, totally a different person. She should have been happy. I started to visit her daily, ensuring to myself that something was dreadfully wrong. Should she have realized that he was after her money, it would have hurt, if she loved him, but she would have put an end to it – and she hadn’t. Then, I felt sure that there had to be more; he had some hold over her but I was at a total loss as to what. My wildest imagination was that she was no longer chaste and he would announce it to all her London friends if she did not marry him. I began a campaign to get her to tell me what it was.”
“And that was . . . ?”
“He told her he knew about Frederick, her brother, and knew where the Navy could find him. It took weeks and finally a drive into the country, and a near breakdown, for her to tell me of his coercion.”
John dropped his head again, in disbelief. He became quiet. “I want to go to her at once. I want to face this man.” John finally said, standing quickly as if he were to leave that instant.
“John, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought and have come to you but you cannot do that. He would have no compunction to keep her secret if he thought you were going to interfere in her marriage. I have an idea for us to consider.”
“Don’t keep it from me, Adam. What is it?” John pleaded as he sat down.
“First you must not see Margaret. She must not know that you know anything about this. She could find hope and her countenance may change, sparking his curiosity. I believe our major move is to find Frederick and fast, so she can back out of this blackmail. We must find him and get him to another country. He may be being watched, I don’t know, but we need to remove the bullet from the Captain’s chamber before he can shoot. And there is no evidence to believe he will not take the chance to make himself the hero in Her Majesty’s eyes and to advance his career by telling where Frederick is, after their marriage.”
“I see your point. Do you have any idea where he is? Where do we start? When is this marriage? If we cannot find her brother, I will take matters into my own hands. She will not wed him.”
John walked to his window and looked out into the dark. He could feel his blood surging him back to life. His own broken heart was now pounding in his chest.
“I am the only one to have kept in touch with Frederick and that is by design. I will report to Margaret now and again about how he is doing. I do not have an exact address. He goes by a new name and he is somewhere in Paris, at least that’s where his mail is posted from. I reply to a box at the mail station. The wedding is three weeks away. If you and Mr. Higgins, your driver Branson, plus myself, can get away, perhaps we can locate him.”
“We must.” John stated, while trying to keep his hopes at bay. “Tomorrow, all of us will talk and begin to devise a plan. Can you be here at 10:00 am?”
“Yes. I will leave you now, as I am sure we both have a lot to think about.”
“Goodnight, Adam. I will call Branson, and Nicholas together and get their input. I will see you tomorrow, then.”
Margaret was crying in her bedchamber; a habit that had formed lately and wasn’t abating as time grew near. Today she was to have her first gown fitting and she worried she could not endure it with a smiling face. Grant was lavishing money on her dress and the all of the plans for the ceremony, since he knew he would be wealthy within the year. Nothing was too good for Margaret right now. Margaret had spent a lot of time figuring ways to escape this horrendous man that was about to ruin her life, but she had yet to come up with anything worthwhile and keep Frederick safe. Trying to stand up to the man had only produced welts and bruises to her body that no one could see. The thought of his body next to hers, on their wedding night, would send her to the chamber pot to vomit. One of the ideas she had thought of was asking Mr. Bell to reverse his endowment to her. Perhaps, even putting it in a trust for her where Grant had little control over it. He seemed to know the exact reading of Bell’s will but if anything changed now, it would outrage him and put her brother in danger of his life. That wasn’t a risk she was willing to take. She sincerely hoped that Frederick never heard of this for he would no doubt give up his life for her. She wanted to contact Mr. Bell and have him warn Frederick through a letter, but he didn’t seem to be in London.
Margaret had been a guest at her Aunt Shaw’s residence in the London society area. She wasn’t prime society but her daughter and Margaret had enjoyed the best of London’s ton where nobility did not attend. Aunt Shaw was most happy with the wedding that her own daughter seemed to anticipate, marrying another Captain and thought his friend, Captain Grant Hartford to be made from the same cloth as her future son-in-lay, Maxwell. Before the year was out, she would see both her daughter and niece nicely married into good families and with men who had earned their fortunes.
As time went on, Aunt Shaw began to see despondency in Margaret and talked with her daughter, Edith, about her thoughts. Edith, herself, was also noticing Margaret’s quiet demeanor and that her independent spirit, so admired by Edith, had seemingly departed her cousin. Everyone seemed to be seeing the change in Margaret with the exception of Grant but only Edith and her mother were starting to talk about it. Edith was not only going to talk with Margaret but also with her fiancé Captain Maxwell Lenox. Perhaps there was something in Captain Hartford’s past that Margaret had found and Maxwell knew about.
As it was, Margaret struggled to put on a good face for the household. If Mr. Bell had wheedled her secret out of her, could the others be far behind. She trusted Bell, but although the others were loving and devoted to her, she didn’t feel they could remain silent. It would just be like her aunt to storm the battlements and confront Grant about why Margaret seemed disturbed over this forth coming nuptial instead of being happy about it.