Twilight was falling, and so were Margaret’s eyelids. John could see her fighting sleep and knew he should leave. It was difficult to pull himself away. He wanted to lie beside her. He lifted her hand, kissing her palm and bent over to kiss her slightly parted lips. He could feel her breath as she slept. His emotions were becoming undone. He would seek out the doctor and see when she could come home with him.
John inquired at the registration desk as he neared the hospital doors.
“Mr. Thornton, I will check for you. He may have left by now. Please wait while I look for him.”
As John was waiting, he noticed journalists out front, still waiting after five hours. They were a determined lot, he thought.
A few moments later, Dr. Wagner came strolling into view without his white coat. “Congratulations, Mr. Thornton.”
“Thank you. I wanted to ask when I can take my bride home.”
“She is doing well. No doubt she has had incentive,” he said smiling. I think one more day should do it, but you and I will have to have a talk about this before she leaves.”
“I understand and had expected such. I surely understand there will be physical limitations if that is what the talk is mostly about.”
“I felt like I would not have needed to go over that with you. Your love shows strongly for her. I know you would do nothing to cause her the least bit of pain. No, there are a few other issues to discuss. See me tomorrow afternoon, anytime before five in the evening. And I think we can let her go the following day.”
“Very good then. I shall speak with you tomorrow.” John said.
As John walked out of the hospital doors and began his descent of the stairs; the journalists rushed him. Knowing this was inevitable, he said, “Today, at two this afternoon, I happily married the former Miss Margaret Hale, once a resident of Milton. That’s all I have to say.”
As he looked out, he saw Branson bringing the coach to the center front. He waded through all the journalists as Branson came to move them out of his way. Questions were being shouted at him, but he looked straight ahead in his normal stoic manner ignoring them all. Reaching his coach, he removed his top hat and stepped inside. Branson scampered into his box and whipped the team to a fast start before the reporters could run alongside.
Adam Bell was waiting in his sitting room when he arrived home. John hardly remembered getting home; his mind had been more agreeably engaged.
“Good evening, Adam. I think I need a drink too,” he smiled. “I’ve never had a better day in my life. My wait has been rewarded. All the heartbreak and loneliness has reversed itself. I feel whole for the first time in many years.” John poured his scotch and sat in his favorite chair.
“Cheers, my friend,” said Adam. It’s a bit of a sad time for me as I have had to hand her away from me. I did so in great confidence knowing she is where she wants to be and will be well loved and cared for.”
“Yes, she will. You know me well enough to have no doubts there. I spoke with the doctor before facing the journalists outside. He says Margaret will be able to come home the day after tomorrow.”
“That’s good news, John. She looked the happiest I’ve ever seen her, today. I must admit we were all taken aback at her injuries. I noticed the finger marks on her neck and upper arms. She may be mentally delicate for a long time.”
“I am prepared for that. I am prepared to see her through whatever it takes. There is no sacrifice I will not make.”
“Are you still resolute in your actions against the man who did this?” asked Adam, worried. “She’s going to heal. Isn’t that the most important issue?”
“Yes, of course, it is, but it is not the only one. I will have some redress to her abuse. Adam, maybe you can’t understand this, but if Margaret walked away from me tomorrow, I would still do what I am planning. I cannot be the man that I want to be for her if I let this pass. I do it for myself. She will not know.”
“And if you get caught?”
The coachman carried the Shaw bags to the platform and handed them to a porter. Edith and her mother walked to the ticket counter and bought their fare to Milton. Captain Lenox still had made no appearance, but Edith was assured he’d know where they were when he could not find them at home. Edith could only wonder what he was doing. Maxwell, she knew, had taken a great interest in this other Captain and the mysteries that surrounded him.
Maxwell had traveled to a small hamlet that rumors alluded to having been a part in Hartford’s abandonment of a woman he begat with child. Thinking ahead, he left his uniform home for fear that the townsfolk would shun him. He talked with the constabulary, but with little reason to know the facts, was told nothing. However, he did know the name of the young woman involved.
It took him half a day to locate the family. They lived a little way out of town. Several years ago, Ellen had worked in the local tavern but was now raising a two year old, while living with her parents.
Knocking on the door, he asked to speak with Ellen’s father in private. The two men walked away from the small cottage while Maxwell pled his case against Captain Hartford, and the father believed him. Everyone in town knew the circumstances, so the father had little compunction to hide anything.
The two men sat under a tree and talked for two hours. Maxwell learned that his daughter had been raped but it was her word against the Captain’s and nothing was done about it. Her betrothed went mad and eventually sought out Captain Hartford, and whether it was a fair fight or not, was killed. He had been left for dead, without witnesses and it had always been assumed that Hartford had murdered him. Being a young man, only carrying a knife against a trained military man with a gun, it couldn’t be seen in any other light, as the father told it. Again, that seemed to be common knowledge in the small town but who could go up against the Army.
The father went on to tell Maxwell that a detective from London had been there the day before asking the same questions. He said he was happy to see that the man may not get away with what he did.
Maxwell was surprised. He thanked the man for being so candid and apologized for the intrusion in bringing this up, but promised that he would see that something was done about it. He never spoke of his fiancé’s cousin. It was almost a day’s ride home, and he slept under a tree that night. He was determined to see that justice was carried out. He would contact Detective Boyle at the Met on his way home.
That morning, John had breakfast with Adam in the hotel. Adam told John that he hoped to hear from Frederick today and would find him at the hospital if it arrived.
“John, also, be prepared for the Shaw’s to arrive a little after midday. I am sure they will go to the hospital from the train and send the bags along to the hotel. I cannot say that I envy you their visit. Mrs. Shaw will hover and insist this, that and the other.”
“I have anticipated that. It shall not last long.”
“If you are a gentleman, I’m not so sure how well that will work.”
“I do not intend to be a gentleman. I intend to be a husband, and they will see it that way.”
“You’ve become a study to me, John,” Bell admitted.
“In what way?”
“You are almost a different person. The changes that have taken place in your countenance, over the last five days, have been nothing short of extraordinary. You are still John Thornton, but one I’ve never seen.”
“You have never been in love and cannot know the feeling a man gets when his love has been tortured at the hands of another man. I have usually lived in what I’m now calling ‘middle ground.’ I have been torn to shreds these past days. Middle ground is gone; the John that most people know is gone, for now. I am living either in euphoric happiness or finding the depths of a black soul that must reside in me, right now. I am totally at its mercy.”
“John, you’ve always been able to control yourself. I am sure you will find that with Margaret in your life. Why can’t you control this other half?”
“Because I don’t want to. I can’t explain it. I’ll be glad when it has past.”
“And when might that happen?”
John picked up his fork and ignored the question.
Changing the subject, Adam asked, “Have you seen today’s paper this morning?”
“No, why?” John asked, dabbing his mouth with his napkin while accepting the offered newspaper.
The headline was bold.
Mill Master John Thornton of Marlborough Mills Weds Miss Margaret Hale.
John Thornton stated for this paper, that he and a Miss Margaret Hale, formerly of Milton were happily wed yesterday at 2:00 pm. When asked to comment further, he declined as he left the hospital steps where he’s been seen frequenting of late. The hospital spokesman has declined to speak. It is unknown if Miss Hale, now, Mrs. Thornton, works or is a patient at The Greater Milton Hospital.
Mr. Thornton, a Magistrate and Mill Master of two Mills, is best known for his leadership in the burgeoning age of the Machine . . .
John set the paper down and continued his breakfast.
“No comment, Mr. Thornton,” Adam smarmed.
“I would rather have been left alone,” John replied in a serious tone.
Captain Grant Hartford picked up his personal post from the first delivery. The only note was from his man in Paris. He anxiously snapped the seal and sat in his chair.
I have had it with watching this man. He has disappeared, and so did the woman he was living with. I told you it would take two of us to watch him all the time. Now, he is gone. I’ve spent two days watching the postal station, and he has not returned for any letters. Asking questions has led nowhere. You do not pay enough for this boring work. I quit. If you want him so bad, you come find him. I gave you his address in previous note. Good luck.
“Bloody hell!” Grant shouted, drawing attention from the other officers. He crumpled the note and threw it into the fire.
“What’s wrong, Grant?” Someone laughingly shouted. “Did your woman leave you?” There was general laughter throughout the room.
Grant ignored them and they went back to whatever they had been doing.
He’d lost his prey, his only means to keep Margaret Hale fearful. She didn’t know that, but he didn’t know where she was or if she was alive. With the detective sniffing around, Grant decided he’d have to rethink his tactics because his game was about to fall to pieces. Maybe she didn’t need to marry him, he could just blackmail her for the money – or – maybe she just needed to be gone so he could wipe his slate clean and start with someone else.
John took the small buggy and pulled to the rear of the hospital. As he approached Margaret’s room, there seemed to be a disturbance in front of her closed door. He ran down the hall.
Arriving, the reporters noticed him and turned to fling questions at him from all angles.
“I will answer two questions. This is my private life, and I mean to keep it that way. I will bring my whole mill down here to remove all of you if I have to. I can, also, call out the guards, if you want to spend some time in jail. This room is off limits to all of you. You will eventually know my wife when she has recovered.
“Mr. Thornton, why is your wife here?”
“Mrs. Thornton has unfortunately been the victim of an attack, which happened in London.
“Is there any reason why you rushed a wedding instead of waiting for her recovery? Another journalist asked.
“Quite simply, I love her and have for a long time. That’s all for the foreseeable future until she is well. Good day.”
John walked to the door and stood with his back to it until the crowd had dispersed.
Dr. Wagner came and thanked him for his intervention. You have a lot of power, Mr. Thornton, I’ve never known a whole lot about you, but I am significantly impressed that you have that much clout. Do you often make threats like that?”
“Only one other time when there was a riot at my mill, years ago. It does not please me to bring all I can bear to a situation, but I will not have Margaret harassed.
“I do believe you accomplished your mission.”
“The door is closed. May I go in?” John asked.
“As of yesterday, Mr. Thornton, you have full privileges in the room anytime. But under the circumstances, Miss Hale may have reservations that she will slowly have to work into. I think I’d knock.”
John knocked. “Mrs. Thornton?”
“Who is it?” Margaret called out knowing well it was John.
“Mrs. Thornton, I hope you know my voice by now.”
“Oh come in John. I knew it was you. I’m having oatmeal this morning. Care to join me?”
“I just had breakfast with Adam but a few moments ago. How was your night? As pleasant as mine, I hope.” John went over and kissed her good morning.
“John you would turn red if I told you about my dreams. These dreams are so new to me. You, for being a man of the world, would probably find them quite dull. I’m too embarrassed to even talk about them with you.”
John broke out in a smile. Margaret, my thoughts, dreams, and plans have never included love, and they no longer reflect the opportunity to assuage my needs. My needs are your pleasure now, not my own.”
“I’m embarrassed to say that I have been remembering my romance novels, the rumors, the learning at school, and the women that talk. If half of them are true, I’m afraid I will be a letdown. I don’t know how to do any of those lustful things. I have no experience.”
“Margaret, your innocence is what I look forward to most. We will create our own world, just for the two of us.”
‘You will not compare me to others of more daring adventures?”
“No. Never. I want us to find our way. That doesn’t mean it’s everything that you have ever heard of. I will love pleasuring you every way that you will allow. I am going to be grateful for whatever you give. Our love will grow. Do not dwell on that.”
Margaret looked into his lap and noticed his trousers were tight. “Am I causing that?” she pointed.
“I’m afraid so. You will have to get used to it, for that will happen for many years. I will never have enough of you.”
“Does that hurt?”
“John laughed. I am not going to answer that question. You will answer it for yourself one day soon. Which reminds me, I talked with Dr. Wagner last night as I left. With some training for you and I, today, I can take you home tomorrow. He wants to talk with me about what to expect, sometime later this afternoon. I doubt I will be able to talk with you about it much since your cousin and aunt should be here by then. Margaret, I am going to tell them how it is with you and I, now. You are mine. I am your husband and guardian in a sense. They are resolved of all duties except loving you. Should your aunt try to tell you what is best,,, I am going to speak up. Will you mind that?”
“No, John. I place myself into your hands. You and only you can rule me but only to a certain extent. I will reserve a few of my own rites, you know.”
“Oh, you will, will you. Hmm… We’ll have to discuss that. And to be fair, I expect you to dominate me almost completely. I hesitate in admitting that, but I cannot deny you anything.”
“Do you think we could get the doctor here this morning before my aunt gets here. I am so anxious to leave here.”
“When the nurse comes in, we shall ask.”
Adam Bell checked at the registration desk for the first post and was surprised to see a note from Fred. He thought it would be another day. He tucked it into his pocket and strolled towards the guest lounge. This is what they had been waiting for. Perhaps, during the Shaw visits today, he could meet with John and the other men and solidify plans that had already begun on paper. As soon as they could get Frederick out of Paris, or France, the Captain could have no hold over Margaret. She was now married, but he still had Frederick within his grasp. Adam had to wonder what this Captain thought about Margaret’s disappearance. Would he be glad of it, knowing what he did or would he come after her to keep her quiet? Officers in uniform did not take their commissions for granted. He would go far to preserve what he had.
Adam found a comfortable chair and opened the rather long note.
Received your note and acted immediately. Still in Paris with friend. I have brought my fiancé with me. We will need accommodations for two. Cannot sleep rough on move. I will be indebted for your help in getting Lisa moved out of Paris.
These past few weeks, I have felt the presence of someone around the periphery of my life. If he was there, I have now lost him. Send help for Lisa at the address below. I am coming to Milton on my way to London to find my sister and this man. If in his coercion of my Margaret, he has harmed her in any way, he will be dispatched. Do whatever needs to done to keep her from marrying him in the next few days until I can arrive.
I will find you or Thornton. Don’t look for me.
My sister is too dear to me, and it is like her to do what she is doing. I will not let that happen.
I am leaving Lisa in the care of my friend Nathan. Any correspondence to her or me should be addressed at… Randall
Adam had not expected Frederick to take such actions as entering England again but then realized that Frederick didn’t know John Thornton or the trust he could feel with him watching over Margaret. What would he do when seeing his sister and learning of her injuries? Finding a new place for his fiancé seemed an easy task since Frederick was taking all the risks, but there was good news to know that he had lost his shadow. That pretty much left this Captain out in the cold; it would seem. This situation, with Margaret, seemed to be growing and growing with revenge being the only issue at hand, of which Margaret knew nothing. What would she think when hearing of Frederick coming to her rescue? It was starting to look like a family reunion in Milton with everyone missing the wedding.
Adam felt there was no way that he could stop Frederick from coming now so their plans to move his Lisa could be done quickly and with only one or two of them leaving.
Frederick was going to need a place to stay while everything was sorted out, and that place had to be somewhere on Marlboro Mills property. He’d better find John immediately. It was likely that Frederick left after posting his letter and could soon be here.
Adam arrived at the hospital only to find John and Margaret in a conference with the doctor. He heard words in regards to a nurse coming to the house for a week, so Adam went back to the waiting area. While sitting with the newspaper that he had recently shown John, he saw Mrs. Shaw and Edith walk over to the information desk. It appeared they left quite early. Adam sighed. This seemed like it was going to be a long day.
As the Shaw’s were directed towards Margaret’s room, Adam caught their attention and they stopped at his urging.
“Good day to you both. I hope you had a pleasant trip,” Adam said glibly, gesturing to two chairs for them to take.
“We’re on our way to see Margaret. We can’t sit and talk,” Mrs. Shaw, huffed.
“I was just at her room. Apparently she is in conference with her doctor. Please sit with me and I will give you the latest news.”
Sitting, Edith asked, “How is Margaret? We’ve been so worried.”
“She is doing well. I hardly know where to start; there is so much to say. I am sure she will go into the detail for you, but it seems that Captain Hartford was mistreating Margaret quite badly. She was being held hostage as his bride, we think, because of my endowment to her. He held over her head the fact that he knows all about Frederick and where he is. There has been no proof of that, though. The doctor has discovered multiple beatings with the last one, a few days ago, resulting in a cracked rib and black eye. Margaret ran for her life. She ran to the only person she felt safe with and that is John Thornton. She still loves him, you know?”
“Dear God,” said Aunt Shaw. Edith started to weep. “And you say she is doing well?”
“Yes, she appears to be, although, we fear there is still some residual emotional trauma that may come to light.”
“What can we do? We can’t take her back where that maniac is,” said Edith looking bewildered and worried. “I look for Maxwell to find us here. He’s been looking into Captain Hartford. He says he doesn’t have a good feeling about the man, and he doesn’t know what’s happened to Margaret yet. He said that days ago, when he and I went looking for her. Her handbag was seen on Captain Hartford’s sofa, but we kept quiet that we saw it, except to the police. The Met is now involved.”
“I am sure we will welcome any news that Maxwell can bring us. There will be no need to take Margaret anywhere. As I said, she ran to the man she knew she loved. John Thornton has loved her since he’s known her. Now, I know by London standards, John Thornton does not equal your society standards, but he is almost Milton’s favorite son. He holds great esteem here. He’s a Magistrate and he is now Margaret’s husband, as of yesterday.” Adam waited for the news to seep in. He didn’t have to wait long.
Although, Edith smiled, her mother exclaimed, “He’s what?”
Adam noticed John was passing through the hall to the outer doors and shouted for him. John turned, expressionless, and walked their way.
“John, you remember Mrs. Shaw and this is her daughter, Edith, Margaret’s cousin. They have just now arrived. I’m afraid I am failing miserably in catching them up. If Margaret is available, they would like to see her right away.”
“Hello, Ladies. These are unusual circumstances to meet you, but I think Margaret will be pleased to see you. I will escort you to her room. I was just on my way out to situate some accommodations for Margaret’s release from this hospital, tomorrow. Before we go into her room, I have a few words that I would like to say to you.”
“Go on,” said an exasperated Aunt Shaw.
“Mrs. Shaw, I want it known to you that I love your niece more than anything in this world, I will protect her from all harm. She loves me, as well. We belong to each other, now. We were married yesterday. You are absolved of all responsibility for her. That now belongs to me. I do not wish to hear your thoughts on what you think is best for her. We see where that has gotten her, haven’t we? I am beside myself with grief over her abuse. I shall take no advice from you. I hope we understand each other, and I think you will hear the same from Margaret. Should I find Margaret despondent after any of your visits to her, I will bar you from seeing her. She is coming to our home tomorrow. If you can act like a loving aunt, you will be welcomed there. Margaret is holding up well, but that is on the surface. Please don’t dig into all the details. Let her speak them as she feels comfortable in doing. Have I made myself clear?” John said, wearing his stern face.
Edith smiled. “Quite clear, Mr. Thornton. Please excuse my mother; she is speechless, never having been spoken to in such a manner. I, for one, am happy she has found her way back to you. Come, Mother; let’s go see Margaret.”
Adam followed behind, smiling to himself and so proud of his friend John. The new John, he remembered.
“John.” Adam called.
“I have some very important news we need to discuss at your very earliest convenience.”
John turned, barely acknowledging Adam’s request, as he opened the door to Margaret’s room.
Margaret was sitting up in her bed, spooning something liquid into her mouth. She dropped her spoon and held out her arms, shouting, “Edith, Aunt!”
John stood back with Adam and watched as the women looked at Margaret in horror and then wondered how to hug her. Margaret seemed pleased to see them. John found a second chair and pulled it to her bedside. He decided to wait a few minutes to see how Margaret would react to their doting.
“Margaret, can’t they feed you anything better than that?” Mrs. Shaw said, and then quickly looked over her shoulder at John.
John waved his finger at her, like a small child.
Adam wanted to laugh out loud. John had surely put her in her place.
John kept his eye on Margaret. Eventually, she looked up at him and nodded. He knew that was a signal to him that she would be all right. He turned to Adam.
“What is so urgent, Adam?”
“When you are ready, we will talk away from this room.”
John walked over and squeezed between the women to give Margaret a tender kiss. “I will be back shortly, my love,” he said, leaving her side.
Mrs. Shaw was last seen by Adam with her mouth hanging open.
As the two men walked down the hall, Adam began to relate the details of the note from Fred. John hung his head listening as headed for the front door.
John stopped, remembering his buggy was around back.
“Adam, we need to talk about this now. Can you round up Nicholas and Branson, while I run some errands for Margaret’s coming home. I will meet all of you at the house within the hour. It seems like you can begin your part of the plan for his fiancé, but there’s a lot more to discuss. I’ll be with you, soon.”
John left by a back entrance and climbed into his buggy. He’d never met her brother, was anxious to do it, but if Frederick had a mind to take care of Captain Hartford, he had another think coming. John was so lost in thought he momentarily forgot what his errands were.
First John stopped on a side street at a small building that he never knew existed. This was where he would ensure that a nurse had been notified by the doctor to be at his home. He was there to see what her requirements were and to purchase them.
The meeting was brief and he found he needed nothing if Margaret had some sleeping gowns to wear before being strapped into clothes. Margaret would rest in their big bed, and he would find a cot to sleep near her in the same room. That was a supply that was offered to rent by this medical service. Apparently, the nurses had to use them when staying with patients but this nurse would use Cook’s room. The woman he met was nearing fifty years and seemed solidly built to lift patients in and out of bed. He hoped she brought a book because she would be excused from the room, often.
That settled, he headed for home to ensure other provisions were purchased by his household staff. He was given a list and wasn’t sure exactly what some of these feminine items were, but would learn quickly. He wanted to tend to Margaret in every way she would let him. He could tell that she would probably draw a line at some aspects of her femininity, but he hoped not. Jane and Cook could use Branson later today, if they hadn’t already purchased what was needed.
Entering the kitchen, he spoke with Cook. He handed her the list, and watched as she smiled.
“So, I see there are some things the mighty Master does not know about women. My, don’t let that get around,” she laughed – and so did John.
“Yes, that is a secret I am forced to admit, but you are fired if I hear you have told anyone,” he smiled. “I would like to go with you to learn, if you can wait an hour or two.”
“I won’t be embarrassed if you come along. I’m right proud of you.” Cook offered.
“Well, let this be our secret. Although, I care not for my reputation among the women, I do have my peers who have envied the knowledge they only thought I had.”
“Oh, you have a lot of knowledge and you know it. This is just the finer details, the inner sanctum, if you will; the embarrassing part of being a woman.”
“Embarrassing? Why embarrassing? Margaret will not be embarrassed with me. I love everything about her that makes her a woman, and my wife and my lover.”
“Master, you’re one in a million.”
John walked up the back stairs to find the three men talking at the table. Cook had prepared some sandwiches for all of them. John walked to the cabinet, poured himself a scotch, and returned to the table for a bite to eat.
Before John could ask any questions, Adam slid Frederick’s note over for John to read himself. After reading it, John set it back in the center of the table. Adam picked it up and folded it into his pocket.
“What have you men been thinking?” John asked.
Nicholas spoke first. “I will be the one to get Frederick’s fiancé settled outside of Paris. We feel he can move on from there should Frederick want to. Adam will stay and help with the Aunt and cousin. Branson will stay, also, since he does not have the experience of finding a residence for Frederick and his bride-to-be. I could probably pass as her father if not an older brother. I certainly don’t look like Frederick, so if anyone thinks they know who she is, my face will tell them they must be mistaken. I will leave tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Nicholas. Just be careful of yourself. Don’t put yourself in danger.”
“It doesn’t appear that will be necessary.”
“By reading that note, I hope you’re right. It would seem so. All right, that part is settled. Now, unexpectedly, we have Margaret’s brother going to risk his life getting into England. I wish there was some way we could stop him.”
“John,” said Adam, “he’s risked it twice before and wasn’t caught. Certainly, you well remember him being here when their mother died.”
“Yes, now that you say that, I even remember what he looks like. I, am willing to and I’m sure Margaret will agree that he can stay here, in this house, until we can send him back home.”
“Guv, from the sound of this letter he won’t be heading home from here.”
“He and I will discuss that. What else?”
“There is still the worry of Captain Hartford, coming after Margaret.” Bell put forward.
“Yes, that is a concern. Do we have any thoughts of him knowing where she is? Does he know he’s lost his advantage, if indeed, he ever had one?”
“John, there is a good chance that Edith’s fiancé, Captain Maxwell Lenox, will find his way here, too. The Met is now involved. Edith confided that Maxwell and she went to Hartford’s home looking for Margaret. They spotted her handbag on the sofa.”
John stood quickly and walked away from the table, turning his back, but still listening.
Adam turned in his direction and continued. “Maxwell has been looking into this man. They are both Captains, unknown to each other before Margaret, but with their training and his information gathering, he may have some insight into what Hartford would do.”
“I will welcome his findings. It seems like we will have a full house in Milton before the week is over. Only one person in the ‘cast of characters’ will be missing.”
“Can we sum this up since we seemed to have agreed on several things here,” asked Nicholas.
“Our priority is to save Margaret and save her brother. John has happily taken care of half of this. That leaves Frederick and this Lisa. I will take care of Lisa beginning tomorrow. I should be gone about four days. Frederick could be here at any time, looking for Adam before going on to London to . . . ah . . . dispatch – that must be a military phrase – this other Captain. Now, where does that leave us?”
John sat back down at the table. “Her brother will be here; he’s former military. This Maxwell will be here and he is military. Both will have good views and ideas about the possibility of this Hartford’s thinking, feeling the net closing in, and how he might seek out Margaret. That is a decision we will look into in the next day or two. I just want to stay close to her until I can get her home tomorrow. Since we now think Hartford may know that Frederick has escaped, he has only one other alternative to free himself of this entanglement and blackmail. I would think he’ll come looking for Margaret to silence her, however he can. I don’t think he has too many choices in accomplishing that.”
“Good God, John, you don’t mean . . .?” Adam said in astonishment.
“I am taking no chances. I’ve said that from the beginning. My anxiety is becoming more acute. I hope I am wrong.”
Adam felt like he would be sick. It had not occurred to him that Margaret could still be in imminent danger. Margaret had no idea, that all of this plotting and revenge planning was whirling around her. And that was a good thing. Maybe her aunt and cousin would be a blessing to keep her mind occupied.
Still sipping whiskey in the Officer’s club, Captain Grant Hartford spotted an article on the third page of the London paper.
Miss Margaret Hale, London, has wed Mill Master John Thornton of Milton……
Grant closed the paper and left for his quarters, feeling he had just loaded his pistol. New plans would be made tonight. There was no doubt in his mind what needed to be done.
John spent the next hour with Cook, finishing up what could be needed at the house. He was surprised to find that he wasn’t quite as naive as he previously thought. He had to concede that living with the woman he loved meant he gladly had to survive with a lot of stuff around him. Soaps, and ribbons, combs and feminine needs where going to need their own room, he laughed.
“Has anyone changed my dresser around? I know there was room that could be made.” He asked Cook
“Jane has done that, sir. There are a few bits of undergarments for Miss . . . Mrs. Margaret in one drawer and one other empty one for her. I think you will need a second wardrobe. When she buys her frocks, that’s going to take a lot of room, but it isn’t necessary today.”
John thought about her frocks hanging next to his clothes. A feeling rushed through him. It was all real. It had really happened. She was his.
After leaving Cook, he headed to see Inspector Mason to talk with him about the latest details, leaving out the part about Margaret’s brother. He wasn’t sure if Mason would see it as he did. But Margaret came first, and if Mason needed that information, he would just have to trust him.
Finding Mason in his office, he entered and closed the door.
“Mason, I’ve come to let you know what is happening. There is reason to believe that this man that attacked Miss Hale could be boxed into a corner and may come searching for her. Easily, he knows that she is a witness to all of his abuses and is unlikely to think she will be quiet about it. Tomorrow, Margaret comes home. I will spend the night at the hospital since this new information has come to light. There seems to be a gathering of protectors for Margaret, including family and friends of family and most of all, myself. You’ve known me quite a few years, and I believe you know I will do whatever it takes to protect her. I cannot stress that enough.”
Mason could read between the lines with what John was telling him. “Congratulations, by the way. It sure took you long enough to wed that Miss Hale. My best to you both. It will be nice to have her here again in Milton. It will be nice of you to give the other single men a chance at the single ladies. I’ve heard today of two successes in men asking a lady out for the evening and have been accepted.”
“Mason, you jest. It wasn’t like that, at all.”
“It’s good the type of man that you are. Humble, I guess I would call it. I don’t think you ever realized the pressure you put on the rest of us, single men. You were a hard man to live up to in the women’s eyes.”
“Now, stop that. You’re beginning to sound like Higgins.”
“I may be kidding you a little, but not much. Now, getting back to this information. Do you know what he looks like?”
“No, but I guess I could ask Margaret’s family that has arrived from London today. As of yet, Margaret knows nothing of this. The doctor and I still feel she could be emotionally unstable in her acceptance of all this torture she endured.”
“And do you know why she endured it?”
“Yes, but telling you would put you in a position in finding yourself at odds.”
“If you are talking about her brother, I have known about him since he left Milton when her mother died. Not knowing that Miss Hale would leave Milton, I looked into that. I’m not interested in doing the Navy’s work for them. I’ve always felt the Navy was too harsh on their treatment of such acts. It’s like they don’t want to hear any rebuttal. I don’t want to see her brother hang, especially now that he’s your brother-in-law.”
“Yes, I guess he is at that. I only learned of his existence a few days ago. If I had only known back then, it would have saved Margaret from all of this. She would have been my wife long ago. Mason, I appreciate you seeing it the way, I do. It appears that he may be heading this way, too, to rescue his sister. He doesn’t know she’s here or she’s married. He’s looking up Adam Bell, trying to find this Hartford. Somehow, we’ll get a description of him to you. He could be here now, or very soon. Since we’ve gotten Frederick away from his watcher, his only recourse now is to silence Margaret with his plan falling apart.”
“I will have a meeting with my men. Keep me informed of any news and get me that description.”
“That I will. Good evening, Mason. Thank you once again.”
John returned to the hospital as the late afternoon gave way to early twilight. He was sure Margaret would be exhausted by now, and he would clear the room for her. First, he sought out the evening doctor, in charge. He didn’t ask; he told him he would be in her room for the night. She could be in danger, and he was not leaving her side. The hospital was glad to give him full responsibility.
John walked into Margaret’s room as if nothing was going on.
“Ladies, I think you have had enough time with my wife. In fact, you have had more time than I have. I want her to rest, so if you will excuse us, I believe Adam is awaiting your company for dinner at the hotel.”
“Margaret, I will bring you a lose frock to wear home tomorrow,” Edith noted.
“That is kind of you, Miss Shaw,” said John “When she arrives home and settles in she will be required to rest for a while. Please do not come to visit until the middle of the afternoon. Take some time and see our city.”
John walked Mrs. Shaw and Miss Shaw a short way down the corridor. “Miss Edith or Mrs. Shaw, our Inspector would like a description of Captain Hartford if you can provide one. He could come looking for her, and we want to be prepared. As I said, I am taking no chances. I would appreciate it if you could stop by the police station which is located in the Central Court House on this very road.
“Please call me, Edith, Mr. Thornton. After all, we’re family, now. Yes, we will stop by the police station. Who do we ask for?”
“Edith, and you may call me John, ask for an Inspector Mason. Tell anyone you meet that John Thornton as sent you to see Mason.” John offered, never looking at Mrs. Shaw. He was not going to offer the same familiar courtesy to Mrs. Shaw, to call him by his given name. She was senior to him, and it was only right that he continued to call her Mrs. Shaw.
“I hope you two have pleasant accommodations in the hotel. It’s not London here. We’re a working town. There are no society levels here. I hope you can bear with us on that score. Good day ladies. My driver is waiting for you outside. His name is Branson.”
Captain Lenox had arrived back in London and decided to see Detective Boyle before going to the Shaw’s home.
“Come in Captain Lenox. What can I do for you?” asked Boyle.
“I believe you are the man that Constable Leyland turned over the Margaret Hale case, to.”
“That would be correct. And you are?”
“I am Captain Maxwell Lenox. I soon will marry Miss Hale’s cousin, Edith. The Captain Hartford, who I only just met a few months ago, has caused me some uncomfortable feelings.”
“Before you go through the whole story, Captain Lenox, I have the report and know of your participation. What can I do for you?”
“I just returned from a small town far outside London where I followed a rumor regarding Hartford’s past. The father of the daughter said that a detective had been there only yesterday. I wanted to ensure you found out all that I did. The police would not speak with me, but the father was very candid about his thoughts.”
“Please go on Captain Lenox. I will be interested to hear what you were told.”
Maxwell was shown to a chair in the detective’s office and began his story. He included everything in case some items were missing from the report that the detective had received.”
“Thank you, Captain. Your information matches ours fairly close except we received more from the police there. I wish I could share it with you, but you understand that I cannot. Have you spoken to your commander about any of your suspicions?” Boyle asked.
“No, I have told no one. Even the family does not know all that I know. I find it very embarrassing that a man of such rank could act as it seems he has. I am not sure how I want to handle this. I’m sure you cannot advise me. It’s just that the Commander should be notified, but I have no witness to bring forward. We haven’t located Miss Hale, yet, to know the whole story.”
“You have now, Captain. She’s been found. She was injured and wound up in a hospital in Milton.”
“Milton? She lived there over two years ago. You said hospital. How badly was she injured?”
“Severely, it would seem. She’s recovering well, and I just heard that she married a man she knew when she once lived there. I believe the Shaw’s left today to see her. I’m going there tomorrow to interview her. I would appreciate it if you didn’t tell your Commander. After all, like you said, you have no proof. I think we do. Let’s not spook him. I have someone watching him all the time now.”
“I will not speak with the Commander, then. I’ll wait and see how you progress. I will be off to Milton tomorrow myself, it would seem.”
“Can you just take off like you did yesterday, today and now tomorrow?”
“I have leave coming to me. It is not a problem, at least for a couple more weeks. I was saving time for my honeymoon, but this has taken a priority in the family’s life. I will not wear my redcoat but will have it with me if you think I can be of any help in uniform. I can understand why Miss Hale ran, but we have no motive for any of this. Can I ask if you know why this behavior?”
“You can ask, but I am not permitted to say. Perhaps, when you reach Milton, more will come to light for you. It would seem that everyone of any knowledge of this case is going to be in Milton by tomorrow. I will be working with a Chief Inspector Mason when I arrive. I’m not sure where I’ll stay if you need to get in touch, but there must be a hotel there somewhere. Certainly, you can find me through their local police station. Thank you, Captain, for bringing your concerns to our attention. It would appear that you are not closing ranks on this and I appreciate that. I shall see you in Milton. Good day, sir.”
Maxwell nodded and left, quite relieved and surprised at the events that took place while he was away for one day. He would stop by the Shaw’s home for his own knowledge.
Not finding the Shaw’s at home, the housemaid said they had traveled to Milton very early this morning. Returning to his quarters, arriving only by minutes when a note was delivered to him. It was from Edith telling him essentially what he had heard from the detective. He pulled his leather satchel down and packed for his trip to Milton.
“Do you know what I am going to do to you when I get you home tomorrow?”
“I don’t know, but I think I’ll like it,” Margaret replied, resting back after her long day of relatives.
“I am going to kiss you until you cannot breathe. We are far behind where we could be in kissing, and I will start making up for it tomorrow. Perhaps, tonight even. I am staying here with you tonight.”
“You are!” was heard from a gleeful Margaret. With a little consideration, she asked, “Why?”
“You wish me to leave?” John feigned hurt.
“No! No, of course not, but it’s not permitted, is it?”
“I permitted it, myself.”
“Do Magistrates have such powers?” she asked.
“Yes, have you not known that?” John replied, kiddingly. “How many weddings do you think take place in hospitals? Have you ever heard of that happening to anyone else?”
“I do not think you are speaking truthfully. I think you just want to kiss me,” she laughed.
“That I do, too, my love.”
“Are you really here for the night?”
“Oh, dear,” Margaret quietly bemoaned. “Can you call a nurse, please?”
“What is it? Do you feel bad?” John asked anxiously.
“No. Before I settle down for the night, I should go over to that screen.”
“Oh, I see,” John smiled to himself. “I can help you get there.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
John didn’t hear the amusement in her voice and was taken aback momentarily. “Margaret, are you really afraid of me or is it just the newness of us?”
“I’m really afraid; you know what I mean. I guess it is the newness of us. That sounds exactly like what it is.”
John was relieved.
“Margaret, I will simple help you to get there since the room is becoming dim. I’m not asking to take away the screen, my love.” He wanted to laugh but held it in. “You will have to talk with Cook tomorrow, and she’ll tell you how proud she was of me as we, together, went shopping for a woman’s needs today.”
“You did not!”
John was silent. John could see her studying his face for some smirk, but he had none.
“You did not!”
“If you insist,” John replied.
“I knew it.”
“All right. I guess we have to start somewhere. You can help me to the screen.”
John popped out of his chair. He waited for Margaret to adjust her gown and start to push the sheet down. John gently felt behind her knees, which brought on a typical male reaction, and swung her legs to the side of bed.
“Did I do good? I can’t see how badly you might be grimacing.”
“That was fine. When I know it’s going to happen and can turn my whole body at once, it works without pain. I don’t know if my rib is getting better or I am just getting used to the discomfort of it.”
“Yes, that’s probably so. I doubt the medication for pain has anything to do with it, anymore.” John smarmed.
Margaret wiggled until her feet touched the floor. “Can you pull my hands now? I can’t seem to use my stomach muscles to stand myself up from this low bed.”
John pulled her to her feet and then took her elbow to steady her for the short walk across half of the room. Arriving at the commode chair, he moved the screen away momentarily so she could maneuver herself, and then replaced it.
“Thank you. You can sit back down now. Don’t hover.”
John was enjoying himself, exceptionally, at her shy innocence. He could hear her rustling her gown which must be a nuisance for women, he thought. The room was finally quiet. He started to smile. Either Margaret was trying to urinate quietly, or she was finding it difficult. He knew it would never happen quietly, as she dribbled into an enamel pan.
“Can you talk or sing or let me hear about one of your cases in the courtroom?”
John could hardly answer for the grin on his face at her nervousness.
“All right. There once was a man from . . .” John stopped. A light tinkling sound was heard. “I h-e-a-r you,” he said.
The sound stopped immediately.
“That’s interesting, he laughed.
“What is?” asked a helpless Margaret.
“That’s very interesting,” John repeated.
“Are you talking for my sake or are you actually talking to me.”
“I am talking TO you, Margaret.”
“Well, what’s so interesting and hurry up about it.”
“That the sound stopped in a snap. Just like that. No more water running into the pan.”
“Can’t men do that?” Margaret asked, now with interest.
“I’m really not sure. I’ve never had an occasion to try it.”
“Yes, I’ve heard about that part of men’s bodies. Once that thing gets going, there’s no stopping it.” Margaret heard the biggest laugh from John and was able to release the rest and finish. “Don’t try to deny that you’re not sure about that.” Margaret chuckled.
John finally caught his breath, and the room was silent again.
“Is everything all right with you? Do I need to leave the room?” he asked, still stifling his last bout of laughter.
“No, I’m done.”
“Are up ready to return to the bed?”
“Not quite yet.”
John waited and could her a few groans coming from the other side of the screen. He was confused. Was there another step he didn’t know about?
“Is there a problem, my love?”
“There seems to be a small one. I think I need the nurse this time.”
“Margaret. Let me help you. I want to help you. We are going to have several weeks of this, so let me help you now, while the room is dim,” he chuckled.
“I can’t bend over to reach my drawers that slid to the floor,” Margaret said embarrassed.
“Lucky me,” said John, quietly.
“Nothing, sweetheart. I’ll be right there and even close my eyes if you insist.”
“If you won’t call the nurse, I have no choice.”
“All right. I am in front of the screen. Tell me what to do.” John was now serious.
Nurse Pickering had stepped into the room unobserved and marveled at the sight happening. She placed her hand over her mouth and continued to watch.
“Close your eyes.”
“Now, slide the screen away . . . that’s it.”
“Next,” John replied, keeping his eyes closed as promised.
“Now, feel my hands?”
“Yes, I have them. You want me to pull you to a standing position first?”
“All right. Here we go. I can’t see what I am doing so shout if I have you off balance.”
“You’re doing fine . . . that’s it.”
“Now, I suppose you want me to find your drawers and pull them up.”
“Yes, and don’t be funny about it.”
“Margaret, this is funny. I shall remember it all my life. I’m supposed to be pulling these the other way. I will try real hard to reverse the male’s coveted role in life.”
Now, Margaret was laughing, and Nurse Pickering couldn’t hold her laughter back either.
“Bravo said Nurse Pickering. You two work well together. I hope it becomes easier when there’s more light.”
John almost fell back on his butt at being surprised by their audience. He recovered gracefully. “Did we pass muster, Mrs. Pickering?”
John stood up and held Margaret’s elbow, guiding her back to bed. The nurse collected the enamel pan and left the room, laughing.
“Well, Mrs. Thornton, this honeymoon has been slightly different than I’ve always thought one should be, but I am loving every minute, even when I heard you,” he exaggerated for good measure. “Let’s see . . . I’ve touched the softness at the back of your knee. I want to do better at that. This was just a trial. You let me skim the sides of your legs as I struggled to pull up your undergarment. That had me in a sweat. Please do not let another man know I did that.”
Margaret was laughing too hard. “Stop. It hurts to laugh this hard.”
“I have had so many “firsts” today, I must write them down. I never want to forget these past two days with you.”
“You will not write them down.”
“I will need to refer to my notes for future reference until I am proficient.”
Margaret just sighed, hoping he was teasing her. He was going to be caring with her shyness. John would soothe her fears, she knew. She wondered where their sense of humor came from when it wasn’t there before. They both were appearing slightly different but in a nice way.
It came to her that two years ago, they had been in love separately, now they were in love together and very happy about it.
Captain Grant Hartford sat at his desk and began to assemble the broken puzzle.
Grant Hartford began to assess the damages. He was damned to know how everything had gone wrong so quickly. It was the backhand to her face and the forceful sexual performance he had expected. That had worked in the past, but this time he’d gone too far with a woman who was a lady.
He pulled a sheaf of paper from his drawer and thought he’d start with a list of ‘irons in the fire.’ He sat there for a while. The list was blank. The only thing he knew for certain at that time was that Margaret was alive, now in hospital and married. The beatings to her body were no longer a secret. Maybe his ‘ace-in-the-hole’ was still playable. She never had known for sure that he did know of her brother so now that he didn’t have him anymore, it made little difference.
No one had yet to come after him for offenses against her, so perhaps she was still silent, covering for him, in order to maintain the safety of her brother.
On the other hand, her family would know of her injuries, and Captain Lenox and the Shaw’s knew that Margaret had been seeing him. Therein, lay the problem. Even if Margaret never spoke his name, the assumption would be there. Still, perhaps, they could do little with assumptions, legally.
Her husband could be a thorn in his side. If he was any man at all, he would seek some retribution. It would not matter if his wife admitted it to him or not, he would come after the man that had inflicted the fists to her body.
Grant thought, perhaps, this man, being only a mill master, may be willing to forego his revenge for a price. That was a long shot, but he had no worries about her husband in any regard. He could easily be dispatched, too.
Yes, Margaret had beating marks to her body, but until she told the world what happened to her, nothing was provable. He couldn’t believe a lady would admit what happened to cause his own injury. Margaret was the key. If she could never testify, he could get past the rumors as he’d done once before.
Grant knew he could put on a good act. He’d had Margaret and her family all fooled from the beginning, which included Captain Lenox. It would not be too hard to convince his Commander of his innocence if he tried hard enough. He would ask for reassignment and start over.
He drew up his battle plans and pulled out a map to see where Milton was located. No one in Milton knew what he looked like except Margaret and her family, who would be at the hotels or thereabouts. He would leave for Milton to reconnoiter the playing field and finalize his plans, once there.
He wrote the name, John Thornton, on his paper.
Margaret awoke in the middle of the night with a nightmare. Quickly she became aware that John was sleeping in the chair beside her with his hand on hers. She wondered if she was worthy of this almost unreal man and his love for her. How could she be so blessed?
She laid back down and began to think about the conversation they had never finished earlier about him staying the night. Why she asked herself. She was coming home tomorrow. There had to be more to his wanting to be close than he was saying.
“He feared for her!” swiftly bolted through her head. John loved her, but he was there for protection. That was the only thing that made sense. Why she asked herself again. Grant Hartford would never come seeking her in Milton, would he?
Margaret tried to step into Grant’s mind and see this situation from his perspective. A kaleidoscope of ideas cascaded through her mind. The colored chips of glass would change with every thought. She couldn’t put anything together. Were the police involved; no one had even asked her about informing the police. That was strange in and of itself. Aunt Shaw should have been hounding her to go to the police. John was handling her as delicate as was possible. He had shown no signs of anger or revenge. She would not wish him to be obliged to harm her perpetrator but not speaking about him at all was . . .
“What are you thinking, my love?” John whispered in the dark.
“I woke, not expecting you to still be here and found you holding my hand. How am I so lucky to be the woman of your choice? You’ve had many women to select from over the years, and I wonder what makes me special.”
“It would take me a long time to list all that I love about you. We shall save that for a time when you are healed.”
“Would you ever lie to me,” Margaret asked.
“Now, where did that come from?” he asked. “Do you think I have lied to you?”
“You haven’t answered my question.”
John pulled his hand from hers long enough to right himself in the chair. She was serious. Something was pressing in on her to have any doubts about him.
“Do you have doubts about marrying me?” John asked with a trembling voice held at bay.
“No. I have no doubts about being your wife or your love for me or my love for you.”
“Then, what is this?” John rubbed her arm with one hand and intertwined his other fingers in her hand.
“I guess I don’t mean ‘lie to me’ but hold something from me?”
“Your being here tonight. I think you fear something and you are here to protect me.”
“Margaret, I will protect you all my life.”
“Is that a yes? I am the happiest woman in the world, John, being loved by you. I only have one fear and that is behind me now. I will move on. You will help me through the rough times, I know. By your sleeping in that horrid chair beside me, I feel there is something else happening that I know nothing of. It is a feeling, I have. Everyone is walking on eggs around me. No one has suggested going to the police. That seems strange. It occurred to me that my aunt did not once suggest I do something about that Captain. You know her well enough to know that is not her normal behavior. Talk to me, my husband. Where is your fear?”
John moved to her bed and sat beside her. He kissed her tenderly in the night. He held the sides of her face with both his hands and licked her lips. He kissed her eyes closed.
Margaret raised her arms gently to ensconce his face in her own hands. She couldn’t see him, but she ran her fingers through his hair, down his face, across his lips and pulled him back for a deep kiss that she could feel through her body.
John wrapped his arms carefully around and drew her to his chest, holding her there. He could feel her heart hammering as was his. There was no talking, only feeling. He pulled her braided hair lose and raked it with his fingers. Margaret moaned softly.
“Am I hurting you my love?” John whispered into her ear.
“Quite the contrary. Why do I feel your fingers pulling through my hair all the way to my toes?”
“That’s what love is all about, my Margaret.”
“I think we’d better stop. I’m feeling as if my body is light-headed all over. My nerve endings are tingling.”
“Oh God, Margaret, how I love you.” John made love to her mouth once again and then laid her back on her pillow, but stayed on the bed.
“I’ve had a cot put into our room for me to sleep away from you, but I think I’ll have to move to another room, altogether. I can’t help but want to touch you all over, and you’re still in a hospital. I have no control around you, it would seem.”
“I think I will be glad of your weakness very soon. I cannot think of what my own actions are going to be like after this.”
“Margaret, don’t think. At times like this, when we are moved to an emotional and passionate place, you don’t think, you just do. You draw from me and I from you. We want to become one, that is natural, that is love. You hold nothing back from me. You forget all that you were ever taught as a child, and you give yourself to me as I give myself to you. Never think, just love me. Be one with me.”
“John, that is beautiful. I am not sure I would even have the willpower to hold back if you make me feel like I just did.”
“That is beautiful to hear, too. You have just given me the pride to be the man to make the earth move for you of which I have only dreamt about. It’s within my reach, now.”
John could hear Margaret beginning to weep. He leaned down and swept away the new tears with his mouth and kissed her once again.
Captain Lenox was on the train platform to Milton by 6:00am. He carried with him a satchel with his uniform and other clothes as well as a portfolio of all gathered information. He had sat and tried to draw a picture of Grant, but that wasn’t one of his specialized skills. His training was more into ‘infiltration,’ where Grant’s was setting a battle field with logistics and strategy’s. Lenox had brought his small personal arsenal of two pistols, ammunition, but left his dress sword behind. To his way of thinking Grant had one recourse and that was to silence Margaret before she accused him directly of her mistreatment. Maxwell had to bring the man to Army justice or bring him down. He was an embarrassment to a proud and centuries old tradition of brave men, stemming back to the knights of old. Women were always championed, never mistreated or worse.
With the exception of a daylight cargo voyage across the channel, Frederick had traveled by night, mostly on foot, with the occasional merchant wagon giving him a lift on their way to market in Milton. After three years of running he didn’t feel the Navy was actively pursuing him, but would always be on the lookout should he ever be spotted by forces that knew of such wanted seaman. He felt more at ease from how he managed entry and exit from England, now almost two years ago. No one knew him in Milton. He would only be recognized in Helstone. It would not be beyond the Navy’s realm to check on his sister now and again to ensure that he had not taken refuge with her.
Margaret insisted that John go home and clean himself up and have a meal and hopefully she would be nearly ready for him when he returned. With his hesitation, it took constant prodding by Margaret for him to leave.
“I thought I once heard you say – and it was very recent – that you would not be able to deny me anything. Has that gone away?” Margaret smiled.
John kissed her for the fourth time that morning and did her bidding. He was surprised to find Branson waiting outside. Branson seemed to be nodding off in the box. John woke him by getting into the box himself.
“Master, I’m sorry. I haven’t even been waiting that long.”
“I didn’t expect you, but I’m glad you are here,” John said. “I would like you to go in the hospital and keep an eye on my wife while I run home for a short time.”
“I’ll be glad to, but wouldn’t you want me to drive you home first?”
“I’ll take the team,” John said, trying very hard, not to show his trepidation. It had been a long time since Branson had taught him how to handle a team and turning a coach.”
“You, sir? You’ll pull the coach?” Branson wanted to laugh.
“I see that smile you are hiding. Go ahead, laugh. I will permit it this time because these are unusual times.”
Branson took his Master at his word and burst out laughing.
“You know, Branson, I really didn’t think you would do that.” And then John laughed.
“Here Guv, take my cap. I’d be too embarrassed for anyone noticing it was you driving my team. They are used to an experienced driver.”
“Give me the damn cap and get out of the box,” John laughed.
From ground level, Branson shouted, “It’s WHOA to make them stop and WALK ON to make them start.” He turned his back on his master, almost in a fit of hysterics.
As Branson mounted the hospital steps he heard his master say, “Walk on . . . . walk on.”
“Guv, you have to ruffle the reins at the same time.” Branson didn’t have the heart to watch any longer and entered the hospital. He went to the registration desk to find where Mrs. Thornton was located. He wondered to himself, what should he call her. He’d have to see what Jane and Cook called her.
Branson found his way to the room and the door was open. He knocked lightly to get her attention before proceeding inside.
“Branson! Come here and give me a hug.”
Branson was stupefied. What planet was he on? The master driving the team-the mistress wanting a hug.
“If you wish,” he babbled out.
“It’s very good to see you, Miss,” Branson gently put his arms around her, like an old friend. “My heartiest congratulations on your marriage. Besides being very happy because my boss is finally happy, you will now be saving me long hours of waiting for him.”
“You mean as he visits his past lady friends,” Margaret smiled, putting him at ease for the words he realized he’d misspoken.
“You have a real shiner, there, Miss. I’m not sure what to call you. Do you have a preference?”
“Hmm… you won’t call me Mrs. Thornton, I don’t want that rigid formality in our home as I am sure your master wouldn’t either. What do you call, John?”
“I usually call him Guv, which he has never seemed to mind. Once in a while, I’ll call him Master like everyone one at the Mill does.”
“Let me think. I would imagine Mistress would be most suitable, but you can leave it at Miss, short for Mistress, as far as I am concerned. If ‘the Guv’ says different, we’ll negotiate.”
Branson knew his Master had met and married the perfect woman for him. He almost loved her, himself, in a brotherly fashion.
“We all have been waiting for you to come home.”
“Home . . . that has a nice sound to it, Branson.” Margaret became a bit maudlin, and Branson didn’t know what to do.
“Did you pass John on the way here?”
Branson started with a big smile, and it turned into a chuckle.
“What has you smiling like that? You are going to make me laugh, and I don’t know why.”
“The Guv sent me in here, and he took the team home.”
“And why is that funny?”
“He really doesn’t ever drive the team. It’s been years. We’ll be lucky to see the coach return in one piece.”
Margaret started to laugh and then held herself around the ribs. “I’m sorry. That is funny, but right now, I have a hard time laughing.”
“Miss, we are all terribly upset about the . . . the horrible experiences you’ve been through.”
Margaret had to wonder if everyone knew everything.
“Thank you, Branson. That’s all behind us now,” Margaret said as she saw Branson’s serious face appear.
“What is it, Branson? And just why did your Guv send you to me, when we would meet again in a few hours?”
“I just obey him.” Branson worried that he couldn’t recover from the sense that she just picked up on.
“He is so happy today, he’s acting like another person from the one I’ve always known. I didn’t ask why I just did and am very happy to see you recovering. Do you have a bag packed or can I help you with anything?”
Margaret did not want to put Branson on the spot any longer.
“I’m waiting for a final visit and last minute directions from the doctor. Then, I believe, my cousin should be here any moment, to bring me a frock to dress in. Now, I am just waiting for me breakfast. Why don’t you sit down in that chair and so we can talk. Where’s your cap? Don’t you always wear a cap?”
Branson smiled. “I made the master wear it so no one would notice him. You don’t know how flustered I am at him driving my team.”
“Are they really your team? Is that common for a driver to be hired with his own team?”
“The master bought them, of course, but they’re mine, and he knows that. Besides my lady friend, they are my life.”
“Tell me about your lady friend. Is she pretty?”
“As pretty as they come. She’s about this high,” Branson indicated a few inches shorter than himself, “and she’s a little bit of a thing. She has black hair like the Guv, unlike my yellow hair.”
“Does she work at the mill?”
“Oh, no. She works for a lady in a ribbon shop on the main street.”
“Are there any thoughts by you for a future attachment to her?”
Branson began to squirm in his seat. “I’m not sure how that would work. I will never leave the Guv, and I don’t know how she’d feel living over a stable in two small rooms. I haven’t yet talked with the Master if there was any other answer.”
“Well, Branson, don’t worry. I am now half of the decisions being made in regards to the house. I might be able to have him see my way about some changes. Not in the very near future, mind you, I have to break him in gently . . . like a horse.” Margaret laughed, again, holding her ribs. “I’m sure he would not want to lose you, either. Let’s keep that in mind.”
“Thank you, Miss. I can see where a lot of things are going to change for the better when you are well.”
Edith came through the door with a small parcel in her hand. Aunt Shaw was right behind her.
“I’ll be outside the door,” Branson said and left the room.
“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.
Margaret tried to reach for the parcel that Edith had left at the foot of the bed. John retrieved it for her.
“What’s this,” he asked.
“My frock to wear home and some undergarments. I won’t wear the corset, of course.” Margaret stalled as she waited for the obvious to be mentioned.
“Don’t be alarmed, my love. I will dress you since there will be no corset.”
“But . . .”
“But nothing, my dear sweet wife. You can deny me nothing, remember?” John said to smooth the sticky moment for Margaret.
She smiled, through her weeping that she was holding at bay.
“Somehow, I heard that differently, I thought.”
John unrolled the parcel and found the split bloomers. He gently pulled her to her feet and sat on the side of the low bed.
“Now put your hands on my shoulders and step into these when I say so.”
John readied the garment and told her to lift her foot, and he would slip it into the legging part.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes, John. I think so. It’s not the medical condition you know?”
“Yes, love. It’s nerves and the newness of us, again. Here, now step into the other side but don’t let go of my shoulders. This is very enjoyable you know.”
“It is? Really?”
“If you only knew. I am grossly understating it.”
As he slid the garment up, he pulled her gown up and kissed her belly.
“Next we have this half slip, I guess you call it. It’s not that big puffy one.”
“John, the puffy one is called a crinoline. No, Edith knew better about me wearing one of those.”
“We will do the same thing. You raise one foot, I will slide it under your foot, and then you put the next foot inside.”
“Dear husband, I think I have that part down for the past twenty years.”
“But have you ever had a husband help you?”
“I don’t even think my father helped me when I was a small child.”
“How are your nerves doing?” he asked.
“Better. I might come to like this one day.”
“I will love this forever,” John said.
Margaret stepped back, still wearing the hospital tent, a slip, and bloomers. All there was, was the frock. Margaret couldn’t see any way around getting the frock on without taking off the gown.
John rested back on the bed with his arms behind him, smiling at her face as she worked out the next step.
“I’m really going to enjoy the frock,” he said.
“I think I am breaking out in a sweat,” Margaret replied.
“Does that mean you feel warm all over?”
“Yes, it does. No, wait . . .”
The look on John’s face would have made her fall in love with him at that moment if she hadn’t all ready loved him.
“Can you pull this off without kissing me?”
“No,” John said, continuing to rest on his arms.
“Can you limit the kiss to my lips?” Margaret asked.
“All right, Mrs. Thornton. No kissing.”
John stood and looked over the frock to study how it should be handled to slide over her easily. He would have to gather all of the fullness in first, but not before removing the white hospital garment.
“Are you ready? I see how this will slip on faster.”
Margaret closed her eyes and lifted her arms. “Ready.”
John lifted the gown bringing those bountiful breasts into close view. He dropped the white gown and rubbed her nipples with his thumbs, holding her under her arms with the rest of his hand.
Margaret moaned. John was undone by her reaction.
“Please what,” he asked, looking into her closed eyes and saw a flush come to her cheeks. He continued to tease her and please them both. “I’m sorry. But I didn’t kiss you as you asked.” John stopped his self torture and settled Margaret on steady feet. She waivered, and he caught her.
“I think there are two people in this room that rather liked that,” he said.
“I think one of them loved that, and it isn’t you.”
John kissed her lips and found the frock. He gathered the voluminous lower half and slipped it over her head, taking one last look at the perfect woman before him.
“There.” John held her to his chest while she was standing. Finally, he sat her in the chair and opened the door to her room. He looked about the room and gathered the rest of her belongings and rolled them into the brown paper parcel that her cousin had brought.
Nurse Pickering arrived with the rolling chair. “Mrs. Thornton, I’ve enjoyed having you as a patient and meeting the famous John Thornton in the bargain.”
Nurse Pickering maneuvered Margaret into the chair while she watched John’s face. He had no reaction to her compliment. That was the John that faced the world.
“I’ve enjoyed knowing you, Mrs. Pickering. Thank you for listening to me at times and your gentle care. Maybe we could have tea in the future.”
“Thank you, I would like that. Are you ready?”
“Let’s go,” Margaret smiled.
John followed, bursting with happiness to finally bring her home.
The coach was waiting at the rear door. John easily pulled Margaret into his arms. He climbed into the coach at an angle and gently settled her on his lap as he sat. Branson reined the team slowly home.
John kissed her repeatedly during the ride. He slid his hand down her legs and realized she was barefoot. Why hadn’t he notice that before?
“Margaret, did you travel to Milton with a pair of shoes?”
“I must have.”
John remembered they must still be in the guestroom, where Donaldson first examined her.
“Mrs. Thornton, you cannot know how much this day means to me.”
“Do you mean, aside from my body being present.” Margaret smiled.
“Yes, you silly goose. I love you in spite of your exquisite body. How’s that? I have wanted you, the core, and soul of you, in my life. I’ve wanted to talk with you and laugh with you. I admit I want to pleasure you, too, but that is only part of the Margaret, I love. Now, I have all of you. Margaret, my life is abundant. I am a completed man.”
“Yes, that is becoming apparent underneath me.” She laughed.
John smiled. “Be serious for a moment. I’m trying to tell you how much you mean to me. I guess we’re both trying to tell you how much we love you,” he chuckled. He has a mind of his own, sometimes. Most of the time, we get along, but there are going to be times with you that he will embarrass me, especially if others are present. You see, I have issues too, about bodily reactions, but I have no screen to hide behind. You will just have to know me and him. And I will not be ashamed or embarrassed with you.”
“He really does things on his own?”
“Yes, it is a curse that men have been proud of since the dawn of time.”
“I shall be glad to meet him,” Margaret tittered.
Margaret saw the broad beaming smile coming towards her lips, once again.
The drive was slow, the kisses were hot, but they finally made it to Marlborough Mills.
“It appears you are home with me,” John said still holding her in his arms, as Branson opened the coach door. Branson ran ahead and open the house door.
“John, I think I would like to try the steps.”
“Not until I have realized one of my dreams, Mrs. Thornton.”
“And what is that?”
“I’ve always dreamed of carrying you over the threshold. Then I shall put you down, and we shall see.”
A crowd quickly gathered from the mill workers and started to applaud. As John got to the top of the porch, he turned to the waiting crowd, still with Margaret in his arms, as said, “People, meet my new bride, Mrs. Margaret Thornton. When she is recovered, she will want to meet all of you. Thank you for your thoughts this morning.”
John turned and carried Margaret through the door, as Margaret waved to the workers standing there applauding. There again, a pang hammered his heart as he felt his first love would easily interface with his second love . . . his mills and its people.
Kicking the door closed, he asked Margaret if she still felt like trying a few stairs. Margaret looked up the steep expanse and changed her mind.
“Maybe I will try coming down them, first, but not today.”
From a distance, Frederick Hale watched with utter confusion as his sister was carried across a threshold. Now, he remembered seeing that man when last in Milton at the train station. That must be John Thornton. He had to hand it to Adam Bell; he sure found a way to keep her from marrying that other man in London. She looked happy, but he wouldn’t leave until he knew for sure. She looked like she had a black eye. Frederick decided to wait and find Adam Bell. After watching the Milton Grand for several hours, he had only seen his aunt and cousin leave the hotel. Frederick pulled back into the shadows. He needed time to sort out what Bell and told him and what his eyes were telling him before contacting his sister. He walked a distance, not conscious of where he was. He found a small dirty pub in the poor section not too far from the mills and entered. It was dark, and he found a booth where he could watch the front door.
Frederick pulled Adam Bell’s note from his pocket and read it again. He was now in Milton, and so was his sister. John Thornton was not a military man but announced that he had married his sister, to the people who had congregated. He, himself, was free from the man in London, but he didn’t know if his sister knew that. She must know that by now, he thought. Bell should have received his letter and told her. Frederick thought that his sister may have been injured from his glimpse of her, but it was from far away and very quick.
“I’ll have a pint and a beef sandwich,” Frederick replied to the barmaid who had come to his table.
He had to find Bell.
It was nearing midday when Detective Boyle boarded the train for Milton. Before leaving, he had checked on the availability of a telegraph station in Milton and found there had been one recently wired through. The address of the telegraph office and the address of the police station seemed to be within a relatively close distance to each other. He left two men watching Grant Hartford’s movements, although they could not watch him on post. His men could only hope to spot him coming or going through the post gates since he didn’t seem to spend time at his home.
John carried Margaret into the parlor and set her down on her feet easily. Jane and Cook were there to greet her and congratulate the two of them. Margaret enjoyed her arrival not only from the hospital but now to the home that she would share with John. She had never seen past the dining room and parlor but knew it to be a handsome home for Milton. Jane and Cook seemed to be genuinely happy that she was coming in as the woman of the house. Margaret was warmed by their sincere wishes and offerings to help her settle in and eventually learn the running of a house this size.
Cooks first question was about menus and did she want to prepare them.
“Ladies, please.” John interrupted, “my wife is only shortly out of a sickbed. Let us give her some time to heal and adjust before she begins to make decisions. She will be mistress of this house, but for the next week or so, she will be treated as a special guest.”
The staff welcomed Margaret once again and left the room. Cook said the nurse would be arriving in about two hours.
“What would you like to do first, Mrs. Thornton?” John asked, not able to control his happy face.
“I would prefer to sit a while. I don’t feel like going to a bed yet.”
Branson entered the parlor and asked where he should put the parcel of clothes that came home with them. “I’ll take it,” said John, setting it aside, on a chair.” Thank you, Branson. Wait. Don’t leave just yet. I have a question.”
“Your Mistress told me that she and you were discussing her and my feelings for each other earlier today. Is that a true statement?”
Branson looked bewildered at Margaret, “I’m sorry, Miss. No, we did not discuss that, Guv.”
Margaret watched John expand his chest with a triumphant look on his face.
“Branson, please excuse your Master for asking such a personal question and putting you ill at ease. He does not have it correct.”
“If I remember correctly,” John puffed, “I said, ‘I love you, Mrs. Thornton’ and I distinctly heard you say ‘We discussed that, too.’ Is that not correct?”
“Yes, that is correct,” smiled Margaret.
“Margaret, help me understand why that isn’t what I just asked Branson.”
“Are you sure you’re a Magistrate? Heaven help, Milton,” she laughed.
John looked stupefied with his mouth gaping slightly open as he fell onto the couch beside her.
“I see I will have to explain myself to the all knowing John Thornton of Marlborough Mills.”
“Yes, Margaret Thornton of Marlborough Mills, do explain yourself.”
Branson was baffled.
“The phrase as you correctly stated was, ‘I love you, Mrs. Thornton’. Branson and I discussed if he should call me, Mrs. Thornton, or something else.”
John looked at Branson, and he could see Branson was enjoying seeing his boss, upstaged.
“Branson, you are excused.”
“Gladly, Guv,” Branson replied while being glad to be out of that funny moment.
“Margaret, you only have a few weeks to play these games and show me up in front of my friends, staff, and peers. After that, you will be swept off to bed for every concoction of mischief that you place me in. And mind you, you shall beg me to stop.”
John saw her face change with his last statement. He moved over beside her and placed his arms around her.
“Oh, Margaret. How foolish I am. I am so very sorry. I hate myself for bringing back any despicable memories.”
“John, it just caught me off guard. I don’t know why. I don’t want you having to watch what you say or do. I know where I am and who I am with, and I know I chose to be here. These things will fade. And you were talking so lovingly to me, and I just froze. Please forgive me.”
“Margaret, there is nothing to forgive. And I don’t want you to be ‘on guard’ around me. This is all so fresh for both of us. I should have been more sensitive. Margaret, this is for both of us to get through. Do not feel you are alone in getting past these terrible events. We are one, now. It’s our problem to put behind us, not just yours.”
“John, sometimes, I think you are carrying a heavier burden than I am. I know what happened. I know how I feel. I know I will recover. You can only imagine. You may have doubts about my ability to pull through this, and you worry more than I do. One’s imagination can conjure something more intense than is actual fact. Someday, if you want to hear about that night, I will tell you. I am not a weak person. Please, do not, watch what you say. Please, don’t do that. I want the John that I love now, not some other John Thornton that chastises himself. You don’t need to fall on your sword every time you or anyone else says something around me. I am not going to fall to pieces. These all will pass. I’m not sure I could say that if you were not in my life and by my side. You give me the strength to return to the woman I want to be for you.”
“Margaret, never think you need to be more of a woman for me. You – just as you are – are everything I ever wanted out of life. You found your way back to me. You will never know how that makes me feel. There are no words for the feelings I had when I opened the door to find you there. Whether you were injured or not;, I wanted to die of happiness. You are the woman I want you to be. Know that and never change. You make me so proud to be your husband.”
John tenderly kissed her. Then, he backed away and stood up.
“Whew,” he said, walking around the room to cool off, running his fingers through his hair. This isn’t going to be easy, is it?”
“No. It is not. Remember, we will work through this together.” Margaret smiled up at him.
“That’s what I am afraid of.”
“Afraid of yourself?” asked Margaret.
“No, afraid of you!” John replied in all seriousness.
“What do you, mean, John? Why are you afraid of me?” Margaret faltered.
“Because as I said, I cannot deny you anything. If I should excite you before you are ready, it would be dangerous. I couldn’t say, no, to you.”
Margaret laughed with relief.
“I see. I will be to blame when you kiss my fool head off, as you like to say, and then I want more, is that it?”
John smiled. “I think you have it. I am the husband of a very passionate woman, I believe, and if she wasn’t I would make her so. So, I need your help now. Push me away; do not encourage me, or you might suffer the consequences.”
“Maybe I want that.” Margaret cajoled.
“Not the first time around, love. For a long time, I have dreamed of the tenderness of our first night together. There are a hundred plans floating around in my head, do this, don’t do that, gentle here, extremely gently there and then a more active vigorous claim on you. I am almost twice your weight and ten times stronger. Right now you would be crushed under my loving you.”
“Aren’t there slower introductions?” she echoed.
“Oh yes. Those are already planned, or you will have fallen in love with a man gone mad. It’s not that I need do this for me, but I cannot wait to do this for you. I have waited for a real woman I would love, to show me that I am a good lover to her. You are that woman. It has only been and will only be you.”
John had finally sat down by Margaret once again when a knock came to the front door.
“And now it begins – the endless parade of well-wishers. That should dampen the fires. You will be safe as long as there are visitors,” John smiled as he strode to the front door stairs.
“I’ve got it, Jane,” he called out.
John opened the door to the Shaw’s and a smartly dressed young man with perfect posturing in a red-coat. No one was going upstairs until he knew who this man was.
“Good afternoon, Miss Shaw, Mrs. Shaw, and you, sir, are?”
Maxwell extended his hand. “I am Maxwell Lenox. I am betrothed to Edith.”
“Oh yes, do come in. I am John Thornton, husband to Margaret Hale Thornton,” he said for good measure.
As the four came up the steps, John asked, “Are you the brother of Henry Lenox?”
“I hope you will not hold that against me, Mr. Thornton, but I am. Margaret made her choice a long time ago, and that was his and her business, not mine. I can well imagine that you look at anyone new now as ‘friend or foe.’”
John had no reply to his last statement, but let it slide back in his mind for now. Unusual, he thought.
Margaret heard the visitors coming up the steps with John. It would be nice to see Maxwell again, she thought, but when she saw the red-coat, she let out a scream.
John squeezed past everyone coming through to the parlor room door and ran to her.
“John, I’m sorry. Everyone, I am truly sorry. Maxwell, I’ve so wanted to see you again, but your uniform just startled me. I’m fine now. Everyone, please sit down.”
“Margaret, I do apologize. How thoughtless of me.” Edith ran to Margaret’s other side. Do you want us to leave, Margaret?”
“No, don’t be silly. John and I just finished discussing these issues I will be working through. I’m sorry everyone. Maxwell, come here.” Margaret sniffled.
“I’m sorry to scare all of you. Maxwell, give me a gentle hug and put it out of your mind, what I just did.”
Mrs. Shaw wandered over to John’s chair and dropped in it, completely shaken by Margaret’s outburst.
John had been shaken to his core with her reaction. No matter how she tried to soothe his concerns for her, he knew they were buried deep as the doctors had mentioned.
As Edith petted Margaret, John went to the back stairs and called Cook, asking for her to get Branson up here to serve the bar.
Maxwell walked to John and apologized. “Mr. Thornton, I was thoughtless. I am sorry.”
“Captain, please be at ease. I have but just recently said words that had almost the same reaction. This is still very fresh, and we are beginning to manage.” John explained.
“In regards to ‘it,’ I would like to have some private words with you in the next day or two. I have information that I feel I should tell you. I will be at the Milton Hotel.”
“I would very much like to hear what you have to say. I will set something up and send word.”
Both men returned to the center of the room. Maxwell went to the other fireplace chair and John on Margaret’s side.”
“Aunt, it will be another time that I show you through our house. I have only seen this room and that one myself,” Margaret said, pointing to the dining room.
“Margaret, do not concern yourself with me. I will be glad to see it another time.” Mrs. Shaw was overcome with Margaret’s fright at seeing Maxwell’s uniform. She realized that her fear ran deep, even this far from London. What she must have suffered.
“So, I gather you just returned home, then?” Mrs. Shaw asked, endeavoring to take the conversation in a new direction.
“Yes, we have not been here an hour, yet.”
Branson appeared at the stop of the steps when all eyes landed on him.
“Everyone, this is my fearless and experienced driver,” John smiled, “Branson. He is here to take your refreshment orders.” Branson remembered the two women who had come to the hospital earlier that morning. He didn’t know the gent.
Maxwell rose and unexpectedly walked to Branson with his hand extended. “I am Maxwell Lenox, friend of the family.”
“Thank you, sir. It is nice to meet you.” Branson was taken aback at his courtesy to a driver.
Branson turned to the lady’s first. Branson went around the room. Mrs. Shaw wanted a cup of tea, Edith and Margaret had decided on a wine, while the men asked for scotch.
“I see you are a scotch man, too, Captain.” John offered.
Conversations were started, and John realized that Mrs. Shaw had trouble hearing across the room and offered to switch places with her. She agreed. Edith had brought Margaret a book to read while she recovered and the women talked about that.
John lowered his voice to speak with the Captain. “You have knowledge of most of this ordeal that Margaret has suffered?” John appealed.
“Yes, much more than Margaret, I dare say. Do you have any word on her brother?”
“I think Adam Bell is expecting to hear from him today. We believe he is safely out of the way. Margaret is now married to me, and I hope for her sake that is an end to it.”
John saw the Captain frown. He had to talk with him soon. “How long are you here for, Captain?”
“I’m not sure, yet. I will talk about that when we are alone.
Branson returned to the kitchen for the hot tea.
“Branson, how many people are up there? If they are going to stay, I will need to change my menu for midday,” Cook said anxiously.
“There are five, but I expect Mr. Bell will not be long before arriving. I would have thought him to be first. So, it best be six plus us.”
“Well . . . it will have to be sandwiches again, but I think I can make a few side dishes to go with it. I’ll have to wait on Miss Margaret’s special meal, I suppose.”
Branson returned with the tea when there was another knock.
“Sir, I’ll get that. I expect it’s Mr. Bell.”
“Thank you, Branson. That’s about all that is missing from this group.”
Branson trotted down the front stairs and opened the door to find Chief Inspector Mason and another new gent with an unlit pipe.
“Hello, Chief,” greeted Branson.
“I see a coach outside which isn’t yours. Would you tell Mr. Thornton, that I and Detective Boyle from the Metropolitan in London, are here to see Mrs. Thornton.”
“Yes, please come in and wait here. He may want to come speak with you before you go upstairs. There is family from London visiting Mrs. Thornton. I’ll return shortly.”
Branson flew upstairs to his Master and whispered in his ear. John shook his head and stood. “Captain, maybe you would like to come with me.”
Maxwell rose to his feet, setting his glass aside and pulled down his uniform jacket to perfection.
“John, what is it?” said a worried Margaret.”
“I am going to see about what is it right now.”
“And Maxwell is going with you?”
John couldn’t lie to her, and he couldn’t get close enough to whisper to her. The men had to be here to question her, and there would be no hiding their reason.
“Branson, bring them upstairs. Captain, have a seat.” John walked by the doorway to the downstairs and waited for them on the landing.
Margaret and the women peered over to see two men standing with John. Branson was trying to squeeze through the trio. Captain Lenox heard the voice of Boyle and rose himself, in respect.
“That’s Chief Inspector Mason,” Margaret said.
“And that’s Detective Boyle from the Met in London, I believe,” said Edith.
“I wonder if our driver could take me to the hotel,” asked Mrs. Shaw. This was all too much for me.” She would rather Edith told her about it later tonight. She motioned to Branson.”
“Yes, Mrs. Shaw, may I help you? More tea?”
“No, help me down the stairs. I will have my driver return me to the hotel.”
“Will you be all right mother?” asked Edith.
“Yes, stay if you will; I can manage.”
“Mother, Margaret is tiring. I will go with you and see her later. Is that agreeable, Margaret?”
“Yes, Edith. It would appear that I am in for some questions and then I will want to rest. Thank you, Aunt Shaw, for making the trip. Do not worry about me. I shall write to tell you how I am progressing and how much in love I am.” Margaret waved.
“Do that dear. Take care.”
The two women spoke to Maxwell on their way out and could see that he was going to stay.
“I will be at the hotel when I can. Just send the driver back,” he replied.
There seemed to be congestion at the doorway leading to the stairs.
The three men stepped into the parlor and let the ladies and Branson pass through. There were no goodbyes, as John seemed quite tied up with the Detective.
Margaret felt helpless sitting in the middle of the sofa, not having the armrests to aid her to rise.
John came to her side. “Margaret, you know Mason and the other man is a detective from London. He wants to question you after we have talked. I am going to carry you into our bedchamber and let you rest until I bring them to our room. I can turn them away if you want me to, but it will only be temporary. He wants to talk with you sometime.”
“Take me to rest. I’d like to get this over with. It would seem he is after that Grant Hartford?”
“I believe that’s his reason for being here. Captain Lenox, and your family opened the case in London. Since you are here, and they know you are too injured to return, he has come to you. Are you ready?”
“Branson, seat the gentleman while I take Margaret to our room.”
“That sounds wonderful, John.”
“Our room,” smiled Margaret.
“Sweetheart, nothing has yet gone the way I had planned. I wanted to introduce you to our room, alone. Now, I have to just deposit you and return. I shall make all of this up to you some day, my love.”
“Yes, I think I have missed all of the wooing and kissing alone this path to our marriage and no honeymoon.” She spoke in light-hearted tones, so John didn’t feel any worse than he did.
“I don’t know how long, we will be.”
“Oh, let me take my book.”
John turned with her in his arms and lowered her to grab her book and then swiftly moved through the crowd to get her out of there.
Captain Lenox greeted Boyle and was introduced to Mason. Branson took orders on drinks for the two new men. Mason declined, and Boyle asked for a whiskey, seeing that other alcohol was being consumed in the room.
Detective Boyle did not take a seat. He should have realized he would speak with the lady first and she may be able to rest.
John returned to the room.
“Mr. Thornton, I apologize. I do not wish for your wife to wait on us. If you don’t mind, I will speak with her now. Would that be possible?”
“I’d like to be present,” John said.
“Sir, with all due respect, I would wish to speak with her alone. Some things a woman will not say in front of her husband.”
“Being a Magistrate, I am quite aware of that.”
“I will be glad to call you in, in a short time,” replied Boyle. He hadn’t known the mill master of some fame was also a Magistrate. He was dealing with an intelligent man, he surmised.
John went upstairs, and Boyle followed. John tapped lightly on the door asking if he and Detective Boyle could come in.
“Yes, of course.”
Margaret was sitting up with pillows behind her, just as she had been in the hospital.
“Margaret, Detective Boyle would like to speak with you alone. Do you feel well enough for this?”
“Alone? Yes, if I must. I mean, yes. I am fine.”
John left the room and closed the door behind him. Detective Boyle introduced himself while pulling over a small chair to the bedside.
“My, this is some bed,” he cajoled.
“This is my first time in it or in this room. It’s been a hectic day starting out.”
“I will try to be brief. I have a few questions. I have asked your husband to be absent because I feel you will have something to tell me that he may not know about. What you tell him is not a problem, but what you tell me will mean a great deal. Do you understand what I am saying?”
Margaret blushed, and the whimpering began. “I know exactly what you are saying. My husband does know everything, I believe, as the doctors seemed to give him a full account. But having to finally say the words myself is going to be hard and I am glad he is not here to hover. He is very concerned for me, and he’s holding back his anger, but I can feel it there.”
“That’s understandable. Inspector Mason has cleared up the reason for why you came to him and are now married. That was a surprise to hear. My congratulations. Can you tell me in any words you can manage about the last night you were with Captain Hartford? And, before you begin, I know all about your brother’s past. Mason and I are in agreement and apparently your husband is, too, that we are not looking for him. Let the navy do their own job.”
“Thank you, Detective. That is such a huge relief. My whole life seems to have been one disaster after another because he’s been a mutineer, but I would not change what I have done, except where my husband is concerned. Had I’d known of his attitude about my brother, we would have been married before now.”
The detective pulled out a pad of paper and a pencil. Margaret thought about how the Met didn’t operate on much more of a budget than the local police.
“Begin where you can, Mrs. Thornton.”
Margaret didn’t start with the last night, she started from the beginning. She told of her injuries that the doctor had told her she’d had over a long time. She talked about how the injuries seemed placed to be hidden. Margaret spoke of her coercion to marry because of her money, so she thought, but everything was predicated on her brother being turned over to the Navy. She held up well until she finally arrived at her final night at his home.
“Mrs. Thornton, you are doing well. I am fairly certain I know what you are going to tell me, as it seems Captain Lenox has put a lot of this puzzle together. Tell me as best as you can, or I will say the words, and you can correct me.”
“Maxwell? Maxwell thinks he knows what that man did to me?”
“Yes, he gave me his assumptions and why. I find it quite likely he is right.”
“Can I ask what made him know?”
“It seems he visited Hartford the morning after you had disappeared, to ask about his knowledge of how you were taken home that night. Hartford, had, for two days, a lap blanket, lain across his groin area, each time Maxwell went. On his first visit, with his wife, she noticed your little handbag had slid to the side of the couch. Now, can you tell me?”
Margaret broke down and told him exactly what had happened that whole night. She showed him the hand prints on the back of her neck and tops of her arms. He declined to see her broken rib. Her black eye was most apparent.
“Mrs. Thornton, this is a travesty I have yet heard of in all my years. I am terribly sorry for your torturous times with that man.”
“I won’t have to say this in a court, will I? Margaret sniffled.
“I’ll make sure you don’t.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“I can’t answer that right now. We do know a lot more about this man than you do, and none of it is pretty.” Boyle told her.
“Is he still in London, walking around like nothing happened?”
“I cannot tell you that either, but I will say, we are watching him. When we have enough facts, we’ll know where he is to pick him up. Mrs. Thornton, you have been a brave woman, and I should not think that I will have to speak with you again. I know this has been very traumatic and some things may be recalled that are being left forgotten now or blocked out. If there is anything new, I will be here for a few days, or you can relay it to Inspector Mason. He is fully aware of this case and had started one of his own here in Milton.”
“Yes, your husband has been keeping him apprised of the situation. Mr. Thornton is very protective of you. Since he cannot leave you to see to this man himself, he wants to ensure he doesn’t come here.”
“Do you know anything about my brother?”
“No, we don’t. I am hoping to learn more about that while here. Is there anything I should know that you know?”
“I have no idea about him. I’m so worried. Mr. Bell, who was my father’s best friend all his life while he lived, has taken on the role of guardian because my father asked him to. Even being of age, he still feels the need to see that I am happy. He is dying soon,” Margaret wept the words. “He has endowed me with his fortune, which is what Grant was after, I believe. Mr. Bell is the only one in the family who may keep in some contact with my brother and know what’s happening.”
“And where is this Mr. Bell?”
“He lives at the university in London, but he’s here in Milton at the hotel. I guess you’re at the hotel?”
“Just arriving a little while ago, I think I’ll be staying in one of the empty jail cells while here. I will try and contact this Mr. Bell, later today. Again, my sympathy for your experience and hopefully, I won’t need you before this is all over. We will get this man, there is no doubt.”
“Thank you, Detective Boyle. That relieves me greatly.”
“I’ll show myself out. Good day.”
John had been waiting on the landing for the Detective to call him into his bedchamber, but Boyle exited instead.
“Have you completed your questions?” John asked.
“Yes. She is very brave, that wife of yours. After you’ve seen to her, I’d like to talk downstairs.”
“I’ll be down when I am sure she is all right. Please, have Branson fix you a drink.”
“The lad has done that. Thank you.”
John stepped into their bedchamber. Margaret looked pitiful; his heart wanted to break. She was propped up in such a large bed which made her look even smaller, she was alone and wearing a nice black eye. Now, her eyes were swollen, and her cheeks were red.
John sat next to her on the bed and held her in his arms. He didn’t need to say anything. She clung to him like she was drowning.
“John, she said, he won’t need to talk with me again, he thought. He said he would get the man. Maybe the real healing can begin now.”
“Margaret, this emotional wounding will be smothered away. I will see to that. You will not ever have to worry about him. It will just be you and I. I love you so much,” he said.
“Thank you, John.”
“For loving you?” he asked.
“Well, I guess and so much else. I don’t know where I’d be if you weren’t on the other side of that door when I knocked. You could have been married or any number of reasons for not wanting me. I guess I am thanking you for waiting . . . waiting for me to come home.”
Still cradling her to his chest, he allowed his own tears to fall on her shoulder.
“Can I lay down, now? I’m tired.”
“Is our bed softer than your one at the hospital,” John said, attempting to pass through the highly emotional moment.
“You still don’t have shoes on. Someone is going to think we are poor if I don’t get my love a pair of shoes,” he chuckled.
John helped her lay down.
“John can you pull that slip off of me.”
“Yes, love. Just lay still and close your eyes.” John reached up and untied the drawstring and gently wiggled it off of her. He pulled the light quilt at the foot of the bed, over her. He left the room.
John found little surprise finding Adam Bell downstairs, but Adam walked over to him before he could sit and whispered in his ear.
John turned to his visitors. “I will be right with you gentleman. I have a small emergency. It shouldn’t take more than a few moments. This may be worth our wait.”
John walked down the stairs and outside with Bell following. He arrived at his office steps and took two at a time before opening the door.
“You must be Margaret’s brother.”
“Margaret, how did you sleep my love? Was the bed comfortable?”
“It was comfortable but a bit lonely.”
John kissed her. “There are two people downstairs waiting to see you. One is your nurse. I think her name is Greta. The other person is a surprise.”
“Now, you know Mr. Bell isn’t going to be a surprise. Has the detective left?” Margaret asked?
“Yes, everyone has left except your guest. Should I carry you or would you like to try the steps.”
“I’m feeling good after my sleep. With your help, I’d like to try a few steps; if you’ll just help me out of this massive bed, please. Are you sure you will find me in the middle of the night?” Margaret smiled. “I feel like a child who’s crawled into her parent’s bed because of a nightmare.
“You will be in arms, so I’ll know where you are. Now, don’t get used to this?”
“What, your help?”
“My help getting you out of this bed.” John smiled.
“Does the nurse look mean?” Margaret asked.
“Quite honestly, I only met her at the service building. I didn’t speak with her much. I wouldn’t say she looks mean.”
“I would rather not start using that chair over there, like in the hospital. If I can make it down the stairs, I’ll use that room.”
“Whatever you wish, love. Just don’t overdo. I think you should be having your second pill soon. There is some food left on the table from when everyone was here while you slept. Are you hungry?”
“Does the list say anything about what I should eat?” Margaret asked.
“Let us go ask your nurse, shall we?”
After getting to her feet from the big bed, Margaret easily walked to the steps. John went in front of her and stepped down backward, watching her the whole time. “Hold onto the banister with your one hand and if need be, my shoulder with the other. Tell me immediately if you feel weak in the legs.
Margaret began the descent slowly.
Frederick could hear the conversation and wanted to run to her but stayed where he was. It sounded like an important task for her to accomplish.
“I made it,” she said as she stepped onto the landing. Where’s my visitor?”
Frederick smartly had moved out of her line of sight until she could be seated. Remembering his sister, she tended to swoon easily.
“Where is Adam,” Margaret asked as John helped her down onto the couch.
“Will I do, sis? Margaret heard from the dining room?
Margaret couldn’t turn to look, but Frederick was at her side in a second.
“Frederick! Oh, Frederick!”
“Sis!” Tears welled in both of their eyes.
John was overjoyed to see his wife so happy. He walked into his study to give them a few moments of private time, but he would leave his door slightly ajar, so he could listen. Her brother would have to hear the story for himself, and she would struggle to tell it without letting him know how involved his life was in it. Finally, he decided he would not imagine her torture once again, so soon. He decided to go to his office and talk with the foreman in charge. Except for meeting Margaret’s brother there today, he hadn’t been in the office for five days . . . or was it six.
No one was in the office section when he arrived. It appeared his foreman was most likely walking the sheds for second shift. John was glad for the silence. He needed time to think about all he had heard. He was becoming more helpless in his cause to champion his wife, it seemed. A distinct impression had arisen that no one would be held accountable if this murderer was found dead, whether murdered by himself or not. The detective would not have been so casual in telling all of them the entire circumstances with Hartford’s past as he had. Although, John had found some relief in that, in fact, a lot of relief, as it would mean he and Margaret would still have a life. However, he still had to contend with the other men who wanted to escort this man to hell.
Never in his life had he contemplated so heinous a crime. He was a Magistrate, for God’s sake, but neither had he been in a situation, whereas a man, he faced the raw, primitive pride of protecting what was his and slaying anyone who had worked against that.
If he were honest, he knew Margaret’s brother had the same deep instinct. They had grown together. As an older brother he had protected her as she grew. Perhaps at their young ages, he never realized it, but it was ingrained from his birth. They had to be very close for Margaret to go to such lengths as she did.
Adam Bell, although an older man, was known to have wanted more than to protect Margaret as she achieved adulthood, but soon saw the ridiculousness of their age difference. Still in his ailing months, before death would take him, he may feel he had one final redeeming heroic task to offer her, in place of the love he would leave behind. He could give her his legacy, worth more of a gift to her than his fortune.
Lenox, on the other hand, had slightly different motives. He was a man, a gallant man, with pride in his duty as a soldier plus the fact that Margaret would be a relation of his. Being a trained warrior, he most likely would feel he could offer his skills, as he had already appeared to have done.
Branson was really the odd man out. John knew his interest really sprung from his devotion to his master, he, himself. If he were involved, Branson would insist himself in there somewhere, even if he was not included in any plan.
The longer John thought about all of the male egos around that table, if they didn’t make a joint pact, surely one would steal the satisfaction from all of the others. As much as this meant everything to him, he could not cheat the other men out of something so important in all their lives.
A plan would have to be devised outside of the confines of police procedures. Frederick, Maxwell, Adam, Branson and mostly himself, were ready to step past the line of no return and live with what they would do.
He thought of Margaret and the deep impact she had made on so many lives. Aside from Branson, four men were ready to sacrifice all for her. She had once asked how she was so lucky to have been selected to be his wife. John knew it was definitely the other way around.
Grant Hartford had donned his civilian clothes and walked his horse outside the rear of the fort. There were pastures behind the stables for all of the mounted infantry. He easily threaded the compound, pastures, and the horse gate in leaving the fort unseen. He could dispatch Miss Hale and even return without much notice by his commander – but he would have reasons, just in case. He would ride his horse north for three train stations and catch a train for most of the ride to Milton, exiting several stations before. However, if he felt his plan would prove impossible, he was prepared to move on and leave his commission behind. In case all went right for him, he had told Lt. Gathers that he had received an urgent telegram from his father, in regards to his mother meeting the critical part of her illness. That should gain him a week or two without suspicion.
No one had approached him about his actions against Miss Hale. He was certain she was getting on with her life and keeping silent because she thought her brother was still under watch. It had been almost a full week, with no interest in him other than her disappearance and there he did have no connection.
During John’s absence of an hour from his wife and her brother, he worked on developing a strategy that all men could participate as a group, a hanging party as Boyle had called it. Maxwell would be the one to tell him how workable it could be. None of the five men would be excluded, and all would stand or fall together.
Returning to his home, John found Frederick alone in the parlor.
“Margaret?” he immediately asked.
“She’s with the nurse in a room down the hall, I believe.”
“How was she with your visit?” John asked.
“Needless to say, there were a lot of tears. I wanted to hug her and couldn’t and I wanted to shout at her for being so foolhardy but couldn’t do that either. Do you have any sisters, John?”
“Then you probably know how they are,” Frederick replied.
“My sister is nothing at all like I feel Margaret is to you. If I walked off this planet, she might wonder where I went around next year. She’s silly and self-centered. Everything in her life is a drama. I’ve been with Margaret for six days. I’ve been married to her for two of those days. I haven’t even bothered to tell my sister, and she lives in the same town. I’m sure she read about my marrying Margaret in the paper, and I have not heard a word from her.”
“I’m not leaving town, but I’m going to leave when Margaret returns. I’ll be back to see her many times before I leave but tonight, I want to be out of this house so the two of you can have some time together. She really does love you quite a lot, and that’s good enough for me. I don’t know how to thank you for marrying her so quickly and removing half of her problem.”
“Frederick, I’ve wanted to marry her for two years. She never could tell me about you. I didn’t know you existed until a few days ago. I remember seeing her in your arms at the station late that night and began to lose all hope. If we had only trusted one another, we wouldn’t be where we are now. She didn’t know she could trust me and tell me about you. I didn’t trust her when I questioned her behavior that night, and she refused to tell me anything. If your father hadn’t have died when he did, and he was a good friend to me, Margaret and I may have seen our way back to one another.”
Both men were aware of female voices heading their way.
“Frederick, you are welcome to stay.”
“Not tonight, but soon.”
“I have a plan to discuss with everyone, so don’t go hunting anyone tonight. I think we can satisfy all of us who have the same desire.”
“Hello Mr. Thornton,” said Greta. “Your wife is doing very well with that rib. She will be used to her own movements in the next day or two.”
Greta went below stairs until she was needed. The service had brought small bells for the main rooms where Margaret would reside, such as the bedchamber, bathing area, and parlor.
Margaret walked to the couch, anxious to the see the two men in her life finding interest in each other. “Frederick, I am so happy you can stay for a few days.” Margaret extolled, clearly oblivious of all the plans going on around her.”
“I’m going to be leaving in a few moments, though,” Frederick replied.
“Why? Where are you going? Where will you sleep? Please, promise me you will not go to London.”
“Don’t worry, sis. I’m staying in Milton. I already have a room for tonight over in the poor district. I’ll be here, in and out, visiting with you and John, for a few days yet.”
“Well, what takes you away from us?”
“Sis, this is your first night with your new husband in your new home. I think you need some time alone. I bet you haven’t had that since you arrived here. This has been a busy day for you. I want you to rest. Besides, I want to visit with Adam Bell this evening. I am waiting for word on Lisa, and he may have heard something.”
“I am sure I can understand that. All right. I hope you and John become better acquainted before you return to wherever you are living. You know Mr. Bell is ill. We will eventually have to determine a new way to communicate.”
“Yes, I’m thinking about that. I am leaving now and will see you tomorrow. I promise.” Frederick came over to his sister and kissed her on the forehead. He whispered he loved her in her ear and turned to John. Frederick extended his hand, as in thanks, and shook it. “I will see you, tomorrow, as well, John. Good evening to you both. I believe I will leave through the back door.”
“Can Branson take you anywhere?”
“Yes, if you don’t mind. I could use him to get into town. Thank you.”
“He will be in the stables or up in his loft, out back.”
“Thank you, John. Goodbye, sis.”
“I cannot believe we are alone, essentially,” John said as he came over to sit next to Margaret. “I think I will put a sign on the door. It will say, “Quarantine: Love Sickness, Do Not Enter.”
Margaret started laughing at that and held her rib. “The laughing is becoming easier if I can hold my rib at the same time.”
“So, how are you and Greta getting along?” John asked. “How did you manage in the water closet?”
“Honestly, it was more fun with you,” she smiled. “I think we’ll do fine. She wants me to do a bit of exercising with my arms since they will be used more to help me sit and rise. I cannot use my stomach muscles easily. She will bath and wash my hair tonight.”
“And I had been looking forward to that duty, myself.”
“You would be too randy!”
“Margaret Thornton! Where did you learn that word? That isn’t a gentleman’s word.”
“Do you mean gentleman are never randy or never say the word randy?” Margaret quizzed.
“Margaret, stop saying that. It’s crude. It borders on vulgar. You imp. Who taught you such a word?”
“So, you will never be randy with me?” Margaret continued to tease him.
John let out an exasperated sound, throwing his hands in the air. “How do I explain this?” John thought for a moment. “It . . . it means sexually eager or lustful by a man. It’s bawdy talk.”
“Oh, so you are saying since you are a gentleman, you are never randy?”
John finally realized he was being played. He still wanted to know how she learned that word. “I will ask you again, where did you learn that word? It wasn’t your brother, was it?”
“No, of course not. He is a gentleman. It’s in the book I am reading that Edith gave to me.”
“And that book talks about randy men?”
“How else am I to learn?” Margaret immediately hugged her rib because the laugh was about to surge forward.
John’s lips thinned with a mocking hurtful pride look.
“Mrs. Thornton, there is someone here to teach you. You need not read such vulgarities from a book?”
“Sexually eager is vulgar? Being lustful is vulgar? What kind of man did I marry?” She held her ribs again.
“One more word like that, Margaret, and you shall have two cracked ribs by morning.” Now it was John’s turn to laugh. He sat back and watched her humorous expression. Hopefully, the worst for her was passing by right now. In her mind, all of her fears were gone. She was away from the wickedness, and her brother was safe.
“I demand to dry your hair, though,” John insisted. “After you bathe, the nurse can be excused for the night. I want to assist you for the rest of the evening.
Chapter Twenty One
It was well past dark when Greta assisted Margaret to the parlor. “Mrs. Thornton, you have had your evening pill, correct?”
“Yes, Greta, before my bath. You are excused for the evening. Should something come up that my husband cannot assist me in, or I prefer to have your help, I will ring, but don’t look for it.”
“Goodnight, then, to the both of you.”
John and Margaret said their goodnights to Greta. He turned off the gaslights and banked the evening fire. Even though it was nearing fall, northern England was cool and damp in the evenings.
John proceeded over to Margaret on the couch and picked her up and carried her upstairs.
“Aren’t you going to dry my hair?” Margaret asked.
“Yes, but I will do it in the privacy of our room. I’ve lit a fire in there tonight. I would just like to be comfortable with you. We, both, have had a very demanding day.”
John entered the room and set Margaret on her feet while he closed the door.
“Margaret, I found out something today that I think you don’t know about yourself?”
John immediately felt bad that he was about to bring back bad memories.
“What is that, John?”
“You have no shoes at all. I shall buy you a pair tomorrow. Then when you have something for your feet, we will go to a cobbler and have several nice pairs made for you when you feel you are ready.”
“I guess my other’s one were never found?”
John hesitated. “Yes, but not in Milton.” He had done it again. But, their conversation earlier had been to not worry about words. He hoped she would let it pass. She did.
“Come here by the fire. I will sit you down and then dry your hair from behind you. How did the bath feel without the rib brace?”
“I was uncomfortable at first, but the ability to breathe felt good. I am going to try and go without it tonight. Oh, I guess it is in the bathing room with the copper tub next to the kitchen, still. What do you call that room? It is rather unique with the drain in the floor that carries out the water from the bathing tub. I see that laundry is done in there, and it has a commode. It’s quite a handy room for the house.”
“We simply call it the washroom. Clothes get washed, and people get washed in there; that seemed the only words we ever used. I had seen a drawing of it in a journal and designed the room myself. Everyone one and there are very few, who have seen the house, marvel at that room. I can take very little credit for it.”
“Do you bath in there when your staff is here? Margaret asked.
“Cook will fill it with water after dinner before she leaves. I am alone then, so no. No staff here when I bath there.”
“I miss Dixon. For the first time in our lives, we became separated shortly after we arrived in London. Aunt Shaw was able to find her a situation immediately. We visited from time to time. I wonder what she must be thinking now. Could I get her back, John? Would that be too many staff members? I can help pay?”
John smiled. “Margaret, do not ever worry about money, whether yours or mine – it is all ours and I have enough for whatever your heart desires. Of course, you may have Dixon back. She can take Cook’s room that isn’t used. If I remember, she cooks, too?”
“She’s never been the main cook, but she can fill in if Cook needs to be away.”
“That sounds like it would work very well. Jane is young and could marry any time and leave. She must not hover over you all the time, though. That is my place, now.”
John walked the room looking for something to comb her hair. “Have you seen a comb about? Did Cook or Jane purchase that for you?”
“I did not want to clutter your room, so I put it in the top drawer over there.”
John went to Margaret and stooped down in front of her, placing his hands on her shoulders. “This is our room, not my room, my love. I want to live amidst your female trinkets. We shall have a nice vanity, with a big mirror, made for you. I have lived within these four dull walls since my father died many years ago. I’ve been waiting for my wife, you Margaret, to bring it to life.”
John looked into her eyes. “Why do you weep, my love. I do not remember this about you.”
“I weep because I am happy, not sad.”
“How do we men ever understand the difference?” he asked smiling.
“You will have to come to understand your woman, I guess.”
“I yearn to know you, Margaret, in all the ways I have yet to explore, and that includes your feelings, emotions, and desires.” He kissed her.
John brought the brush and comb with him and sat behind Margaret on the floor in front of the warm glow of the fire. He set them off to the side for a moment and wrapped his arms lightly around her from the back. Her arms were caught under his, protecting her rib. He started to kiss the back of her neck where her long hair was not covering. He inhaled her feminine fragrance and nuzzled into her wet tresses with a light moan of delight.
“You shouldn’t wear a perfume while you’re healing, my dear,” he said softly.
“I’m not wearing any perfume.”
John pulled back and began to brush her hair. He was too close to getting into trouble. He found he had to slip back a little further in order to stroke the length of her soft strands of silken ribbons.
“John, is it hard?”
Surprised, he asked, “Is what hard?” If she was talking about his manhood, that had been hard for a week.
“Getting all the knots and tangles out.”
“I’ll just say that I wish it would take longer to do.”
John set down the brush and picked up the comb. “Do you normally braid it every night before sleeping?”
“Why do you do that? That would seem uncomfortable to sleep with.”
“I was raised that way. Leaving it down . . . well, it might appear . . .”
“Too alluring to a man, like your husband?”
“Yes, I’ve always thought that was the reason. It was never discussed. I just did it as taught.”
“Would you leave it down for me?”
“Yes, if you wish it.”
“I wish it. I wish it very much.” John smiled broadly behind her back.
He set the comb aside and slid back, nestling her between his legs as he wrapped her in his arms.
“Tell me if I hurt you,” he said. He pulled on her gently, laid his chin on her shoulder, and closed his eyes.
“You feel and smell wonderful. I am lost in this favor you give to me.
Margaret pulled her arms from underneath his, allowing his arms to lie against her chest and ribs, holding up her breasts. She covered his arms with her own and titled her head back to his shoulder. She wanted to feel his kisses again on her neck.
Feeling the weight of her luscious bosom settling onto his arms made him want to reach for them and cup them in his hands through her thin nightdress. There was warmth there, and he knew there was a fire within.
John nibbled her neck and suckled her ear lobes, all the while straining not to hug her as tightly as he wished. He snuggled her bottom into his groin. John felt he should subtly start to introduce himself to her.
Margaret let out a soft moan, she had been restraining. The feel of his strength surrounding her, his male smell, his overpowering size, and his tenderness was sending her off to forbidden places in her mind, as her body wanted to ignite.
“Margaret,” John whispered. “You shouldn’t moan like that while you’re not well. It moves me too much. But if you stop, I will make you do it again and again.
Suddenly Margaret pulled John’s arms from around her. “Could you please sit back?”
“Margaret, what is it? I’m sorry.” John stood and walked to the other side of the room, giving Margaret plenty of space. He felt he knew what had happened but until she told him, he couldn’t be sure. She needed to find confidence in him. If she’d say, stop . . . he would stop.
Margaret sat there, staring down at the floor – not even looking into the fire. She threw her hands over her face and began to cry.
John did not know whether to go to her or not. “Margaret, do not hide anything from me, or from us, meaning yourself, too. Talk to me. Something bothered you, and I believe I know what it is, but you must speak it.”
“I don’t know what it is?”
“Do you want me to tell you?”
“I think so,” Margaret said, slowing her sobs. “I just had to stop.”
“No, Margaret. You had to stop me. Isn’t that it? You were feeling closed in. You had to know, since I am bigger and much stronger than you, that I would stop when you asked. I don’t think it was a premeditated test or thought. It was a protective reaction. Margaret, I understand. I am prepared for this behavior. I’ve been surprised that you have been as receptive towards me as you have. We’re only a few mere days away from the trauma you suffered. Because I am now your husband, does not give me liberties with you at my whim. Let’s get you into bed. Can I lift you up?”
Margaret shook her head yes, the words still stuck in her throat. Was he right? Why would a man she loved and married suddenly become untrustworthy to her? Margaret knew she didn’t know much at all about men.
As John lifted her from the floor, he could feel her shaking. She was afraid. Everyone had thought she was taking this too well. He knew she was beginning to come face to face with that night. Essentially, the scene was the same. She was in a house that she didn’t know. She was alone with a man.
John lowered her to the bed and pulled the covers up to her waist.
“Can we talk about this?” John asked.
With tears in her eyes, she looked up at John who was sitting beside her on the bed. “I told you that you could ask me about that night.”
“I know about that night. I know all I want to know about that night. I have wondered if there had been any other personal advances on you.”
John didn’t know how to ask this in a polite way. He sighed, “Did Hartford ever ask, infer, or try any other sexual actions with you?”
“No, only his horrid kisses. That night he wanted to be pleasured by his bride. I refused. He unbuttoned his trousers and . . .”
“Margaret stop! No more. Can’t you see that this is almost as much of a trauma for me as it was for you?”
“I’m beginning to doubt that. I think it is worse for you.”
John leaned in to kiss her and watched for any fear as he slowly showed her what is was about to do. Margaret threw her arms around his neck.
“I’m sorry, John. I’m going to drive you away before I have you.”
“Margaret if you know one thing, know that I will never leave you for any reason. You will never drive me away, even if this takes a long time to put behind us, I love you. I will wait.”
“There is no question of my love for you or your love for me,” Margaret swallowed hard. “I knew he was a bad man and that should mean a lot because I did know I could not trust him. After the first beating, I knew what he was like. You are the only other man that has been close to me and I know you are nothing like him. I will spend my life with you knowing I will never be afraid of you. I am sorry for what just happened. I don’t know why. You must think I don’t trust you, but I do. And I feel terrible for making you wait for me to come to my senses.”
John moved close again, and she allowed the tender kiss.
“Love, please do not tell me you are sorry. Those words don’t ever have to be uttered between us. I know how you feel, I know what you feel, and I understand. I am not weak in mind or pride or even compassion. I will follow you through these times. You are my love, my whole life; there is no rush for any of this, as long as you still love me.”
Margaret reached for John, again. He bent over and laid his head on her chest, letting her hold him. He had to find a way to give her the courage to reach out first.
Finally, Margaret lifted his head with her hands on the sides of his face and looked into his blue eyes. She pulled him to her for another kiss.
“I think I want to sleep, now,” she told him.
John turned out the gas lights in the room. He stripped to his undergarment and climbed onto the short cot that had been placed in the room.
Margaret had a decent night for the first time since arriving in Milton. As morning came, she looked for John but only saw the mussed cot where he had slept. She wondered if he could sleep at all in something that was more than a foot shorter than he was.
She laid in bed and looked around the room, finally stopping to stare at the ceiling letting her mind wander. Again the marvel of John Thornton swept over her. Were other normal men as wonderful as he when they were in love? She didn’t think so. She thought back almost two years ago and remembered the respect that he had garnered from his peers. She thought about last night and his words about her trauma being as bad for him as it was for her. Margaret knew it was worse for him. Thinking what it would be like if something similar happened, only to him instead of her, how would she feel? Just because he was a man did not mean he couldn’t be accosted himself. The thought was unbearable. And here she was pushing him away as if because he was a man, he held some fault in her attack. Being alone in the room and the light of day brought a different perspective to everything. She was hurting and unconsciously, somewhere in her mind, she must make him hurt along with her. She was succeeding, to her own horror.
Without her rib harness, she was able to roll to the side of the bed, close enough to ring the bell. She heard Jane shout to Greta that she heard the bell.
Moments later, Greta was there with her rib padding. “Good morning, Mrs. Thornton.”
Margaret loved hearing her being called Mrs. Thornton. It still wasn’t real to her yet.
“Good morning, Greta. Where is my husband this morning?”
“I believe he is over at his office. His partner, a Mr. Higgins, arrived early this morning from wherever he has been. He’s talking with him. It appears your eye is starting to go purple. The black is leaving. Do you want to dress or use the commode?”
“Can you put the rib corset back on and then help me up. I guess I will use the commode in here if John is not in the house. You will see to it, won’t you?”
Greta laughed. “Right away, Mrs. Thornton. I understand you are just married?”
“Yes. I believe this is the third day.”
“It must be difficult,” Greta said in passing as she began the hooks and eyes on the rib corset.
“What do you mean, difficult?”
Greta nodded toward the unkempt cot on the other side of her bed.
“Oh. Yes, it is and I am making it worse.” Margaret admitted to the medically trained woman.
“Now, how is that possible? There is much romance to be had without the consummation.” Greta offered.
“I know very little about such things.”
“Well, I would imagine your husband does.”
“I would be pleased if you didn’t imagine,” Margaret said, feeling a bit ruffled over the woman’s perceived reputation of John.
Using the fresh wash bowl and water, Margaret was able to prepare herself for the day. Greta helped her into her clothes and began looking for her shoes.
“I have no shoes,” Margaret declared embarrassingly.
“Yes, they were lost during my stay at the hospital,” she lied. “John has promised to buy me something until I can have some properly made for me.”
“All right. Let us get you downstairs to eat. You will have your pill, your prune juice and we will do a few exercises. How does that harness feel?”
“It was nice without it last night, but moving around now, I am glad for its restrictive protection. It’s been a week today if I have my days correct. It must be well on its way to healing.”
Margaret had just sat down to the table when John and Nicholas came through the door. John walked over to Margaret and kissed her.
“Good morning, wife,” he said.
“Good morning, Miss Margaret,” said Nicholas.
“And a good morning to you two gentlemen. How was your trip, Nicholas?” Margaret asked with anxiety.
“Could not have gone better. Miss Lisa is set in a nice little town near the border of Spain; just across from Barcelona. Your brother will have easy access if he wishes to travel either county. John thinks your brother may be over in the inn in the Princeton area. I’d go looking for him, but I should ask Adam first. He knows the name he’s going under.”
“I’m happy that went well. I guess he’ll be leaving soon, then.”
John looked at Nicholas, knowing that Frederick was going nowhere until he had other issues resolved.
“Margaret, I feel sure he will stay another day or so to visit. Nicholas can put his mind at ease, which may take the edge off of hurrying back.”
“I almost wish he would hurry back,” Margaret said, looking down into her plate. “I am afraid he’ll head to London. I can’t have that. It would be unbearable if anything happened to him or he was saddled with more guilt to bear.”
John had to let that pass. He couldn’t damn or commend Frederick for actions, he, himself, was ready to execute. Nicholas was told about the plans that John was beginning to frame. John insisted that Nicholas would take no part in the hanging party, which he was starting to call it. Nicholas still offered to help with anything except putting the rope around the man’s neck. He wanted to be included in their planning talks, too.
At four in the afternoon, there would be a meeting with Boyle at the police station. John contemplated that they would leave there, go up one flight of stairs, and use an empty courtroom to plot their revenge.
Nicholas excused himself so he could get home and see his wife and sleep. He had put in many wakeful hours during his mission. Calculating that he could arrive back before the mail could reach anyone, he traveled back as soon as he could. He told John he would see him later, and John knew that he meant for the meeting later in the day.
John had in his pocket, all the information to give to Margaret’s brother. He would go find Bell after having his morning meal with Margaret, hoping Bell had some knowledge of Frederick’s whereabouts.
When the room was quiet, John was interrupted before he could speak.
“John, I am sorry about last night,” Margaret said quietly. She did not know the routine of the staff and didn’t know where Jane and Greta were.
“I believe we discussed not using that word in our marriage, Margaret Thornton. I understood then, and I still understand.”
“Yes, I know you understand, said Margaret. “I know I have your understanding, I guess I want your forgiveness.”
“Wait!” she paused.
John gave her his full attention.
“I’m not looking for your forgiveness that I am not well enough to be a woman to you, yet. I know you understand that. I understand that. Last night . . . it wasn’t the worry that I would succumb, to your loving ways, and then you would have to fight for control for both of us, that I pushed you away.”
John stood and led Margaret to the couch and sat her down next to him. Sitting at the table was not the place to say what she wanted him to know.
“Last night, it was like I wanted to punish all men for being men and the things they do. I know, John, I know that is extraordinarily unfair. I just had a weak moment, and unfortunately, you were caught in it. When the day dawned, and I went over it in my mind, I could see how foolish I had been and hurtful to you and to me. To me, you are the epitome of a man. I can’t imagine a male out there more of man then you are. I love you for that, as you love me for being a woman.”
John wrapped his arm around her and held her close, allowing her to purge her feelings. He wanted to interrupt, but he didn’t.
“I felt lonely in that big bed. I could hear you twisting and turning on that squeaky small cot all night, but I couldn’t get to you. I was afraid I would roll off the bed in trying to reach you. Somehow, I want to be close to you tonight, if there is away.” Can we try?
“I will stay up all night to be close to you and to ensure I do not constantly pull you to me in the night, by throwing my arm over you. Yes, we will try, my love. As for the other . . . I more than understand about being punished for being a male. Not even experiencing the attack, just knowing about it, causes extreme behavior swings within myself. But our love for each other is strong and will prevail.”
“You don’t think Frederick will do anything rash, do you?” Margaret asked, tentatively.
“I cannot say. He seems like an intelligent man. I have only known him for a few hours. I cannot answer you.” John prayed she wouldn’t ask him.
“You wouldn’t go seeking that man in London, would you?”
But she did.
John was quiet for a moment, unsure how to answer that. He never wanted to lie to her but now would be the one time that he should.
“John!” Margaret almost shouted at his refusal to answer. “John, promise me that you won’t go after that man.”
“I love you, Margaret. I cannot make that promise in all good conscience. If he finds his way here, I will protect you at all costs. I said you would be safe and I meant that.”
Margaret turned into his chest and began weeping. As bad as it felt to tell her, he had been honest. He kissed the top of her head and worried for her worry. He had just added to her concern for her brother, by adding himself, too.
Chapter Twenty Two
That sat together in silence. Margaret knew beyond all doubt that pleading with John would be hopeless. She would do the same thing if she were in his place. Actually, she realized she could do the same thing in her own place. She knew that she could lose John for the sake of herself. Margaret couldn’t live with that. She had to find a way to keep him from possibly being hurt or worse. He could be killed. He could be hung. Begging, pleading, crying, groveling, sulking, threatening to commit suicide, may all have to come into play, if she felt he was on the verge of committing such an act, in her name.
Margaret was eventually trotted off for her exercises. John said that he would ride over to the Milton Grand and see if could find Bell, who could lead him to Frederick.
Branson would normally have the horses harnessed by now, and today was no different. John didn’t bother calling him to the front, he just found Branson at the stable.
“Guv, I’ve wanted to ask you, and I feel stupid in a way doing this, but now that you are married, does the Mistress have control over me as you have these past years?”
“She may ask to be driven anywhere at any time. If it comes to a decision about the stables or the horses, I would like to confer with her, and we may make a joint decision.”
“Can she let me go?”
“No. I can’t ever see that happening, but should that unlikely event come up, then, come to me. I am the only one to discuss that, and I will tell her so. She will have a say with her own maid. Although I do not believe you met Dixon the last time, Miss Hale lived here, she had been with the family before Margaret was born. Staff, with service longevity, are extended extra courtesies for being faithful and discreet regarding the family.”
“Suppose she asks me to keep a confidence from you?”
John paused with that question. “Right now, I am asking you to keep my confidence on what our plans are for Hartford. I hope she hasn’t asked, has she?”
“Keep her confidences as you do to me, unless either one of us could be severely injured. Understand?”
“Yes, Guv. Where to?”
“The Grand, Branson, the Grand.”
Margaret was reflecting on having no shoes when she was reminded of Bennington, the cabby that aided in her rescue. She would ask Branson first if private service paid more than a London cabby. If the answer was yes, Margaret would ask John if he knew of a Master that needed a good driver. If Branson said no, he would ask John to reward him, which would mean a trip to London. It was very likely that he had saved her life that night and he should not be forgotten. Margaret always saw Nicholas with a small buggy and wondered if he had a driver. Could the Thornton household find a use for a second driver? A second driver could give Branson some relief from always being on duty. It may enable him to propose to the woman that he loved. According to John, Branson may not allow anyone to rein his horses. Perhaps, he could be persuaded to enjoy his lady and let another experienced driver pull the coach.
If John had no news about Frederick when he arrived home, she would like to try a short drive into the country or more likely a place to buy dancing slippers. She wanted out and in the sun away from the smoke.
The porter rapped lightly on the door of Mr. Bell’s room. After several moments and no answer, he repeated the knock. Still, no one came to the door. He returned to the reception area.
“Mr. Thornton, no one is answering the door.”
“Thank you, I will try the dining room” John walked in and saw Bell with the Shaw’s and Lenox, enjoying a leisurely late breakfast. Walking over, he decided not to join them but just have a word with Adam Bell.
“Good morning, everyone,” John said in a pleasant voice.
“Good morning, Mr. Thornton. How is Margaret this morning?” asked Mrs. Shaw.
“Quite honestly, it’s a bit rough for her today,” John spoke in earnest. “I would like to find Frederick if anyone here knows where he can be located.”
“Is anything wrong, John?” asked Bell.
“Could I speak with your for a moment? Excuse us,” John said, as Adam stood and walked a few paces away from the table.
“Margaret has begun to fear retribution by her brother or myself, against Hartford. Naturally, she worries for our safety. She asked me directly about my possible involvement in revenge. I could only tell her I would protect her if the man came here. I’m afraid that has set her back. I’d like Frederick to talk with her since I cannot speak for him.”
“John, I do not know where he is, but I know he had plans to find me here or Marlborough Mills, sometime this morning.”
“Higgins is back with good news about moving Lisa, and I am sure he’s anxious to hear that. Send him my way, if you see him. I hope he’s not out hunting. If I do not see you before then, I will see you at the police station at four. I have some ideas that we can discuss in an empty courtroom after we’ve heard what Boyle has to say.”
Adam, trying to smile for those that looked on, said, “I will see you later . . . before Boyle, and I will certainly send Frederick over when I see him.”
“Thank you, Adam.”
John turned to the table. “Mrs. Shaw, I hope you have a pleasant trip home. Your niece is strong, and we will get through this together. She would like to see her brother this morning. Please excuse my interruption. Good day, everyone.” John turned and left.
Except for Margaret’s brother, he wished she could be left alone. She had much turmoil to work through, both good and bad. Until she was alone, she couldn’t settle into a comfortable state of being. She wasn’t even able to set priorities in her life as yet. John was confident that before Margaret was healed physically, the other problem would have been eliminated.
John was anxious to return home. He did not like leaving her alone, ever, but especially now.
“No news from Frederick?” Margaret asked as John came into the room.
“No, but Adam seems to feel he will come forward sometime this morning. How are you doing?” John asked as he went to sit next to Margaret on the sofa.
John looked over at her lovingly, wishing the night would hurry so the house was quiet.
“I’m starting to feel like I am getting well. I have not taken the pain medication, yet. I want to see how I am really feeling. It’s a bit uncomfortable but bearable. John, I know Frederick might arrive, but could we take a ride in the coach.”
“Whatever you wish, my love. Where do you wish to go? Any place in particular. I will not take you over the old roads, just yet.”
Margaret stretched out her feet and wiggled her toes.
John grinned. “Oh! I’ve been so wrapped up with other things on my mind, I completely forgot. Let me tell Branson to bring the coach to the front, and I will carry you down the steps.” John laughed, “I could give you a pair of my boots until we go somewhere to purchase a pair of shoes for my waif.”
“Yes, I will wear your shoes.”
“You will? Are you serious about this?” John asked in bewildered fashion.
“I think anything is better than bare feet, don’t you?”
“I am not so sure you will be able to lift your feet with my boots on,” he smiled. “But I will get a pair.”
Returning, he placed his lightest pair of shoes on the floor in front of Margaret. He helped Margaret stand and held her hands while she slid her small feet into his big shoes. He couldn’t help but grin as it seemed her foot would never find the toe of the shoe.
He lifted her out of the boots, and swept her gently into his arms and carried her to the stable.
Branson surprised to see his new mistress shoeless, rushed to the coach door.
“Sir, does the Mistress know she doesn’t have her shoes on?”
“Branson, I am here. You can talk to me, you understand. I am not that ill.” She laughed.
“Branson, my wife has no shoes. I’m starting out to be a very poor husband, it would seem.”
“Do you want to go to the cobbler?”
“No, Branson,” Margaret said. “There must be a fancy dress shop in town. They should have some soft dance slippers. I hope your master doesn’t know of any lady’s dress shops, but possibly you do.”
“I do, indeed, Miss.” Branson opened the door.
John carried her inside and once again placed her on his lap. It wasn’t long before Margaret noticed his lap had stiffened.
“John?” Margaret said, shyly.
“I can’t help it,” John said before she teased him.
“I wasn’t going to mention that, exactly,” Margaret said.
“What do you mean by exactly? You have my undivided attention.” John beamed.
“No, I would say it’s divided.”
John pulled her lips to his, fiercely. Margaret eased her arms around his neck. John parted her lush lips and fed from her. He slowly searched the recesses of her mouth, allowing her tongue to engage with his. He moaned. Margaret pulled back momentarily to breathe, and then she resumed the passion that had ignited.
Margaret pulled John’s hand gently to her breast for him to soothe the ache she felt beginning. Without stopping his kiss, John tenderly, controlling his eagerness, cupped her heavy bosom and rubbed his thumb across her nipple. A light soft moan escaped through their kiss from her. John felt the coach come to a stop and set her away, knowing Branson would be at the door. He did it for her. Branson, being a man, would not be surprised at him.
“I guess we will talk later,” she said breathlessly.
Branson opened the door so John could carry his new bride into a Lady’s accessory shop.
Later, having found two pairs he wanted her to have, they returned to the coach. Both were surprised to see Frederick waiting in the coach.
“Good day, sis, John. I hear there is news of Lisa. What can you tell me,” he asked.
The ride that John was hoping to have going home would have to wait. John began to tell Frederick all that he knew. He withdrew the bit of paper that Nicholas had handed him and gave it to Margaret’s brother.
Frederick, anxious for the information, hardly took notice that his sister was sitting on her husband’s lap. When he finally looked up from the letter, he asked John with his eyes, why this seating arrangement?
John had anticipated the question immediately. “Your sister sits on my lap so that I can absorb the bumps in the road for her.” John, not wanting to look into Frederick’s eyes, looked out the window, knowing what any normal man would be thinking.
Frederick smiled and wanted to ask him about his bumps. His sister really had come of age, he thought. He was happy for Margaret. She would be well taken care of while he could not be with her. He liked John, too.
“I have something very important to discuss with you when we get home,” spoke Margaret.
Frederick caught a glimpse of John’s face and had a feeling of what was coming.
“Of course, sis. Do you think I just stop by to say ‘hello.’”
“I will have an appointment to keep at four this afternoon.”
“Yes. For the few days that Detective Boyle will be in Milton, he would like to have a meeting with all concerned about any further news on Hartford. We all are interested in the progress to apprehend him so he will inform us daily on what they know.”
“John, will you go?” Margaret asked, assured of the answer on her own.
“Yes. I will go. We had this talk this morning. I have nothing further to add.” John didn’t like being this firm with her especially in front of her brother, but Frederick was soon to be the same way.
“I want to go,” demanded Margaret.
“I would not let you go,” John stated sternly. “He will be captured and punished. You need to start putting that behind you. I’ve been thinking of talking with Donaldson about that. There are doctor’s, well . . . I don’t know if they are doctors or not, but are trained to help people through exceedingly tough times, such as a death and other misfortunes.”
“And you think I need some help?” Margaret looked down into her lap, feeling like a slight failure to her husband. “I’m sorry . . .”
John was embarrassed with this conversation while her brother was there. “Don’t say that word. Margaret, I love you so much that I am too close to help you properly. I cannot see my way through your feelings as my own intermingle. I think our marriage has put pressures on you that may cause you to feel guilty and I cannot have that. I cannot say ‘I understand’ strong enough for you to believe me.
“John, I do think one of us needs to see a doctor of the mind. I just think it might be you.” Margaret said, surprising John. “I think you are the one who has to put this behind you.”
“Can we continue this discussion another time?”
Branson stopped the coach. John lifted Margaret out and up to the porch. “Did you want to try the steps with your new shoes, or can I carry you.” John couldn’t help but wonder what her brother was thinking of his sister’s husband and that rather personal conversation.
“I would like to try.”
Frederick, would you mind walking in front of your sister, while I stay behind her?”
Frederick bounded in front of Margaret and stepped backward up the steps. “You’re doing fine, sis.”
Í am going to make it . . . and without help,” replied a cheerful Margaret. “I’ve accomplished one of my goals.”
“I think we need to practice that a few more times before I will let you do it on your own,” John stated.
Frederick could easily see the love for his sister from John Thornton.
John hadn’t realized it was nearing 1:00 in the afternoon. He saw the table set for the midday meal and hurried to the kitchen to have Jane set a third place at the table.
Arriving back in the parlor, he saw Frederick pouring two glasses of scotch. Handing one to him, Frederick turned to Margaret. “Sis?”
“Not now, thank you.”
“I guess it is my turn to hear your words of admonishment. No doubt you have had this conversation with your husband, too.” Frederick began.
“Yes, I have!”
“He will not listen to me.”
“I am your brother. I love you, too. I will not listen either. Do not worry about me, sis. I have a lovely woman somewhere in France waiting for me. I will not be frivolous with my life.”
“Somehow, you are not saying what I want to hear,” Margaret looked her brother in the eye. “Tell me you won’t go to London to seek him out.”
“I won’t go to London to seek him out.”
Margaret thought back if her brother had ever lied to her for her own good. She couldn’t remember such a time.
“I’m relieved to hear that. How long can you stay?”
“Oh, a few days. I am not sure.” Frederick hedged.
“I think you both are hiding something from me. You two are going to some meeting with the detective. Frederick, you are staying longer than I would have expected. Who else is going to this meeting?” Margaret looked toward John.
“I believe Maxwell is interested before he may face him in London when he returns, “John skirted. “And you know that Adam would be interested, too. Now that Nicholas has returned, I do not think I can keep him away from the rest of us.”
“Frederick, are you still worried about being watched by those men . . . not the Navy.” Margaret was starting to look pitiful, John thought, with her worries for the two of them.
“Margaret . . . sis, Hartford has lost you. He does not need me any further. I have no worries there.”
“Could he come and find me here,” asked Margaret, eliciting the question that neither, John or her brother wanted to answer.
John cleared his throat. “Margaret, it would seem he has no reason to seek you out, now. He cannot marry you. He’s lost track of Frederick, so just pure blackmail seems a lost cause if he has any sense at all. There has been no mention of your attack anywhere, in any paper. He must feel that you are keeping it a secret, still fearing for your brother’s life. That’s really to our benefit, while we wait for him to be apprehended by the police.
“That sounds good when you say it fast, but I’ll have to do more thinking on this. Things do not feel right with your actions. You will tell me what the detective says tonight.”
“No, I will not. You are going to have no more talk of this. We will get on with our new life together and let the police do their job. We will be notified when he is caught.”
Margaret did not have any more of an argument and knew it to be futile if she had. She would have to work things out on her own.
“Dinner is served,” announced Jane.
After dinner had been consumed, Margaret was glad to see John and Frederick talking together about each other’s lives. Frederick seemed interested in walking through the mills to see the process. John invited him, and they left the house, but not the grounds. John told Frederick that he could easily live in Milton under his assumed name. The local officials had no interest in him, and the Navy was never here. Frederick didn’t know if he was ready to risk capture with a wife coming along. However, the feeling of being with family felt very satisfying.
In the next hour when they returned, Maxwell, Edith, and Adam were comfortable in the parlor. Edith was admiring Margaret’s new shoes when they entered. John felt a rush come over him, anticipating a repeat of the questions Margaret had talked about earlier, only this time with Adam and Maxwell. But it did not happen. It appeared to John that Margaret had uncharacteristically abandoned those thoughts for now.
One last round of drinks was served before the men headed to the police station. Nicholas had arrived too, looking clean and gentlemanly. He had words with Frederick. Margaret saw her brother vigorously shake his hand.