Dr. Wagner saw the break in her face as some or all realization began to sweep over her.
Margaret turned her face into John’s chest and wept loudly. John kissed her softly on her hair.
“Can we have time alone,” he asked. “I want to get her through this part, myself.”
John waited for the room to empty and the door to close. Margaret was clutching feverishly at his arm that held her hand. He could not allow her to back away from him now. Although she hadn’t heard the worst, maybe she didn’t have to.
“Margaret. I am so sorry for what you have endured. This will never happen to you again. I will always be with you and protect you for all my days. Who is this man that has done this to you?”
“Fred. Frederick is in danger.”
John continued to stroke her and kiss her gently about the face and mouth.
“Margaret, Mr. Bell has written to Frederick about the danger he could be in. He should have received that by now. We should know his situation in about two days. Margaret, can you hear me?”
Margaret nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Mr. Bell wrote to him before your last encounter with this man that beat you. Surely your brother has moved on with caution. There is a plan in action to go to his aid, which will be Mr. Bell, Branson, and Nicholas. They love you and want the best for your brother. Please don’t worry too much. You need to get well, and we need to marry tomorrow. Margaret, I love you more than my own life. I want you forever and beyond. I want to protect you and please you and pleasure you. I cannot live another day with you out of my life. Please, will you marry me?”
“Are you sure, John? I have remembered more about what made me run, and the doctor never mentioned my worst attack. I think you will find me dirty when you know.”
“Margaret, I know all. I know the worst.” John leaned in and kissed her tenderly, parting her lips with his tongue and swept away all her doubts.
“You can still love me knowing that? I can’t stand myself.”
“Margaret, yes, you were violated. Besides the fact that I want to avenge you, I find you are still the loveliest woman in my life. Don’t think of that time. It means nothing to me as far as you are concerned.”
“How can you be so understanding?”
“I love you. How can I not be understanding? You are a victim. You may not remember, but I am a magistrate. I have seen all of the vulgarities that a man can inflict upon an unwilling woman. Just don’t let it change you. You are so very brave right now, and I am overwhelmingly proud of you to not let this crush you. The spirit that I love about you will hold you up, and I will too.”
John kissed her again and again until her tears slowed down.
“Now, you haven’t answered my question. Will you marry me tomorrow?”
“Yes. I want you to be Mrs. John Thornton as of yesterday, but two in the afternoon tomorrow will do fine.”
“I will, John,” Margaret paused, hardly believing that a two year dream was about to come true. She smiled to him.
“I love you. It took me until I left to know I have always loved you. I couldn’t tell you about Fred. I was afraid for both of you.”
“I know, my love. If it bothers you, I will resign as a Magistrate, but how I see, it is: the Navy wants him, not the judicial system.”
“Oh, John. I’ve never been as happy as I am at this moment.”
“I feel the same, my lovely incredible Margaret,” John said, absorbing the moment. “I have your ring with me, but you shall not see it until tomorrow. I will bring Nicholas and Peggy as witnesses.”
“Bring Mr. Bell, too, and I’d like Branson to come.”
“As you wish, Mrs. Thornton.”
“That sounds incredibly marvelous . . . Mrs. Thornton,” Margaret repeated.
“I’ve waited a long time to call you that.”
“I’ve waited a long time to hear it.”
While the nurse fed Margaret her nightly meal, John spoke with Dr. Wagner, in the corner, about Margaret’s full knowledge of everything that they knew.
“She’s taking it well, Mr. Thornton. Be watchful of her. I do not think we’ve seen the last of this terrible experience. If that torture germinates, it could manifest itself in any number of ways.”
“What can I do?” asked John.
“Just continue to show her your love for her. If she seems to be despondent, work it out. Do not let her dwell if you see it happening. It’s going to take time, but I’m sure she’ll make it.”
John spent the rest of the evening with Margaret until she slept for the night.
Today had been a long and event filled day. For John, it had swung from the lowest to the happiest day he ever had. If they heard all, which Margaret herself seemed to indicate, she and John could put her pieces back together. He couldn’t wait to get her home to kiss her well.
As Branson pulled the coach to his front step and opened his door, John said, “You are invited to my wedding tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow, Guv? Congratulations, sir. I really like Miss Hale. I take it she is going to recover all right?”
“We had the big break-through in her memory late this afternoon, I will make her well. She asked that you be there, in the hospital room with us. Shall you come?”
“Guv, you couldn’t keep me away even if I wasn’t invited. I’ve waited through many women, thousands of hours waiting outside, and many years to see this day come to you. Of all of them, boss, she is the one for you. She is different from all the others, at least that’s how I remember her last.”
“You remember, right, Branson. I have found my other half. Tomorrow, harness the small buggy. I will start using that one since I am staying long hours at the hospital. In the morning we will have another meeting with the four of us. Get some sleep.”
“Good night, Guv. I bet you’ll sleep well tonight.”
John got very little sleep that night, but most of it was spent in joyful wakefulness. Soon he would not sleep alone. He could hold Margaret all night long, once her rib was healing. Tomorrow they would be married. He probably should have offered to wait until her London relatives came, but he was glad not to have them. They had stolen Margaret away from him once before. After tomorrow, he was her family, her protector, her provider, and some lovely day in the future, her lover.
John drifted in out of plans for the dead man. He didn’t know how he would do it yet but planned on luring the man to his home town. He wanted no help from anyone. This man was his. But being in his area gave him a bit of an advantage over a tactical military officer.
The next morning, John had all four of them together. They were overjoyed to hear the news of a wedding so soon. It staggered Nicholas, and Branson was still recovering.
“I can’t say I’m going to miss those long evenings waiting outside of some lady’s home for you to return to the coach,” Branson interjected. Everyone was silent. No one knew if it was proper to laugh under such a serious situation. John finally broke out with a laugh and the rest followed.
John was beside himself with a million things to do.
“Men, the wedding is at 2:00 in Margaret’s hospital room. Nicholas, I hope Peggy can attend. Margaret wishes her to stand by her. Adam, would you mind giving my bride away?”
“I’ve waited for this day. Of course, John.”
“Nicholas, you will stand by me as my best man?”
“No one could take my place by you, my friend. This is the second happiest day in my life, I think, or darn close to it. You know the masters will be sorry to be cheated out of this.”
“Perhaps a celebration in the future when Margaret has recovered. Branson, you will stand with Mrs. Higgins as her escort.”
“John, do you have the minister and ring picked out,” asked Nicholas.
“That was taken care of yesterday before I asked Margaret. I need to talk with the minister this morning, buy out the flower shop, and perhaps find a small cake.”
“Let us do that,” said Nicholas. Peggy will want to do something.
Is there anything new on Captain Harford,” John asked.
Adam cleared his throat. “I expect for the Shaw’s to get their note today and be down her late tonight or tomorrow around noon. I hope they can bring some information. I feel it will be another two days until I hear from Fred. We will make final plans at the time, send him a note, and be on our way in two or three days. You, you lucky man, will have Margaret safely tucked away and out of the grasp of that scoundrel.”
“I’m having other thoughts there, too. Should we be successful in moving Frederick on without notice, then Hartford will have lost his leverage against Margaret; he may then see Margaret as a witness and come after her will malice. He’s got to be imbalanced. She will know nothing of this. I think I will plan to lure him here once I know Margaret’s brother is out of his sights. He is a tactical military man. Having him here will give me a small advantage.”
“You still feel strongly about carrying through on this revenge, and there’s no other way to call it, even though Margaret will heal?”
“Yes. In discussing Margaret’s eventual full recovery with the doctor, it will depend on her dependence on my commitment to her and the outcome of this man, even without those added reasons, I need to do this for myself.”
“Boss, the newspaper people, are starting to swarm the hospital every day, and I see new ones coming. They don’t seem to have Miss Margaret’s name, but your visitations are starting to become curious.” Branson reported.
“Let them alone. They will have their story tomorrow. I will be busy through today. See you all at two.”
John had left for the small buggy that he could hide behind the hospital. The other three men knew their plans would go from moving Frederick to the Thornton watch.
John quickly dashed off to the rectory before visiting Margaret to reaffirm to her of their wedding time.
“How was your rest last night, Margaret?” John asked, leaning in to kiss her when he arrived.
“Good morning husband-to-be. I’m lying here, still not believing that only a week ago, I was praying to die. And today, I want to live for the rest of your days but only with you. Yes, I had a good night and only needed the pain medication and not the laudanum.”
“I came by to confirm that we shall marry at two this afternoon. I have spoken with the minister this morning who has agreed to come to your room. You will have your first visitors today.”
Margaret looked a bit sad, and John asked her why. “I don’t look very much like a bride, a black eye, and a hospital gown.”
“Now, how could anyone ever forget attending a wedding like ours? You are beautiful in every way to me. Today you will become not only my wife but my woman.” John said tenderly.
“John, I’m sure you understand that part of our marriage will take me some time.”
“Margaret, holding you in my arms is what I have yearned for a long time. Yes, I understand. Don’t ever feel rushed or that I am anxious. You will tell me when the right moment is for us. Let it not worry that pretty head of yours.”
“I have a few errands to run. Is there anything I can get for you while I am gone?”
“Could I have some flowers to hold?”
“That was on my list.
John left the hospital and headed for a flower seller in town.
“You look happy this morning, Miss Hale. Was that Mr. Thornton who I saw leaving?”
“Yes. This is to be our wedding day.” Margaret smiled.
“Oh, how exciting! You will marry in this room, I suppose. What time is the ceremony?” asked Nurse Pickering.
“At two this afternoon, but I think my few friends here, who have wanted to see me, will be here earlier than that. I don’t look much like a bride-to-be, do I?” sighed Margaret.
“Let me think about what we can do. I shouldn’t think you can stand up for this.”
“I’d like to try. My legs aren’t injured, it’s just my rib. I’ll have to be careful and need help getting out of this bed, but I want to do it. I want to stand next to John. Could we try?” Margaret was not too proud to beg.
“I’ll ask Dr. Wagner. I think we were going to get you up today, as it is. Your rib is tightly wrapped, but still, I had better ask. Hmm… I wonder what we can do about something other than that white cotton tent you are wearing. I know I can work with your hair.”
“Oh, could you? I would appreciate that so much.”
“Good thing we have a few hours. Let me go talk with the doctor; he’s here somewhere. I’ll be back as soon as I find him.”
Nurse Pickering turned to leave the room when Dr. Wagner came through the door on his morning round. Both women seemed to swamp him with questions that he was unable to turn down in the midst of their merriment. It was the best sign from Miss Hale he could have expected. He found it almost too merry after what she had been through. He still felt there would be more residual to purge.
“Let me check you over, Miss Hale. Then we will practice standing you up, and if you prove successful, you will have my blessing. You are in a weakened state; however, I think you are running on adrenaline right now. You must rest immediately when you tire.”
The doctor and the nurse assisted Margaret to a sitting position and then swung her legs to the side. With the exception of a few grimaces, which were expected, and their aid, she made it to her feet and looked steady. She shuffled her feet in place and then began putting one in front of the other. That was accomplished with little difficulty and a big smile.
“I’m sure the ceremony will not last but a few moments. I can make it. Can I try to sit in a chair instead of getting back in the bed just now?”
“Do you feel like you could sit on a commode? That, of course, would just be for now, but it is one of the hurdles we need to get you over before releasing you.”
“Yes, I will try it. It’s got to be easier than that pan thing.”
Margaret stood holding on to the doctor’s arm and the metal footboard where her chart hung. Nurse Pickering scooted out of the room only for mere seconds, returning with a rolling commode and another nurse was carrying a privacy screen. The doctor turned this detail over to the two nurses and said he would return after a bit.
Although Margaret had difficulty lifting her gown and holding her weight to sit, she finally had success with some assistance.
“Nurse Pickering. I can’t have my new husband helping me with this when I am released. He’s never seen any part of my body.” Margaret fretted.
Laughing, Pickering told her that she would have a live-in nurse for a few days.
“You know, I should have begun my woman’s week by now. Is there more of an injury than we could know?”
“Miss Hale, you have been checked every conceivable way that is possible since you were unable to wake for the first day. What you are experiencing is trauma to your body and physiological system. Everything should return to normal as your body heals.”
“This has been quite convenient in a way.”
“How are you doing back there behind the screen?”
“I think if I could stop talking, I might have better success.” Margaret laughed.
“Well, I can’t leave the room, but I will change your bed while you are quiet.”
“I’d feel better if you closed the door, too. I know I’m hid behind this screen, but it doesn’t feel like enough.”
Pickering laughed again. She was really seeing the improvement in her patient today. After all, it was her wedding day.
Captain Hartford returned to post with explanations to his Commander. He had entered his Commander’s office with great hesitancy only to be buoyed by the fact that nothing seemed out of order. Surely, there would be a severe questioning session if Miss Hale or Detective Boyle had come to him with any suspicions. Grant wondered how long it would be before Miss Hale was found, dead or alive. She had to have taken her own life as she admitted she had been thinking of doing. There could be little hope of reconciliation after all this time, if she lived. Grant decided to stop worrying about Miss Hale and do something about it. Looking over his shoulder was something he caused to others, and not something he would endure himself. Once he could locate her, he would dispose of her as he had once done to the fiancé of a woman he forcefully bedded. When all doubts of his involvement in her death were well and truly dismissed, he would pick his moment to expose her brother and gain the accolades of the crown.
It was nearing midday when the Shaw household received their post. The housemaid set it on the table in the foyer where it always rested in a silver tray. Edith and her mother were in the parlor still suffering the loss of Margaret.
“The police have had twenty four hours and still no word,” Mrs. Shaw stated as she paced the room. “She cannot have just disappeared off the face of the earth.”
Edith remembered spotting Margaret’s reticule on the sofa in the house of Captain Hartford. She knew the police had that knowledge but her aunt did not. Edith began to think that the waiting was starting to take a great toll on her and her mother. A doctor should be summoned tomorrow to ease her mother’s nerves.
“Mother, how about a cup of tea with me?”
“Yes, Edith, ring for the maid.”
The maid entered the parlor as requested and asked what she could do. Directed to bring a tray of tea, she turned to leave, offhandedly telling the Mistress that the post had arrived.
Edith walked to the foyer and brought the small bundle into the parlor. Noticing a post from Mr. Bell, she handed it quickly to her mother.
Mrs. Shaw snapped the seal in an instant and began to read of Margaret’s whereabouts. Almost with the vapors, she grabbed her heart and shouted, “She’s alive. Margaret is alive. She is in Milton.”
Edith pulled the note from her mother’s waving hands and read it for herself.
“Mother, it says she is injured and in the hospital there. We must go at once.”
“Edith, we will go a first light tomorrow. We will pack. Today we need to inform Maxwell and he will know who else should know of this. Oh, Thank the Lord, she is alive. Do you think Maxwell could have some time to come with us?”
“I hope so, Mother. He’s been very involved in this, much more than I think we know. I will take the buggy to the post right away.” Edith went outside and asked the groomsman to harness the buggy. She returned to the house for her shawl and to calm her mother before leaving.
As Edith reined the light buggy towards the fort, she kept repeating the words ‘particularly injurious condition’. Now, she was sure and Maxwell would be too, that Captain Hartford was hiding something. It did solve the worry that he had her tied up somewhere in his home or other place. Still upsetting to Edith was, why did she not come home that night. Did Hartford drop her home or not? Did her cousin have to run away from him? What took her to Milton?
Edith thought about the note saying that she had arrived at Mr. Thornton’s home. She had run to him for help, for protection. She still loved the man. It was as plain as day but created more questions than it answered. She could have had nothing to do with Captain Hartford, so why did she? Edith couldn’t wait to get to Milton tomorrow and she hoped Maxwell could attend with them.
The guard at the post gate admitted Edith Shaw into the visitor area behind the first gate. He sent a horseman across the fort to fetch Captain Lenox, if he were in his quarters. He was not and knowledge of his whereabouts was not immediately known.
Edith wrote a note, sealing it and handing it to the guard. “Please see that he gets this as soon as possible. It is a family emergency,” she told him, lying just a little bit.
Instead of returning home immediately, she went to see the local constable to acquaint him with the facts that they had just received. Someone should know something before they stepped onto the train tomorrow bound for Milton.
“You say you have had word from the Mr. Bell, who you spoke about before, that Miss Hale is in a Milton hospital?”
“Yes, that’s correct. I do not remember the exact wording but it said she arrived, injured, at the home of Mr. Thornton, a man who she once had feelings for. I believe she ran to the only male she trusted. Mr. Bell was not in London, and my fiancé, Captain Lenox, also, wears a red coat. She may not have wanted to confide anything to him. I’m just guessing, you understand.”
“I know of this Mr. Thornton. He is a well respected Mill Master in Milton. He has done much to place that city on the map. I will get this information over to the Met right away. You say you are leaving for Milton in the morning?”
“Is Captain Lenox going with you?”
“I’ve just come from trying to locate him to see if he could accompany my mother and I, but he couldn’t be located. And should he contact us, I do not know if he would be permitted to leave his post.”
“Do you know where you will be staying when you arrive, in case the need arises?”
“Yes, we will be registered at the Milton Grand Hotel, but will be found at the hospital, I am sure.”
“Since we and the Met have a file started on Miss Hale, someone should be down there tomorrow as well. We will need her statement.”
“I’m glad to hear that. This is all so confusing.”
“Do you have a particular sense of what is confusing to you?”
“She is my best friend, and I believe I am hers. After her father died a year ago, she came to live with us rather than staying in Milton alone. I should rephrase that. My mother insisted that she come and stay with us. As she began to slowly recover from her grief, she talked more about Mr. Thornton, quite a bit more. I could tell that she had loved him, but something wasn’t right between them when the death came and my mother pulled her to London. I’ve been confused since this letter this morning.”
“And why is that?”
“I do not see why she began to see or continued to see this Captain Hartford if her heart lay elsewhere. It’s quite unlike Margaret to do something she does not want to do. Like we said before, when she began seeing this Captain we started noticing a different person in her. She was quiet and withdrawn. That in and of itself was odd, but now, out of nowhere, she runs to her first love. I can’t blame her for that. The note said she was injured. Captain Hartford had to be abusive for her to run so far and not let us know. In her darkest hour she ran to the man she loved.
Mr. Bell was Margaret’s first visitor, almost an hour early. Margaret had tears in her eyes after seeing him come into her room and set down his top hat and cane.
“Margaret, my dear.” Were the only words that Adam Bell could say as he walked towards her. He struggled to hold his own emotions back as he looked at her face with the black eye.
Margaret tried to stand from the side of her bed, to hug him, but didn’t make it. Adam knelt on one knee in front of her and wondered how he could hug her. Instead he held her shoulders and kissed her on top of her head.
“Margaret, I have no words and you know that is most unlike me. You cannot know how we have grieved over what you have suffered. Before you ask, I think we have Frederick in a safe position. We will know more by tomorrow or the next day. Your torment is over and here, today, you finally wed the man that you should have, two years ago. Margaret you don’t know how John has been waiting for this day. He will not show it, but he is extremely upset at what this man has done to you, but you have brought him the happiest time he’s ever been in all his life.”
Margaret tried to bend and reach forward to put her arms around him but only found a small success. “I know, Adam. It took leaving him to know how much I loved him. I’m the lucky one that he didn’t have another woman in his life. I’m blessed that he still loves me.”
“I know you couldn’t know, but there was never any doubt in that. It was all too clear to me. You two will make the best couple I have ever had the good fortune to know. So, are you healing as expected?”
“Yes, I am doing well. I think I might even be a day ahead of their expectations or it could be just the good day that started for me today. You see the decorations that the hospital staff did for our wedding. I think John bought the entire flower seller’s wares. Look at this room. I did not think we could get the alcohol smell out of here, but John found away. Oh, Adam, I do love him.”
“And where did this frock come from? You did not arrive with that. I bet someone on the staff brought something from home for you. I must say it clashes with your bright black eye,” Bell laughed instead of crying for his charge.
“Oh, wasn’t that nice of them to do. John will be so surprised. The doctor and nurse worked with me this morning so I can stand for a few moments for the ceremony. I’m glad John doesn’t have to remember this day with me wearing a while sheet,” Margaret laughed and then grimaced. “I can see that laughing will a bit uncomfortable for a few weeks.”
Adam Bell stood and pulled a small chair to her side.
“Adam, who knows about me?” Margaret asked in a serious tone.
“That would be myself, John, of course, Nicholas and his wife, and Branson. Your aunt should be getting my note today about your condition, I didn’t say much, mostly about your whereabouts. I expect them very late tonight but more likely tomorrow afternoon. I have rooms reserved. Only John, Branson, Nicholas and myself, know about Fred. I hope John has told you we are making plans and feel good that Frederick is taking actions now, on his own. We want to help him get to another country. I am sure your cousin and aunt have been to the police about you being missing, but I don’t know what they told them. They didn’t know about this treatment that you were hiding from all of us, from this Captain Hartford.”
“You know about that? All of that?”
Adam, slowly nodded his head and pulled her hands into his. “Margaret we all love you. You can’t hurt and we not know why. It is absolutely unbearable to think of what you endured. He will be dealt with; you can be assured of that.”
“How? I cannot stand in a witness box and tell strangers what I have been through.”
“That is not going to happen. John is going to see to that. You must speak with him after your happy wedding day today.”
Changing the subject, “Margaret, your parents would be so proud of you and Frederick would be too, if he knew John. I hope they meet some day.”
“I want that more than anything. Besides you, Frederick is the only family that I have and who’s opinion I highly regard.”
“Margaret, you certainly have mine. You could not find a man that loves you more, will cherish you, will protect you beyond his own life, than John Thornton. It’s nice that you love him, too, don’t you think?”
“I couldn’t ask for anything better in my life than to have found him. And to think I did not like him when I saw him. The first I saw of him, he was losing his temper.” Margaret paused, thinking of that side of John. What would he do if he came face to face with Captain Hartford? Margaret set that aside for later thought.
Next came, Nicholas and Peggy through the door. Peggy set the cake off to a side cabinet and ran to Margaret. “Oh dear, Margaret. I wish the circumstances could be different but I am so glad to have you back in Milton. I have missed my friend. And now, you are going to be the famous Mrs. John Thornton.” Peggy kissed her on the good cheek followed by Nicholas doing the same thing.
“Miss Margaret, you have finally reeled in the catch of Milton. It’s about time. I’m tired of watching over his life and his moods. It’s your turn now.” Nicholas said.
“You two are scaring me. You mean I will be famous?” she laughed.
“Oh yes, you will need a spokesman to talk with all those reporters outside. They know something is up with John being seen here so many days in row. You don’t know how many hearts you will break today when you take him off the market,” Nicholas continued.
“Look at this room!” said Peggy. The women started to talk as Adam gave Peggy his seat and went to the corner to talk with Nicholas. Both had to admit they were wearing false smiles, when all they felt was sorrow and rage at this initial look at Margaret.
“I think we’ll both do better when we see the happiness on John’s face in a little while. I can’t say it will be worth what it costs, but everyone’s prayers are answered today,” added Nicholas.
John finally remembered to tell Cook and Jane that he was getting married today and that Mrs. Thornton should be in the house in a few days. Cook jumped for joy and Jane smiled for the happiness of her employer.
“There will be no celebration here at the house, at least not today. Mr. Bell may come back for a drink or two, and maybe one or two more, but no food will be necessary. I would hope between the two of you, you can stock the house with what a woman needs. I’m not sure of what it all is and Mrs. Margaret Thornton will not be in a position to shop for herself. Cook, since you go home nightly, the live-in nurse will take your room for a week or so. Include her in all meals as well.”
“Master, we are so very happy for you. I’ve been waiting for this day nigh on ten years. I’ve watched ‘em come and go. You and I have had our talks about a few of them, but no one ever measured up to Miss Hale in our eyes and apparently yours, either. Congratulations. We will do everything thing to help her settle in and teach her how to run this house.”
“Thank you, ladies. I couldn’t ask for more. I think you will come to love my lady as I do. I guess it will take some getting used to, to have a woman in the house after the both of you have left for the day. Somehow, I think I will manage that,” John smiled.
“I’m sure you will manage that quit well,” said Cook. The wedding starts shortly and Branson and I must pick up the minister.”
“Do you have the ring in your pocket,” asked Mother Cook.
John tapped his vest pockets and went scurrying back to his bedchamber to the clothes he had on moments ago. Coming back through the kitchen on his way to the stables, he kissed Cook on the cheek. “You saved me a terrible embarrassment. Thank you. Next you see me, I will be married.” John picked up his best top hat and left through the back door.
If Margaret thought she had been in a weakened state before, it was now officially confirmed when John walked through the door in his exquisite evening attire. He had a yellow rose in his lapel and a yellow rose nosegay for Margaret. He handed Nicholas and Adam yellow roses for their apparel and went directly to Margaret. Peggy moved away and everyone walked out of the room to give them privacy. Nicholas even closed the door behind them.
John knelt at Margaret’s feet.
“I love you more this minute than any time before. Are you ready to be Mrs. John Thornton?”
“You know I am. John, you are so handsome, you make me want to cry.”
“All for you, my love. Only and forever for you, Margaret. Where is that stunning hospital gown I was expecting? I even wore a white cravat to match you,” he smiled. You look positively stunning. And what are you doing sitting on the side of the bed? Shouldn’t you be sitting up with pillows behind you?”
“I convinced the doctor that there was nothing wrong with me legs. I want to stand beside you for as long as I can. When you kiss me at the end of the vows, just don’t squeeze me too hard. I’ll take a lot of pain for that kiss I want so badly, though.”
“Oh, how I want to squeeze you now. I cannot wait to get you home so that I can serve you and hold you and stroke your forehead and kiss your neck. I am going to stop there, or you will know me better than you should right now.”
Margaret smiled and grimaced once again.
John leaned in and parting her lips gave her a sensual kiss. “I won’t be able to do that with everyone watching. Are you ready?”
“I’ve been ready for two years. I am eagerly waiting to give you my vows. I do so love you, John Thornton.”
John kissed her once again and then helped her to her feet. Do you have a preference where you want stand?”
“I think at the end of the bed. I can lean back on the footboard if I need to.”
“If you need to lean, you lean on me. I want you to lean on me always, Miss Hale. And say goodbye to Miss Hale, now.”
John placed Margaret at the end of the bed and opened the door for the others to take their places.
Margaret was surprised that Adam stood next to her and not John. She realized he was giving her away. She looked up into his eyes, and both had tears welling.
The minister stood facing Adam and Margaret and asked who gives this woman away.
Adam said, “I do.” Adam turned to shake John’s hand and then placed Margaret’s hand into John’s. Adam and John exchanged places.
Peggy collected the flowers Margaret had been holding and Margaret could feel John looking down on her. She peeped up and saw an almost reverent benevolent smile. His eyes were speaking his love to her heart.
Staff from the hospital had drifted in, including Nurse Pickering and Dr. Wagner.
The minister continued into the vows and then Nicholas had to fish out the emerald ring for Margaret’s finger, to hand John. Margaret gasped at its loveliness as John looked into her face and slowly slid it onto her finger, then squeezed her hand. Margaret felt her knees trembling, and John felt that happening, too. He gently folded his arm around her waist and held her up until the final words of Man and Wife were spoken. He had wanted to kiss her tenderly in front of the crowd but found no success there. He kissed her for long moments, to the applause of everyone in the room. John, the passionate man and lover, was finally revealed to all who watched.
As soon as he gave her breath, he escorted her to the chair, where she received all the well wishes and kisses.
The doctor was in and out of Margaret’s room until he thought the festivities had gone on long enough. He could see his patient tiring and spoke to Mr. Thornton. John went to his friends and told them of Margaret’s fatigue. To Adam, he said he would seem him later this evening at his home. Branson carried the minister back to the church and John said he would get a cabby to take him home.
“No, sir. I will be back for you. I will be outside starting at 7:00 pm.
John walked his friends to the hospital entrance while Nurse Pickering changed Margaret back into a fresh cotton gown and got her comfortably settled into her bed.
“Mrs. Thornton, you can’t seem to stop smiling.”
Margaret paused, hearing that phrase for the first time from someone other than John. Her face flushed as the smile grew larger.
“Mrs. Thornton,” she sighed out loud.
“Yes, Mrs. Thornton,” John repeated coming back through the door.
The nurse disappeared knowing that Margaret was settled, perhaps in the best situation of her life.
John quietly pushed the door closed when she had left, not latching it, but hiding them from onlookers. He walked back to Margaret’s bedside and took the chair pulling it close to his new wife.
“Margaret, you have made me the happiest man on this earth today. Even up until you said, ‘I do’, I feared something might interrupt us for what I have waited for since meeting you. I want to make you as happy as I am.”
“You already have. You’ve taken on a woman of reduced circumstances, who treated you poorly, and then left you heartbroken. I am a woman who returns to you when everything in her life has failed her and asks for sanctuary, and you took me in. You give me love and not just abidance.”
“Margaret, stop that. You sound like you are making yourself self out to be a charity case. Had I known there was any regard for me, I would have sought you out long ago. I have done nothing but think about you. I tried to carry on; I saw very few women since you left, but no one could compare to you, my love. Under any condition imaginable, I wanted you, everyday in every way. For the past few months, I have even thought of selling the mills. I had to make some change in my life to get past you or give up living. I could no longer face the world with you somewhere that I couldn’t touch. Don’t ever think there is gratitude in my love for you. You don’t think that I could ever entertain the idea that you returned because I just happen to be a little better than the last man seeking you. Do you? No, I know that you love me and today was something we both wanted. This wedding was not a rescue for either of us. We’re married because we should have done this, two years ago. I know I rushed you into this, perhaps much faster than is proper. Here you lay in a hospital bed, delirious on laudanum and saying you will be my wife. I hope you never come to regret that. I was terribly selfish in gaining your hand while you were willing.”
“John, now you stop talking that way. I was not delirious when I accepted your offer of marriage. It wasn’t long after I was taken from Milton that I knew I had left my heart behind. I felt trapped between the two men I love most in this world. I knew I broke your heart as mine had already done, but my brother’s life could have been at stake and that weighed a bit heavier than my happiness.”
“Margaret, let’s not dwell on the past and the why’s. We have finally reached each other for all time and that’s all that matters, now. We just need you to concentrate on getting you well, so that you can come home with me. You cannot imagine how my mind is carrying me too far off places I’ve never thought of before. You will be loved like no other woman.”
“I hope can live up to your expectations.” Margaret said softly.
“Margaret, you far exceeded my expectations long long ago. I guess I am too anxious to know all of you and I have told you not to think of me being anxious. There is love driving me, not lust. It feels quite different, you know? My desire lies more with me wanting to please you than the other way around. It is a most exhilarating fantasy, waiting to come true. You’re blushing! Black eye, red cheeks, what more could a man ask for?” John laughed.
“I loved our little wedding. Everyone here wanted this for us, too. I am glad it is behind us now, so when I face my aunt, she will have no advice to give me.”
“Yes, I am afraid you have a couple more days of discomfort with visitors. Your aunt and cousin will want to know what happened, why you are here, and why you are married. It will be up to you what you say to them. I will not tell them what I know.” John moved towards Margaret’s lips. It was their first kiss since the ceremony. Margaret was able to manage one arm around John’s neck. John put one arm behind her, anchoring his hand under her bottom and pulled her to him. The other hand stroked her face and neck. He tenderly made love to her with his tongue and hers intertwining. They eventually pulled apart and John withdrew his hand from underneath her. That had been their most intimate contact.
“Yes, my love. What is it?”
“This medicine hasn’t dulled all my feelings.”
“I don’t understand. What are you telling me?”
Margaret blushed and smiled causing John to kiss her again, as before.
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.