I Killed Him – pt 23

Chapter Twenty Three

There were now eight men gathered in a small room at the precinct. John, Frederick, Maxell, Adam, Branson, Nicholas, Detective Boyle and Inspector Mason all were jammed close in the interrogation room.

“Who might you be?” Asked Detective Boyle of Nicholas Higgins.

“He’s my friend and business partner,” said John. “He knows of all of this, has assisted in the relocation of Frederick’s fiancé, and will be involved in Margaret’s protection on the mill grounds.”

Boyle looked at Mason for reassurance and saw an affirmative nod.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a case that proceeded as this one with so many people needing to be kept abreast of the details. I wish I had good news to report, but I do not. Unfortunately, Hartford has slipped through our men. We do not know his whereabouts.”

There were small rumblings in the room.

“In speaking with his Commander, yesterday, he had been told by another soldier that Hartford was called immediately to his mother’s side. Apparently, it was thought she was dying. Further checking revealed she had passed away several years ago. So, he is lying to his regiment.”

That seemed to disturb Maxwell more than the others. He felt it another slap in the face to a proud tradition which he held most high.

“We immediately sent men to watch the train stations, both in London and the next one north. Mason has his men at the Milton station and the next one south.”

“If I may interrupt, asked Maxwell.”

“Yes, Captain. Go ahead.”

“It is our training to seek two stations or exits away from the target instead of one. I think if you check two stations north of London’s last northern station, you will find that someone found a horse or someone bought a rather valuable animal.”

“We will look into that today,” Boyle replied.

“And on this side,” continued Maxwell, “you should find a horse being sold from a stable or smithy, two stations south of Milton. It won’t necessarily be of any particular value, just a horse. From my training, which would be the same as his, I would say that Hartford is in Milton, or very close.”

Conversations went around the room.

John turned to Branson. “Would you take the coach home, get your pistol and wait in the house until I get home. Higgins will drive me.”

“Yes, Guv.” Branson got up and left immediately.

“Men. If I could get your attention back. Again, we do not know if he will do what is assumed. Checking the Captain’s suggestions will give us a better idea. Hartford could be leaving the country for all we know. Mr. Thornton, we would like to post some men, dressed as your workers to watch your yard. You do have men working in the yard constantly, do you not?”

“I do.”

“We do not want to scare Mrs. Thornton with unnecessary knowledge of what the police are doing. And I cannot reiterate this enough, do not take the law into your own hands. Be watchful and then inform us of any suspicious people. We are dealing with a highly skilled soldier. He will be armed, will he not, Captain?”

“Exceedingly armed.”

“What do you mean by exceedingly?”

“He will not have his rifle or sword with him if he’s traveling in plain clothes, but he will have two pistols and a knife that he knows how to use against an opponent. He will be skilled in hand-to-hand combat. He will be more experienced in tactics than anyone here, including myself. That is his trained skill. It will be easy for him to outwit us, but there are a lot of us here.”

“Captain, I feel sure because you are a soldier, you mean ‘us’ as a term you use most frequently. ‘Us’ does not mean the men in this room with the exception of the Inspector and myself. He will be caught, tried, and hung by either the police or the Army. Let us do our job and take that responsibility. Revenge is not the law. Let us handle the law.”

“How will you go about locating him, if he is, indeed, in Milton,” asked Frederick.

“Coming to Milton, unbeknownst to anyone, as he would think, he may feel brave enough to stay at a hotel. Should he see you, Captain, or you, Mr. Bell, he could very well go deep. He may also follow you. Perhaps, he could assume that you are here because you heard of Mrs. Thornton’s wedding. I do not think he would even consider the hospital at all. That might be a safe place for her, now that I think about it. Regardless, we have to assume he read about the wedding and will seek out John Thornton. That will be the only name he knows in connection with her. I seriously doubt that he would go to a big hotel like the Milton Grand,” said Boyle.

“I can tell you that he would not,” declared Maxwell. He is more likely to camp outside of town then chance coming into it unless he can find something in the very poorest sections, but he would have to dress as they are, not to call attention to himself.”

“Thank you again. We will widen our search. Since he is skilled in tactical maneuvers, it would seem he would have to come into town and find the home of John Thornton. He will need time to plan. He will need the layout of the terrain. Is that the way you see it, Captain?”

“He has only one small objective, but still he will have to plan an escape instead of a victory. Since he was lost to your men yesterday, I see three days, this being the first. On the outside, no more than five days, total, before he will make his move.”

“To sum this up for today, gentlemen, we have learned much information from the Captain here, and Mason and I will review our coverage and act accordingly. Again, do not act on your own. If you see him, alert either Mason or myself. Are there any questions?”

“When will you send your men, dressed as mill workers, to the mill?” John asked.

“I believe you have three shifts running?”

“That is correct, but there are not many in the yard on the night shift.” John stated, sitting back with his arms folded.”

“Would you like men inside the house at night?”

“No. My wife is in a state of high anxiety now, coming to her own conclusions. That would intensify that.”

“I feel certain this Hartford has little knowledge of workers at a mill. Our men may stand out to a few of your workers but not to him. Is your wife very familiar with your mill operations?”

“No. She has no idea. All right, I will place two men in the yard and another one or two around the back but out of sight. That will start sometime tomorrow.”

John continued, “Mason will we have any bobbies for the city streets left?”

“Detective Boyle is bringing in added help from London. We will have good coverage everywhere. Everyone will have seen the drawing of this Hartford. I believe they will arrive today in plain clothes. Is that right, Detective?”

“Yes, that is so. In fact, I have seen two already this morning. I rented a flat for a month. They will all bunk there.”

“I would like to reimburse the Met for that expense and the men,” John offered.

“That’s a kind offer, sir, but no. You are a Magistrate, and that affords you a bit more security than most. You have probably never realized that. Knowing you are a fair and just man, might find that disagreeable to your values, but now is not the time to turn it down. Our yard worker detail will be there by this afternoon. Are there any other questions?”

The men seemed to have heard what they needed to hear.

“Unless something of real urgency comes up, I will be here again at four tomorrow afternoon. Good day, gentlemen.”

John spoke quietly with Adam and then remained behind the men leaving the room.

“Detective, may I have a moment?”

“Surely, Mr. Thornton.”

“How many detectives do they have at the met?”

“We started out with five a few years ago when the detective division was initiated. We now have over twenty. Many are now sent to places like here to deal with difficult cases. The science of detecting is becoming quite involved, and we find it yielding high results and captures. I believe we are going to begin classes and offer certificates to qualified men who come to learn the course. In the next decade, most places will see a detective division in their local police force. Of course, that will depend on the size and the budget of the city.”

“As you know, Milton is growing at an alarming rate. I would like the Inspector to have such courses if he wishes and he can select another man, too.”

“I am sure your Inspector is more than qualified. I will talk to him about it and tell him of your suggestions.”

“Thank you. Good day.” John left.

 

John walked up the next flight of stairs where the courtrooms were. Finding the four men sitting in a corner near the judge’s bench, John walked past them to check the chambers behind. It seemed the clerk had left for the day, so he motioned the others into the room.

Everyone had a comment to say about the plush furnishings that John worked at, on occasions.

“John, I think our office should look this good,” chuckled Nicholas.”

John did not sit behind his desk, but he was asked to point out which one was his.

“Maxwell, what is your real estimate as to Hartford’s arrival?” John opened.

“If he rode hard, and I cannot see why he would do that, he could be here now. I think tomorrow is really more likely, but we don’t have a firm time as to when he was last seen by Boyle’s men. However, I had not thought of this until now, but I think he will come into the town. If he were near Milton with his own horse, which would be well supplied with emergency provisions; he would likely camp outside of town. If he did take the train and was forced to purchase a horse and saddle, he would not have those with him. Tomorrow, if Boyle has any news about a loose or sold horse and then a purchased one, we will know for sure. He’s an excellent rider, and it’s possible that he will ride his horse all the way. That would put him about four days away.”

“Thank you, Captain. Has anyone here been thinking about accomplishing the same goal we all seem to have?”

All nodded affirmatively.

“I have been working on something where all of us could be a part of this together. With the man we’re going to go up against, my thoughts are beginning to come together. As of yesterday, we seemed to be in agreement that we each have reasons to personally plot Hartford’s demise. I know that Frederick and I have very solid reasons for actions we are prepared to take. I doubt either one of us could convince the other to stand back. Adam and Captain, this does not have to be your fight. Nothing less will be thought of you if you have changed your mind.”

“You will not keep me out of this,” Maxwell stated firmly.

“Nor I,” said Adam.

I’m going to lay this idea out for all of you and we’ll begin to shape a plan. Some of you could have something better. I have not been able to get this out of my mind. I want this man eliminated, for myself alone.”

“Let’s hear what you’ve got, John,” said Fred.

The planning began in earnest with everyone making suggestions and using people where they were strongest or who deserved the honors of the final minutes. John was relieved to find everyone was in agreement to be part of the whole. He still worried that Frederick would go off on his own. Maxwell had the guts to go it alone better than any of them. Adam was laid back, which was most unlike him. With the short time he had to live, he could vindicate everyone and take this on himself.

An hour had passed without a definite strategy resolved. John said that he would speak with Mason late morning tomorrow and see if there had been any word on the horses near the stations. If he did, he would call a meeting and somehow make sure Margaret was somewhere else. If there was no new word, they would meet again as they had today.

 

As John and Nicholas arrived back on the mill property, Margaret was on the porch saying goodbye to Edith, who knew they would both be alone for an hour. John tipped his hat to her as her carriage pulled out through the gate. Nicholas headed for the office to talk with the foreman. John walked up the porch steps where Margaret was waiting for him and leaned down to kiss her.

“I hope Edith helped you down these stairs?”

“Yes, she did, John. The walking and stair muscles are completely back as they were. The only fear now is pressure against this rib.”

“Let us not forget your lovely black eye.” John smiled.

“I hardly feel it anymore. I even forget about it until I pass a mirror and see how hideous I look.”

John monitored Margaret’s step as they ascended. “You are doing well, my love.”

John walked her to the sofa and helped in lowering her to a sitting position and then went to the bar.

“Would you care for a port, Margaret?”

“Yes, that would be lovely.”

John poured and headed for the sofa, handing Margaret her drink. He sat close to her and kissed her again.

“I see Frederick is not with you. I thought he might come for dinner.”

“I tend to think that he likes to keep on the move. I’m sure it has become a habit with the way he has had to live for three years. I told him, I thought he could live here in Milton if he wanted. It’s far from Helstone, where someone might know him. I could give him a decent job to support him and Lisa.”

“What did he say to that?” Margaret asked.

“At first he was not excited by the idea, now that he has someone he loves, but I watched him, and he may be thinking about it. He knows his situation much better than I do so I will not encourage him further. I think your brother is a fine man. I am certain that I will like knowing him. How could I not, being related to you.”

“John, that fills my heart. I will always love you both, and you will always come first in my life, but I am glad I will not be torn apart. I think he likes you, too. He has me on his mind but I was heartened to see you two talking earlier, and you even showed him through the mill. I haven’t even had the pleasure yet.”

“Mrs. Thornton – how I love to say that – there are many pleasures you have not had yet. I would like to show you through them, too,” he grinned slightly.

“Tell me about your meeting,” Margaret said, moving on.

“You are changing the subject, Margaret.” John jested. “I think I told you we would not talk about that anymore.”

“Will you go back tomorrow?”

“I tend to think I will. They may be closing in on him, and we will get word. If that happens, no, I will not go back tomorrow. I want to talk about you. Tell me, what does the nurse do for you that I cannot do?”

“Well . . . Margaret looked down, twirling her fingers. She dresses me. I see you are grinning. I guess you can do that. I’m trying to build up the nerve.”

“Are you hiding behind your nurse, dear wife?” John paused, watching Margaret’s face flush red. “How are you doing in the water closet? Can you tend to yourself there?”

“I’m getting close. Really, I am.”

“Are you trying to convince yourself or me?”

“She helps me bathe . . . I know . . . I know, you can do that for me, too. I suppose I should not be shy about being without clothes in front of you. We are married. Becoming naked has nothing to do with my rib, I guess.” Margaret found the words difficult to come out. Now, the shyness was gripping her, but that had to be the bane of every new bride.

“John, I want you to know that if I struggle through these first tender filled moments, it is only because I am timid. It has nothing to do with my past attack. It will be only me. I guess most brides worry that they will be compared or will disappoint their husband.”

“Margaret, you forget that I have seen that exquisite woman, although quickly, underneath. A man doesn’t fall in love with a woman’s body, but with the woman inside. You could be a skinny waif with tiny breasts, and I would love you the same. I think women have a hard time believing that. I’ve not experienced that because I’ve never loved, but have heard in my courtroom. It was never an issue when I was with other women either, over my lifetime. Men have the same reservations, but usually, his wife is chaste and has no one to compare him to. We have that advantage. But man-to-man, we continue that juvenile pride throughout our whole life. Margaret, our hearts, and souls are matched. Everything else will work itself out, but I have no doubt we have nothing to work out except your shyness. I hate to admit this, but I love that about you. You are becoming a challenge to me, and I must say, I rather like it . . . To the degree that is. It almost takes the place of the wooing that I missed with you. I never did much of that. I was looking forward to it. Here, I am finding it, after I have married the woman I want for the rest of my life. A decade ago, not knowing it would be you back then; I still fantasized and read poetry. I wanted to be the most loving husband when the time came. I never knew it would run so deep and control me more that I can control it with my mind and well-made plans of seduction. They all have floated out the window since knowing you. I’m endeavoring to collect the pieces of the plan since you are unavailable for a full out and out ravishing. If anyone had told me that I would make love to you in stages, I would have not believed such a beautiful experience could be given in such a way. Somehow, I am living through it, though.

Margaret reached for John. She wanted him to hold her. “You always say the right thing to help me get past my reservations.”

“I don’t say them to help you. I saw them because they are true. If you remember correctly, I had asked you to marry me because I knew you. I wanted to marry you, not for what I hoped you would be.” John stood, turning from Margaret and adjusted his trousers. “I need to get some cool air. I will return in a minute. Can you see when dinner will be laid out?”

John walked down the steps hoping he would have the chance to know is wife’s soft body and feminity, before he might leave this world. He wanted to be the first to bring her to ultimate pleasure before he missed the chance. Tomorrow, he would drop by his solicitor’s office and have everything changed over to her.

 

By the time John returned, their dinner was on the table. As he seated Margaret, she wanted to lower herself to the chair since she had the table to lean on. She felt very little pressure on her rib as she sat.

“I think I am halfway through goal number two,” she told John.

“Oh, you have goals? Are they your goals or your nurse’s goals?”

“They are her goals. There are some goals I must learn to do for myself. There are others that you will help me with, such as washing my hair. I need to climb stairs, sit and rise and dress.”

“I can help you with all of those things. When you can sit and rise, we will let her go, and that’s only due to the water closet because I feel there will be times where you will want privacy there. Mind you that is your own shyness; I am willing to help with anything. Margaret, I love all of you, at any time, not just when it is convenient.” John could see her eyes were becoming glassy and he ceased the conversation. He began to think that by the time Margaret was born into a pious family, that her parents never showed their love for each other, outwardly – if ever in that family. She seemed to have a hard time understanding the love of a husband.”

“John, I remembered something recently about the night of my attack.”

He interrupted. “Margaret, we aren’t talking about that.”

“Actually, this is something I want to remember,” she said.

“I can’t believe there is anything about that night to which you could refer.”

“I really believe I was saved that night from Captain Hartford by a very understanding and protective cabby. He went out of his way to avoid the coach we thought was following us. He let me off a street away from where I lived so I could sneak in the coal door. He did that without pay. He traveled the streets until he could find me again. I wanted to get to the train station. When thinking we were being followed he took extraordinary movements to ensure we were not. Being a cabby in the city, he knew he could out maneuver a coach. Had I not found him, I could have been returned to the clutches of the Captain. When we got to the station, he parked in the dark so I could exit and offered to wait with me until the train departed. I told him I would be all right, but I have a feeling he stayed close by, regardless. My question to you is, can we use a second driver? That would give Branson some time off. He never seems to have any time to himself unless he gives up sleeping. Did you know he’s thinking of taking a wife, but he doesn’t want to leave you and doesn’t see how it could work? Now, I come along and will eventually need his driving while you work. His duty will increase.”

“How long have you been practicing this story, Margaret,” John smiled.

“I wanted to know if Branson knew what a London cabby received as income, but never asked. Then we began talking about his lady friend. I bet you did not know that about Branson, did you?”

“Not that he was this close. I knew about his lady friend and thought the day would come when he wished to marry but hadn’t thought much past that.”

“If we don’t hire Bennington, I wondered if we could give him a reward or possibly you know of someone who needs a valued and experienced driver.” Margaret continued.

“This is a lot to think about. We will surely do something. I would like to meet and personally, thank him. I don’t think Nicholas has a particularly dedicated driver, like Branson. I would not hesitate to hire this Bennington as a second driver, but not at the expense of Branson’s pride. I don’t know if he’d let anyone else rein those horses. He stays with me only because of them, you know,” John grinned. “I believe he’s been offered more money by other masters because they know of his exceptional skills as a driver, discretion, and as a confidant. As for Branson having to choose between a bride and staying here, I will think on that and talk with him. I will, also, talk with Higgins.”

“John, how come you are so good to me?”

“I’ve said it before, I am unable to deny you anything.”

“I wish I was able to say that,” Margaret whimpered.

John rose from the table and helped Margaret stand for his light embrace. Looking into her eyes deeply, he said, “You will someday, my love. As I, you will not be able to help yourself. You are just not physically able to permit yourself full rein.” John leaned in and kissed her thoroughly and then walked her to the sofa.”

I Killed Him – pt 22

Chapter Twenty Two

 

That sat together in silence. Margaret knew beyond all doubt that pleading with John would be hopeless. She would do the same thing if she were in his place. Actually, she realized she could do the same thing in her own place. She knew that she could lose John for the sake of herself. Margaret couldn’t live with that. She had to find a way to keep him from possibly being hurt or worse. He could be killed. He could be hung. Begging, pleading, crying, groveling, sulking, threatening to commit suicide, may all have to come into play, if she felt he was on the verge of committing such an act, in her name.

 

Margaret was eventually trotted off for her exercises. John said that he would ride over to the Milton Grand and see if could find Bell, who could lead him to Frederick.

Branson would normally have the horses harnessed by now, and today was no different. John didn’t bother calling him to the front, he just found Branson at the stable.

“Guv, I’ve wanted to ask you, and I feel stupid in a way doing this, but now that you are married, does the Mistress have control over me as you have these past years?”

“She may ask to be driven anywhere at any time. If it comes to a decision about the stables or the horses, I would like to confer with her, and we may make a joint decision.”

“Can she let me go?”

“No. I can’t ever see that happening, but should that unlikely event come up, then, come to me. I am the only one to discuss that, and I will tell her so. She will have a say with her own maid. Although I do not believe you met Dixon the last time, Miss Hale lived here, she had been with the family before Margaret was born. Staff, with service longevity, are extended extra courtesies for being faithful and discreet regarding the family.”

“Suppose she asks me to keep a confidence from you?”

John paused with that question. “Right now, I am asking you to keep my confidence on what our plans are for Hartford. I hope she hasn’t asked, has she?”

“No, Guv.”

“Keep her confidences as you do to me, unless either one of us could be severely injured. Understand?”

“Yes, Guv. Where to?”

“The Grand, Branson, the Grand.”

 

Margaret was reflecting on having no shoes when she was reminded of Bennington, the cabby that aided in her rescue. She would ask Branson first if private service paid more than a London cabby. If the answer was yes, Margaret would ask John if he knew of a Master that needed a good driver. If Branson said no, he would ask John to reward him, which would mean a trip to London. It was very likely that he had saved her life that night and he should not be forgotten. Margaret always saw Nicholas with a small buggy and wondered if he had a driver. Could the Thornton household find a use for a second driver? A second driver could give Branson some relief from always being on duty. It may enable him to propose to the woman that he loved. According to John, Branson may not allow anyone to rein his horses. Perhaps, he could be persuaded to enjoy his lady and let another experienced driver pull the coach.

If John had no news about Frederick when he arrived home, she would like to try a short drive into the country or more likely a place to buy dancing slippers. She wanted out and in the sun away from the smoke.

 

The porter rapped lightly on the door of Mr. Bell’s room. After several moments and no answer, he repeated the knock. Still, no one came to the door. He returned to the reception area.

“Mr. Thornton, no one is answering the door.”

“Thank you, I will try the dining room” John walked in and saw Bell with the Shaw’s and Lenox, enjoying a leisurely late breakfast. Walking over, he decided not to join them but just have a word with Adam Bell.

“Good morning, everyone,” John said in a pleasant voice.

“Good morning, Mr. Thornton. How is Margaret this morning?” asked Mrs. Shaw.

“Quite honestly, it’s a bit rough for her today,” John spoke in earnest. “I would like to find Frederick if anyone here knows where he can be located.”

“Is anything wrong, John?” asked Bell.

“Could I speak with your for a moment? Excuse us,” John said, as Adam stood and walked a few paces away from the table.

“Margaret has begun to fear retribution by her brother or myself, against Hartford. Naturally, she worries for our safety. She asked me directly about my possible involvement in revenge. I could only tell her I would protect her if the man came here. I’m afraid that has set her back. I’d like Frederick to talk with her since I cannot speak for him.”

“John, I do not know where he is, but I know he had plans to find me here or Marlborough Mills, sometime this morning.”

“Higgins is back with good news about moving Lisa, and I am sure he’s anxious to hear that. Send him my way, if you see him. I hope he’s not out hunting. If I do not see you before then, I will see you at the police station at four. I have some ideas that we can discuss in an empty courtroom after we’ve heard what Boyle has to say.”

Adam, trying to smile for those that looked on, said, “I will see you later . . . before Boyle, and I will certainly send Frederick over when I see him.”

“Thank you, Adam.”

John turned to the table. “Mrs. Shaw, I hope you have a pleasant trip home. Your niece is strong, and we will get through this together. She would like to see her brother this morning. Please excuse my interruption. Good day, everyone.” John turned and left.

Except for Margaret’s brother, he wished she could be left alone. She had much turmoil to work through, both good and bad. Until she was alone, she couldn’t settle into a comfortable state of being. She wasn’t even able to set priorities in her life as yet. John was confident that before Margaret was healed physically, the other problem would have been eliminated.

 

John was anxious to return home. He did not like leaving her alone, ever, but especially now.

“No news from Frederick?” Margaret asked as John came into the room.

“No, but Adam seems to feel he will come forward sometime this morning. How are you doing?” John asked as he went to sit next to Margaret on the sofa.

John looked over at her lovingly, wishing the night would hurry so the house was quiet.

“I’m starting to feel like I am getting well. I have not taken the pain medication, yet. I want to see how I am really feeling. It’s a bit uncomfortable but bearable. John, I know Frederick might arrive, but could we take a ride in the coach.”

“Whatever you wish, my love. Where do you wish to go? Any place in particular. I will not take you over the old roads, just yet.”

Margaret stretched out her feet and wiggled her toes.

John grinned. “Oh! I’ve been so wrapped up with other things on my mind, I completely forgot. Let me tell Branson to bring the coach to the front, and I will carry you down the steps.” John laughed, “I could give you a pair of my boots until we go somewhere to purchase a pair of shoes for my waif.”

“Yes, I will wear your shoes.”

“You will? Are you serious about this?” John asked in bewildered fashion.

“I think anything is better than bare feet, don’t you?”

“I am not so sure you will be able to lift your feet with my boots on,” he smiled. “But I will get a pair.”

Returning, he placed his lightest pair of shoes on the floor in front of Margaret. He helped Margaret stand and held her hands while she slid her small feet into his big shoes. He couldn’t help but grin as it seemed her foot would never find the toe of the shoe.

He lifted her out of the boots, and swept her gently into his arms and carried her to the stable.

Branson surprised to see his new mistress shoeless, rushed to the coach door.

“Sir, does the Mistress know she doesn’t have her shoes on?”

“Branson, I am here. You can talk to me, you understand. I am not that ill.” She laughed.

“Branson, my wife has no shoes. I’m starting out to be a very poor husband, it would seem.”

“Do you want to go to the cobbler?”

“No, Branson,” Margaret said. “There must be a fancy dress shop in town. They should have some soft dance slippers. I hope your master doesn’t know of any lady’s dress shops, but possibly you do.”

“I do, indeed, Miss.” Branson opened the door.

John carried her inside and once again placed her on his lap. It wasn’t long before Margaret noticed his lap had stiffened.

“John?” Margaret said, shyly.

“I can’t help it,” John said before she teased him.

“I wasn’t going to mention that, exactly,” Margaret said.

“What do you mean by exactly? You have my undivided attention.” John beamed.

“No, I would say it’s divided.”

John pulled her lips to his, fiercely. Margaret eased her arms around his neck. John parted her lush lips and fed from her. He slowly searched the recesses of her mouth, allowing her tongue to engage with his. He moaned. Margaret pulled back momentarily to breathe, and then she resumed the passion that had ignited.

Margaret pulled John’s hand gently to her breast for him to soothe the ache she felt beginning. Without stopping his kiss, John tenderly, controlling his eagerness, cupped her heavy bosom and rubbed his thumb across her nipple. A light soft moan escaped through their kiss from her. John felt the coach come to a stop and set her away, knowing Branson would be at the door. He did it for her. Branson, being a man, would not be surprised at him.

“I guess we will talk later,” she said breathlessly.

Branson opened the door so John could carry his new bride into a Lady’s accessory shop.

Later, having found two pairs he wanted her to have, they returned to the coach. Both were surprised to see Frederick waiting in the coach.

“Good day, sis, John. I hear there is news of Lisa. What can you tell me,” he asked.

The ride that John was hoping to have going home would have to wait. John began to tell Frederick all that he knew. He withdrew the bit of paper that Nicholas had handed him and gave it to Margaret’s brother.

Frederick, anxious for the information, hardly took notice that his sister was sitting on her husband’s lap. When he finally looked up from the letter, he asked John with his eyes, why this seating arrangement?

John had anticipated the question immediately. “Your sister sits on my lap so that I can absorb the bumps in the road for her.” John, not wanting to look into Frederick’s eyes, looked out the window, knowing what any normal man would be thinking.

Frederick smiled and wanted to ask him about his bumps. His sister really had come of age, he thought. He was happy for Margaret. She would be well taken care of while he could not be with her. He liked John, too.

“I have something very important to discuss with you when we get home,” spoke Margaret.

Frederick caught a glimpse of John’s face and had a feeling of what was coming.

“Of course, sis. Do you think I just stop by to say ‘hello.’”

“I will have an appointment to keep at four this afternoon.”

“An appointment?”

“Yes. For the few days that Detective Boyle will be in Milton, he would like to have a meeting with all concerned about any further news on Hartford. We all are interested in the progress to apprehend him so he will inform us daily on what they know.”

“John, will you go?” Margaret asked, assured of the answer on her own.

“Yes. I will go. We had this talk this morning. I have nothing further to add.” John didn’t like being this firm with her especially in front of her brother, but Frederick was soon to be the same way.

“I want to go,” demanded Margaret.

“I would not let you go,” John stated sternly. “He will be captured and punished. You need to start putting that behind you. I’ve been thinking of talking with Donaldson about that. There are doctor’s, well . . . I don’t know if they are doctors or not, but are trained to help people through exceedingly tough times, such as a death and other misfortunes.”

“And you think I need some help?” Margaret looked down into her lap, feeling like a slight failure to her husband. “I’m sorry . . .”

John was embarrassed with this conversation while her brother was there. “Don’t say that word. Margaret, I love you so much that I am too close to help you properly. I cannot see my way through your feelings as my own intermingle. I think our marriage has put pressures on you that may cause you to feel guilty and I cannot have that. I cannot say ‘I understand’ strong enough for you to believe me.

“John, I do think one of us needs to see a doctor of the mind. I just think it might be you.” Margaret said, surprising John. “I think you are the one who has to put this behind you.”

“Can we continue this discussion another time?”

Branson stopped the coach. John lifted Margaret out and up to the porch. “Did you want to try the steps with your new shoes, or can I carry you.” John couldn’t help but wonder what her brother was thinking of his sister’s husband and that rather personal conversation.

“I would like to try.”

Frederick, would you mind walking in front of your sister, while I stay behind her?”

Frederick bounded in front of Margaret and stepped backward up the steps. “You’re doing fine, sis.”

Í am going to make it . . . and without help,” replied a cheerful Margaret. “I’ve accomplished one of my goals.”

“I think we need to practice that a few more times before I will let you do it on your own,” John stated.

Frederick could easily see the love for his sister from John Thornton.

 

John hadn’t realized it was nearing 1:00 in the afternoon. He saw the table set for the midday meal and hurried to the kitchen to have Jane set a third place at the table.

Arriving back in the parlor, he saw Frederick pouring two glasses of scotch. Handing one to him, Frederick turned to Margaret. “Sis?”

“Not now, thank you.”

“I guess it is my turn to hear your words of admonishment. No doubt you have had this conversation with your husband, too.” Frederick began.

“Yes, I have!”

“And?”

“He will not listen to me.”

“I am your brother. I love you, too. I will not listen either. Do not worry about me, sis. I have a lovely woman somewhere in France waiting for me. I will not be frivolous with my life.”

“Somehow, you are not saying what I want to hear,” Margaret looked her brother in the eye. “Tell me you won’t go to London to seek him out.”

“I won’t go to London to seek him out.”

Margaret thought back if her brother had ever lied to her for her own good. She couldn’t remember such a time.

“I’m relieved to hear that. How long can you stay?”

“Oh, a few days. I am not sure.” Frederick hedged.

“I think you both are hiding something from me. You two are going to some meeting with the detective. Frederick, you are staying longer than I would have expected. Who else is going to this meeting?” Margaret looked toward John.

“I believe Maxwell is interested before he may face him in London when he returns, “John skirted. “And you know that Adam would be interested, too. Now that Nicholas has returned, I do not think I can keep him away from the rest of us.”

“Frederick, are you still worried about being watched by those men . . . not the Navy.” Margaret was starting to look pitiful, John thought, with her worries for the two of them.

“Margaret . . . sis, Hartford has lost you. He does not need me any further. I have no worries there.”

“Could he come and find me here,” asked Margaret, eliciting the question that neither, John or her brother wanted to answer.

John cleared his throat. “Margaret, it would seem he has no reason to seek you out, now. He cannot marry you. He’s lost track of Frederick, so just pure blackmail seems a lost cause if he has any sense at all. There has been no mention of your attack anywhere, in any paper. He must feel that you are keeping it a secret, still fearing for your brother’s life. That’s really to our benefit, while we wait for him to be apprehended by the police.

“That sounds good when you say it fast, but I’ll have to do more thinking on this. Things do not feel right with your actions. You will tell me what the detective says tonight.”

“No, I will not. You are going to have no more talk of this. We will get on with our new life together and let the police do their job. We will be notified when he is caught.”

Margaret did not have any more of an argument and knew it to be futile if she had. She would have to work things out on her own.

“Dinner is served,” announced Jane.

 

After dinner had been consumed, Margaret was glad to see John and Frederick talking together about each other’s lives. Frederick seemed interested in walking through the mills to see the process. John invited him, and they left the house, but not the grounds. John told Frederick that he could easily live in Milton under his assumed name. The local officials had no interest in him, and the Navy was never here. Frederick didn’t know if he was ready to risk capture with a wife coming along. However, the feeling of being with family felt very satisfying.

In the next hour when they returned, Maxwell, Edith, and Adam were comfortable in the parlor. Edith was admiring Margaret’s new shoes when they entered. John felt a rush come over him, anticipating a repeat of the questions Margaret had talked about earlier, only this time with Adam and Maxwell. But it did not happen. It appeared to John that Margaret had uncharacteristically abandoned those thoughts for now.

One last round of drinks was served before the men headed to the police station. Nicholas had arrived too, looking clean and gentlemanly. He had words with Frederick. Margaret saw her brother vigorously shake his hand.

I Killed Him – pt 21

Chapter Twenty One

It was well past dark when Greta assisted Margaret to the parlor. “Mrs. Thornton, you have had your evening pill, correct?”

“Yes, Greta, before my bath. You are excused for the evening. Should something come up that my husband cannot assist me in, or I prefer to have your help, I will ring, but don’t look for it.”

“Goodnight, then, to the both of you.”

John and Margaret said their goodnights to Greta. He turned off the gaslights and banked the evening fire. Even though it was nearing fall, northern England was cool and damp in the evenings.

John proceeded over to Margaret on the couch and picked her up and carried her upstairs.

“Aren’t you going to dry my hair?” Margaret asked.

“Yes, but I will do it in the privacy of our room. I’ve lit a fire in there tonight. I would just like to be comfortable with you. We, both, have had a very demanding day.”

John entered the room and set Margaret on her feet while he closed the door.

“Margaret, I found out something today that I think you don’t know about yourself?”

John immediately felt bad that he was about to bring back bad memories.

“What is that, John?”

“You have no shoes at all. I shall buy you a pair tomorrow. Then when you have something for your feet, we will go to a cobbler and have several nice pairs made for you when you feel you are ready.”

“I guess my other’s one were never found?”

John hesitated. “Yes, but not in Milton.” He had done it again. But, their conversation earlier had been to not worry about words. He hoped she would let it pass. She did.

“Come here by the fire. I will sit you down and then dry your hair from behind you. How did the bath feel without the rib brace?”

“I was uncomfortable at first, but the ability to breathe felt good. I am going to try and go without it tonight. Oh, I guess it is in the bathing room with the copper tub next to the kitchen, still. What do you call that room? It is rather unique with the drain in the floor that carries out the water from the bathing tub. I see that laundry is done in there, and it has a commode. It’s quite a handy room for the house.”

“We simply call it the washroom. Clothes get washed, and people get washed in there; that seemed the only words we ever used. I had seen a drawing of it in a journal and designed the room myself. Everyone one and there are very few, who have seen the house, marvel at that room. I can take very little credit for it.”

“Do you bath in there when your staff is here? Margaret asked.

“Cook will fill it with water after dinner before she leaves. I am alone then, so no. No staff here when I bath there.”

“I miss Dixon. For the first time in our lives, we became separated shortly after we arrived in London. Aunt Shaw was able to find her a situation immediately. We visited from time to time. I wonder what she must be thinking now. Could I get her back, John? Would that be too many staff members? I can help pay?”

John smiled. “Margaret, do not ever worry about money, whether yours or mine – it is all ours and I have enough for whatever your heart desires. Of course, you may have Dixon back. She can take Cook’s room that isn’t used. If I remember, she cooks, too?”

“She’s never been the main cook, but she can fill in if Cook needs to be away.”

“That sounds like it would work very well. Jane is young and could marry any time and leave. She must not hover over you all the time, though. That is my place, now.”

John walked the room looking for something to comb her hair. “Have you seen a comb about? Did Cook or Jane purchase that for you?”

“I did not want to clutter your room, so I put it in the top drawer over there.”

John went to Margaret and stooped down in front of her, placing his hands on her shoulders. “This is our room, not my room, my love. I want to live amidst your female trinkets. We shall have a nice vanity, with a big mirror, made for you. I have lived within these four dull walls since my father died many years ago. I’ve been waiting for my wife, you Margaret, to bring it to life.”

John looked into her eyes. “Why do you weep, my love. I do not remember this about you.”

“I weep because I am happy, not sad.”

“How do we men ever understand the difference?” he asked smiling.

“You will have to come to understand your woman, I guess.”

“I yearn to know you, Margaret, in all the ways I have yet to explore, and that includes your feelings, emotions, and desires.” He kissed her.

John brought the brush and comb with him and sat behind Margaret on the floor in front of the warm glow of the fire. He set them off to the side for a moment and wrapped his arms lightly around her from the back. Her arms were caught under his, protecting her rib. He started to kiss the back of her neck where her long hair was not covering. He inhaled her feminine fragrance and nuzzled into her wet tresses with a light moan of delight.

“You shouldn’t wear a perfume while you’re healing, my dear,” he said softly.

“I’m not wearing any perfume.”

John pulled back and began to brush her hair. He was too close to getting into trouble. He found he had to slip back a little further in order to stroke the length of her soft strands of silken ribbons.

“John, is it hard?”

Surprised, he asked, “Is what hard?” If she was talking about his manhood, that had been hard for a week.

“Getting all the knots and tangles out.”

“I’ll just say that I wish it would take longer to do.”

John set down the brush and picked up the comb. “Do you normally braid it every night before sleeping?”

“Yes, mostly.”

“Why do you do that? That would seem uncomfortable to sleep with.”

“I was raised that way. Leaving it down . . . well, it might appear . . .”

“Too alluring to a man, like your husband?”

“Yes, I’ve always thought that was the reason. It was never discussed. I just did it as taught.”

“Would you leave it down for me?”

“Yes, if you wish it.”

“I wish it. I wish it very much.” John smiled broadly behind her back.

He set the comb aside and slid back, nestling her between his legs as he wrapped her in his arms.

“Tell me if I hurt you,” he said. He pulled on her gently, laid his chin on her shoulder, and closed his eyes.

“You feel and smell wonderful. I am lost in this favor you give to me.

Margaret pulled her arms from underneath his, allowing his arms to lie against her chest and ribs, holding up her breasts. She covered his arms with her own and titled her head back to his shoulder. She wanted to feel his kisses again on her neck.

Feeling the weight of her luscious bosom settling onto his arms made him want to reach for them and cup them in his hands through her thin nightdress. There was warmth there, and he knew there was a fire within.

John nibbled her neck and suckled her ear lobes, all the while straining not to hug her as tightly as he wished. He snuggled her bottom into his groin. John felt he should subtly start to introduce himself to her.

Margaret let out a soft moan, she had been restraining. The feel of his strength surrounding her, his male smell, his overpowering size, and his tenderness was sending her off to forbidden places in her mind, as her body wanted to ignite.

“Margaret,” John whispered. “You shouldn’t moan like that while you’re not well. It moves me too much. But if you stop, I will make you do it again and again.

Suddenly Margaret pulled John’s arms from around her. “Could you please sit back?”

“Margaret, what is it? I’m sorry.” John stood and walked to the other side of the room, giving Margaret plenty of space. He felt he knew what had happened but until she told him, he couldn’t be sure. She needed to find confidence in him. If she’d say, stop . . . he would stop.

Margaret sat there, staring down at the floor – not even looking into the fire. She threw her hands over her face and began to cry.

John did not know whether to go to her or not. “Margaret, do not hide anything from me, or from us, meaning yourself, too. Talk to me. Something bothered you, and I believe I know what it is, but you must speak it.”

“I don’t know what it is?”

“Do you want me to tell you?”

“I think so,” Margaret said, slowing her sobs. “I just had to stop.”

“No, Margaret. You had to stop me. Isn’t that it? You were feeling closed in. You had to know, since I am bigger and much stronger than you, that I would stop when you asked. I don’t think it was a premeditated test or thought. It was a protective reaction. Margaret, I understand. I am prepared for this behavior. I’ve been surprised that you have been as receptive towards me as you have. We’re only a few mere days away from the trauma you suffered. Because I am now your husband, does not give me liberties with you at my whim. Let’s get you into bed. Can I lift you up?”

Margaret shook her head yes, the words still stuck in her throat. Was he right? Why would a man she loved and married suddenly become untrustworthy to her? Margaret knew she didn’t know much at all about men.

As John lifted her from the floor, he could feel her shaking. She was afraid. Everyone had thought she was taking this too well. He knew she was beginning to come face to face with that night. Essentially, the scene was the same. She was in a house that she didn’t know. She was alone with a man.

John lowered her to the bed and pulled the covers up to her waist.

“Can we talk about this?” John asked.

With tears in her eyes, she looked up at John who was sitting beside her on the bed. “I told you that you could ask me about that night.”

“I know about that night. I know all I want to know about that night. I have wondered if there had been any other personal advances on you.”

“Personal advances?”

John didn’t know how to ask this in a polite way. He sighed, “Did Hartford ever ask, infer, or try any other sexual actions with you?”

“No, only his horrid kisses. That night he wanted to be pleasured by his bride. I refused. He unbuttoned his trousers and . . .”

“Margaret stop! No more. Can’t you see that this is almost as much of a trauma for me as it was for you?”

“I’m beginning to doubt that. I think it is worse for you.”

John leaned in to kiss her and watched for any fear as he slowly showed her what is was about to do. Margaret threw her arms around his neck.

“I’m sorry, John. I’m going to drive you away before I have you.”

“Margaret if you know one thing, know that I will never leave you for any reason. You will never drive me away, even if this takes a long time to put behind us, I love you. I will wait.”

“There is no question of my love for you or your love for me,” Margaret swallowed hard. “I knew he was a bad man and that should mean a lot because I did know I could not trust him. After the first beating, I knew what he was like. You are the only other man that has been close to me and I know you are nothing like him. I will spend my life with you knowing I will never be afraid of you. I am sorry for what just happened. I don’t know why. You must think I don’t trust you, but I do. And I feel terrible for making you wait for me to come to my senses.”

John moved close again, and she allowed the tender kiss.

“Love, please do not tell me you are sorry. Those words don’t ever have to be uttered between us. I know how you feel, I know what you feel, and I understand. I am not weak in mind or pride or even compassion. I will follow you through these times. You are my love, my whole life; there is no rush for any of this, as long as you still love me.”

Margaret reached for John, again. He bent over and laid his head on her chest, letting her hold him. He had to find a way to give her the courage to reach out first.

Finally, Margaret lifted his head with her hands on the sides of his face and looked into his blue eyes. She pulled him to her for another kiss.

“I think I want to sleep, now,” she told him.

John turned out the gas lights in the room. He stripped to his undergarment and climbed onto the short cot that had been placed in the room.

 

Margaret had a decent night for the first time since arriving in Milton. As morning came, she looked for John but only saw the mussed cot where he had slept. She wondered if he could sleep at all in something that was more than a foot shorter than he was.

She laid in bed and looked around the room, finally stopping to stare at the ceiling letting her mind wander. Again the marvel of John Thornton swept over her. Were other normal men as wonderful as he when they were in love? She didn’t think so. She thought back almost two years ago and remembered the respect that he had garnered from his peers. She thought about last night and his words about her trauma being as bad for him as it was for her. Margaret knew it was worse for him. Thinking what it would be like if something similar happened, only to him instead of her, how would she feel? Just because he was a man did not mean he couldn’t be accosted himself. The thought was unbearable. And here she was pushing him away as if because he was a man, he held some fault in her attack. Being alone in the room and the light of day brought a different perspective to everything. She was hurting and unconsciously, somewhere in her mind, she must make him hurt along with her. She was succeeding, to her own horror.

Without her rib harness, she was able to roll to the side of the bed, close enough to ring the bell. She heard Jane shout to Greta that she heard the bell.

Moments later, Greta was there with her rib padding. “Good morning, Mrs. Thornton.”

Margaret loved hearing her being called Mrs. Thornton. It still wasn’t real to her yet.

“Good morning, Greta. Where is my husband this morning?”

“I believe he is over at his office. His partner, a Mr. Higgins, arrived early this morning from wherever he has been. He’s talking with him. It appears your eye is starting to go purple. The black is leaving. Do you want to dress or use the commode?”

“Can you put the rib corset back on and then help me up. I guess I will use the commode in here if John is not in the house. You will see to it, won’t you?”

Greta laughed. “Right away, Mrs. Thornton. I understand you are just married?”

“Yes. I believe this is the third day.”

“It must be difficult,” Greta said in passing as she began the hooks and eyes on the rib corset.

“What do you mean, difficult?”

Greta nodded toward the unkempt cot on the other side of her bed.

“Oh. Yes, it is and I am making it worse.” Margaret admitted to the medically trained woman.

“Now, how is that possible? There is much romance to be had without the consummation.” Greta offered.

“I know very little about such things.”

“Well, I would imagine your husband does.”

“I would be pleased if you didn’t imagine,” Margaret said, feeling a bit ruffled over the woman’s perceived reputation of John.

Using the fresh wash bowl and water, Margaret was able to prepare herself for the day. Greta helped her into her clothes and began looking for her shoes.

“I have no shoes,” Margaret declared embarrassingly.

“No shoes!”

“Yes, they were lost during my stay at the hospital,” she lied. “John has promised to buy me something until I can have some properly made for me.”

“All right. Let us get you downstairs to eat. You will have your pill, your prune juice and we will do a few exercises. How does that harness feel?”

“It was nice without it last night, but moving around now, I am glad for its restrictive protection. It’s been a week today if I have my days correct. It must be well on its way to healing.”

Margaret had just sat down to the table when John and Nicholas came through the door. John walked over to Margaret and kissed her.

“Good morning, wife,” he said.

“Good morning, Miss Margaret,” said Nicholas.

“And a good morning to you two gentlemen. How was your trip, Nicholas?” Margaret asked with anxiety.

“Could not have gone better. Miss Lisa is set in a nice little town near the border of Spain; just across from Barcelona. Your brother will have easy access if he wishes to travel either county. John thinks your brother may be over in the inn in the Princeton area. I’d go looking for him, but I should ask Adam first. He knows the name he’s going under.”

“I’m happy that went well. I guess he’ll be leaving soon, then.”

John looked at Nicholas, knowing that Frederick was going nowhere until he had other issues resolved.

“Margaret, I feel sure he will stay another day or so to visit. Nicholas can put his mind at ease, which may take the edge off of hurrying back.”

“I almost wish he would hurry back,” Margaret said, looking down into her plate. “I am afraid he’ll head to London. I can’t have that. It would be unbearable if anything happened to him or he was saddled with more guilt to bear.”

John had to let that pass. He couldn’t damn or commend Frederick for actions, he, himself, was ready to execute. Nicholas was told about the plans that John was beginning to frame. John insisted that Nicholas would take no part in the hanging party, which he was starting to call it. Nicholas still offered to help with anything except putting the rope around the man’s neck. He wanted to be included in their planning talks, too.

At four in the afternoon, there would be a meeting with Boyle at the police station. John contemplated that they would leave there, go up one flight of stairs, and use an empty courtroom to plot their revenge.

Nicholas excused himself so he could get home and see his wife and sleep. He had put in many wakeful hours during his mission. Calculating that he could arrive back before the mail could reach anyone, he traveled back as soon as he could. He told John he would see him later, and John knew that he meant for the meeting later in the day.

John had in his pocket, all the information to give to Margaret’s brother. He would go find Bell after having his morning meal with Margaret, hoping Bell had some knowledge of Frederick’s whereabouts.

When the room was quiet, John was interrupted before he could speak.

“John, I am sorry about last night,” Margaret said quietly. She did not know the routine of the staff and didn’t know where Jane and Greta were.

“I believe we discussed not using that word in our marriage, Margaret Thornton. I understood then, and I still understand.”

“Yes, I know you understand, said Margaret. “I know I have your understanding, I guess I want your forgiveness.”

“Marg__.”

“Wait!” she paused.

John gave her his full attention.

“I’m not looking for your forgiveness that I am not well enough to be a woman to you, yet. I know you understand that. I understand that. Last night . . . it wasn’t the worry that I would succumb, to your loving ways, and then you would have to fight for control for both of us, that I pushed you away.”

John stood and led Margaret to the couch and sat her down next to him. Sitting at the table was not the place to say what she wanted him to know.

“Last night, it was like I wanted to punish all men for being men and the things they do. I know, John, I know that is extraordinarily unfair. I just had a weak moment, and unfortunately, you were caught in it. When the day dawned, and I went over it in my mind, I could see how foolish I had been and hurtful to you and to me. To me, you are the epitome of a man. I can’t imagine a male out there more of man then you are. I love you for that, as you love me for being a woman.”

John wrapped his arm around her and held her close, allowing her to purge her feelings. He wanted to interrupt, but he didn’t.

“I felt lonely in that big bed. I could hear you twisting and turning on that squeaky small cot all night, but I couldn’t get to you. I was afraid I would roll off the bed in trying to reach you. Somehow, I want to be close to you tonight, if there is away.” Can we try?

“I will stay up all night to be close to you and to ensure I do not constantly pull you to me in the night, by throwing my arm over you. Yes, we will try, my love. As for the other . . . I more than understand about being punished for being a male. Not even experiencing the attack, just knowing about it, causes extreme behavior swings within myself. But our love for each other is strong and will prevail.”

“You don’t think Frederick will do anything rash, do you?” Margaret asked, tentatively.

“I cannot say. He seems like an intelligent man. I have only known him for a few hours. I cannot answer you.” John prayed she wouldn’t ask him.

“You wouldn’t go seeking that man in London, would you?”

But she did.

John was quiet for a moment, unsure how to answer that. He never wanted to lie to her but now would be the one time that he should.

“John!” Margaret almost shouted at his refusal to answer. “John, promise me that you won’t go after that man.”

“I love you, Margaret. I cannot make that promise in all good conscience. If he finds his way here, I will protect you at all costs. I said you would be safe and I meant that.”

Margaret turned into his chest and began weeping. As bad as it felt to tell her, he had been honest. He kissed the top of her head and worried for her worry. He had just added to her concern for her brother, by adding himself, too.

I Killed Him – pt 20

Chapter Twenty

 

“Margaret, how did you sleep my love? Was the bed comfortable?”

“It was comfortable but a bit lonely.”

John kissed her. “There are two people downstairs waiting to see you. One is your nurse. I think her name is Greta. The other person is a surprise.”

“Now, you know Mr. Bell isn’t going to be a surprise. Has the detective left?” Margaret asked?

“Yes, everyone has left except your guest. Should I carry you or would you like to try the steps.”

“I’m feeling good after my sleep. With your help, I’d like to try a few steps; if you’ll just help me out of this massive bed, please. Are you sure you will find me in the middle of the night?” Margaret smiled. “I feel like a child who’s crawled into her parent’s bed because of a nightmare.

“You will be in arms, so I’ll know where you are. Now, don’t get used to this?”

“What, your help?”

“My help getting you out of this bed.” John smiled.

“Does the nurse look mean?” Margaret asked.

“Quite honestly, I only met her at the service building. I didn’t speak with her much. I wouldn’t say she looks mean.”

“I would rather not start using that chair over there, like in the hospital. If I can make it down the stairs, I’ll use that room.”

“Whatever you wish, love. Just don’t overdo. I think you should be having your second pill soon. There is some food left on the table from when everyone was here while you slept. Are you hungry?”

“Does the list say anything about what I should eat?” Margaret asked.

“Let us go ask your nurse, shall we?”

After getting to her feet from the big bed, Margaret easily walked to the steps. John went in front of her and stepped down backward, watching her the whole time. “Hold onto the banister with your one hand and if need be, my shoulder with the other. Tell me immediately if you feel weak in the legs.

Margaret began the descent slowly.

Frederick could hear the conversation and wanted to run to her but stayed where he was. It sounded like an important task for her to accomplish.

“I made it,” she said as she stepped onto the landing. Where’s my visitor?”

Frederick smartly had moved out of her line of sight until she could be seated. Remembering his sister, she tended to swoon easily.

“Where is Adam,” Margaret asked as John helped her down onto the couch.

“Will I do, sis? Margaret heard from the dining room?

Margaret couldn’t turn to look, but Frederick was at her side in a second.

“Frederick! Oh, Frederick!”

“Sis!” Tears welled in both of their eyes.

John was overjoyed to see his wife so happy. He walked into his study to give them a few moments of private time, but he would leave his door slightly ajar, so he could listen. Her brother would have to hear the story for himself, and she would struggle to tell it without letting him know how involved his life was in it. Finally, he decided he would not imagine her torture once again, so soon. He decided to go to his office and talk with the foreman in charge. Except for meeting Margaret’s brother there today, he hadn’t been in the office for five days . . . or was it six.

No one was in the office section when he arrived. It appeared his foreman was most likely walking the sheds for second shift. John was glad for the silence. He needed time to think about all he had heard. He was becoming more helpless in his cause to champion his wife, it seemed. A distinct impression had arisen that no one would be held accountable if this murderer was found dead, whether murdered by himself or not. The detective would not have been so casual in telling all of them the entire circumstances with Hartford’s past as he had. Although, John had found some relief in that, in fact, a lot of relief, as it would mean he and Margaret would still have a life. However, he still had to contend with the other men who wanted to escort this man to hell.

Never in his life had he contemplated so heinous a crime. He was a Magistrate, for God’s sake, but neither had he been in a situation, whereas a man, he faced the raw, primitive pride of protecting what was his and slaying anyone who had worked against that.

If he were honest, he knew Margaret’s brother had the same deep instinct. They had grown together. As an older brother he had protected her as she grew. Perhaps at their young ages, he never realized it, but it was ingrained from his birth. They had to be very close for Margaret to go to such lengths as she did.

Adam Bell, although an older man, was known to have wanted more than to protect Margaret as she achieved adulthood, but soon saw the ridiculousness of their age difference. Still in his ailing months, before death would take him, he may feel he had one final redeeming heroic task to offer her, in place of the love he would leave behind. He could give her his legacy, worth more of a gift to her than his fortune.

Lenox, on the other hand, had slightly different motives. He was a man, a gallant man, with pride in his duty as a soldier plus the fact that Margaret would be a relation of his. Being a trained warrior, he most likely would feel he could offer his skills, as he had already appeared to have done.

Branson was really the odd man out. John knew his interest really sprung from his devotion to his master, he, himself. If he were involved, Branson would insist himself in there somewhere, even if he was not included in any plan.

The longer John thought about all of the male egos around that table, if they didn’t make a joint pact, surely one would steal the satisfaction from all of the others. As much as this meant everything to him, he could not cheat the other men out of something so important in all their lives.

A plan would have to be devised outside of the confines of police procedures. Frederick, Maxwell, Adam, Branson and mostly himself, were ready to step past the line of no return and live with what they would do.

He thought of Margaret and the deep impact she had made on so many lives. Aside from Branson, four men were ready to sacrifice all for her. She had once asked how she was so lucky to have been selected to be his wife. John knew it was definitely the other way around.

 

Grant Hartford had donned his civilian clothes and walked his horse outside the rear of the fort. There were pastures behind the stables for all of the mounted infantry. He easily threaded the compound, pastures, and the horse gate in leaving the fort unseen. He could dispatch Miss Hale and even return without much notice by his commander – but he would have reasons, just in case. He would ride his horse north for three train stations and catch a train for most of the ride to Milton, exiting several stations before. However, if he felt his plan would prove impossible, he was prepared to move on and leave his commission behind. In case all went right for him, he had told Lt. Gathers that he had received an urgent telegram from his father, in regards to his mother meeting the critical part of her illness. That should gain him a week or two without suspicion.

No one had approached him about his actions against Miss Hale. He was certain she was getting on with her life and keeping silent because she thought her brother was still under watch. It had been almost a full week, with no interest in him other than her disappearance and there he did have no connection.

 

During John’s absence of an hour from his wife and her brother, he worked on developing a strategy that all men could participate as a group, a hanging party as Boyle had called it. Maxwell would be the one to tell him how workable it could be. None of the five men would be excluded, and all would stand or fall together.

 

Returning to his home, John found Frederick alone in the parlor.

“Margaret?” he immediately asked.

“She’s with the nurse in a room down the hall, I believe.”

“How was she with your visit?” John asked.

“Needless to say, there were a lot of tears. I wanted to hug her and couldn’t and I wanted to shout at her for being so foolhardy but couldn’t do that either. Do you have any sisters, John?”

“One.”

“Then you probably know how they are,” Frederick replied.

“My sister is nothing at all like I feel Margaret is to you. If I walked off this planet, she might wonder where I went around next year. She’s silly and self-centered. Everything in her life is a drama. I’ve been with Margaret for six days. I’ve been married to her for two of those days. I haven’t even bothered to tell my sister, and she lives in the same town. I’m sure she read about my marrying Margaret in the paper, and I have not heard a word from her.”

“I’m not leaving town, but I’m going to leave when Margaret returns. I’ll be back to see her many times before I leave but tonight, I want to be out of this house so the two of you can have some time together. She really does love you quite a lot, and that’s good enough for me. I don’t know how to thank you for marrying her so quickly and removing half of her problem.”

“Frederick, I’ve wanted to marry her for two years. She never could tell me about you. I didn’t know you existed until a few days ago. I remember seeing her in your arms at the station late that night and began to lose all hope. If we had only trusted one another, we wouldn’t be where we are now. She didn’t know she could trust me and tell me about you. I didn’t trust her when I questioned her behavior that night, and she refused to tell me anything. If your father hadn’t have died when he did, and he was a good friend to me, Margaret and I may have seen our way back to one another.”

Both men were aware of female voices heading their way.

“Frederick, you are welcome to stay.”

“Not tonight, but soon.”

“I have a plan to discuss with everyone, so don’t go hunting anyone tonight. I think we can satisfy all of us who have the same desire.”

“Hello Mr. Thornton,” said Greta. “Your wife is doing very well with that rib. She will be used to her own movements in the next day or two.”

“Excellent.”

Greta went below stairs until she was needed. The service had brought small bells for the main rooms where Margaret would reside, such as the bedchamber, bathing area, and parlor.

Margaret walked to the couch, anxious to the see the two men in her life finding interest in each other. “Frederick, I am so happy you can stay for a few days.” Margaret extolled, clearly oblivious of all the plans going on around her.”

“I’m going to be leaving in a few moments, though,” Frederick replied.

“Why? Where are you going? Where will you sleep? Please, promise me you will not go to London.”

“Don’t worry, sis. I’m staying in Milton. I already have a room for tonight over in the poor district. I’ll be here, in and out, visiting with you and John, for a few days yet.”

“Well, what takes you away from us?”

“Sis, this is your first night with your new husband in your new home. I think you need some time alone. I bet you haven’t had that since you arrived here. This has been a busy day for you. I want you to rest. Besides, I want to visit with Adam Bell this evening. I am waiting for word on Lisa, and he may have heard something.”

“I am sure I can understand that. All right. I hope you and John become better acquainted before you return to wherever you are living. You know Mr. Bell is ill. We will eventually have to determine a new way to communicate.”

“Yes, I’m thinking about that. I am leaving now and will see you tomorrow. I promise.” Frederick came over to his sister and kissed her on the forehead. He whispered he loved her in her ear and turned to John. Frederick extended his hand, as in thanks, and shook it. “I will see you, tomorrow, as well, John. Good evening to you both. I believe I will leave through the back door.”

“Can Branson take you anywhere?”

“Yes, if you don’t mind. I could use him to get into town. Thank you.”

“He will be in the stables or up in his loft, out back.”

“Thank you, John. Goodbye, sis.”

 

“I cannot believe we are alone, essentially,” John said as he came over to sit next to Margaret. “I think I will put a sign on the door. It will say, “Quarantine: Love Sickness, Do Not Enter.”

Margaret started laughing at that and held her rib. “The laughing is becoming easier if I can hold my rib at the same time.”

“So, how are you and Greta getting along?” John asked. “How did you manage in the water closet?”

“Honestly, it was more fun with you,” she smiled. “I think we’ll do fine. She wants me to do a bit of exercising with my arms since they will be used more to help me sit and rise. I cannot use my stomach muscles easily. She will bath and wash my hair tonight.”

“And I had been looking forward to that duty, myself.”

“You would be too randy!”

“Margaret Thornton! Where did you learn that word? That isn’t a gentleman’s word.”

“Do you mean gentleman are never randy or never say the word randy?” Margaret quizzed.

“Margaret, stop saying that. It’s crude. It borders on vulgar. You imp. Who taught you such a word?”

“So, you will never be randy with me?” Margaret continued to tease him.

John let out an exasperated sound, throwing his hands in the air. “How do I explain this?” John thought for a moment. “It . . . it means sexually eager or lustful by a man. It’s bawdy talk.”

“Oh, so you are saying since you are a gentleman, you are never randy?”

John finally realized he was being played. He still wanted to know how she learned that word. “I will ask you again, where did you learn that word? It wasn’t your brother, was it?”

“No, of course not. He is a gentleman. It’s in the book I am reading that Edith gave to me.”

“And that book talks about randy men?”

“How else am I to learn?” Margaret immediately hugged her rib because the laugh was about to surge forward.

John’s lips thinned with a mocking hurtful pride look.

“Mrs. Thornton, there is someone here to teach you. You need not read such vulgarities from a book?”

“Sexually eager is vulgar? Being lustful is vulgar? What kind of man did I marry?” She held her ribs again.

“One more word like that, Margaret, and you shall have two cracked ribs by morning.” Now it was John’s turn to laugh. He sat back and watched her humorous expression. Hopefully, the worst for her was passing by right now. In her mind, all of her fears were gone. She was away from the wickedness, and her brother was safe.

“I demand to dry your hair, though,” John insisted. “After you bathe, the nurse can be excused for the night. I want to assist you for the rest of the evening.

I Killed Him – pt 18

Chapter Eighteen

John opened the door to the Shaw’s and a smartly dressed young man with perfect posturing in a red-coat. No one was going upstairs until he knew who this man was.

“Good afternoon, Miss Shaw, Mrs. Shaw, and you, sir, are?”

Maxwell extended his hand. “I am Maxwell Lenox. I am betrothed to Edith.”

“Oh yes, do come in. I am John Thornton, husband to Margaret Hale Thornton,” he said for good measure.

As the four came up the steps, John asked, “Are you the brother of Henry Lenox?”

“I hope you will not hold that against me, Mr. Thornton, but I am. Margaret made her choice a long time ago, and that was his and her business, not mine. I can well imagine that you look at anyone new now as ‘friend or foe.’”

John had no reply to his last statement, but let it slide back in his mind for now. Unusual, he thought.

Margaret heard the visitors coming up the steps with John. It would be nice to see Maxwell again, she thought, but when she saw the red-coat, she let out a scream.

John squeezed past everyone coming through to the parlor room door and ran to her.

“John, I’m sorry. Everyone, I am truly sorry. Maxwell, I’ve so wanted to see you again, but your uniform just startled me. I’m fine now. Everyone, please sit down.”

“Margaret, I do apologize. How thoughtless of me.” Edith ran to Margaret’s other side. Do you want us to leave, Margaret?”

“No, don’t be silly. John and I just finished discussing these issues I will be working through. I’m sorry everyone. Maxwell, come here.” Margaret sniffled.

“I’m sorry to scare all of you. Maxwell, give me a gentle hug and put it out of your mind, what I just did.”

Mrs. Shaw wandered over to John’s chair and dropped in it, completely shaken by Margaret’s outburst.

John had been shaken to his core with her reaction. No matter how she tried to soothe his concerns for her, he knew they were buried deep as the doctors had mentioned.

As Edith petted Margaret, John went to the back stairs and called Cook, asking for her to get Branson up here to serve the bar.

Maxwell walked to John and apologized. “Mr. Thornton, I was thoughtless. I am sorry.”

“Captain, please be at ease. I have but just recently said words that had almost the same reaction. This is still very fresh, and we are beginning to manage.” John explained.

“In regards to ‘it,’ I would like to have some private words with you in the next day or two. I have information that I feel I should tell you. I will be at the Milton Hotel.”

“I would very much like to hear what you have to say. I will set something up and send word.”

Both men returned to the center of the room. Maxwell went to the other fireplace chair and John on Margaret’s side.”

“Aunt, it will be another time that I show you through our house. I have only seen this room and that one myself,” Margaret said, pointing to the dining room.

“Margaret, do not concern yourself with me. I will be glad to see it another time.” Mrs. Shaw was overcome with Margaret’s fright at seeing Maxwell’s uniform. She realized that her fear ran deep, even this far from London. What she must have suffered.

“So, I gather you just returned home, then?” Mrs. Shaw asked, endeavoring to take the conversation in a new direction.

“Yes, we have not been here an hour, yet.”

Branson appeared at the stop of the steps when all eyes landed on him.

“Everyone, this is my fearless and experienced driver,” John smiled, “Branson. He is here to take your refreshment orders.” Branson remembered the two women who had come to the hospital earlier that morning. He didn’t know the gent.

Maxwell rose and unexpectedly walked to Branson with his hand extended. “I am Maxwell Lenox, friend of the family.”

“Thank you, sir. It is nice to meet you.” Branson was taken aback at his courtesy to a driver.

Branson turned to the lady’s first. Branson went around the room. Mrs. Shaw wanted a cup of tea, Edith and Margaret had decided on a wine, while the men asked for scotch.

“I see you are a scotch man, too, Captain.” John offered.

Conversations were started, and John realized that Mrs. Shaw had trouble hearing across the room and offered to switch places with her. She agreed. Edith had brought Margaret a book to read while she recovered and the women talked about that.

John lowered his voice to speak with the Captain. “You have knowledge of most of this ordeal that Margaret has suffered?” John appealed.

“Yes, much more than Margaret, I dare say. Do you have any word on her brother?”

“I think Adam Bell is expecting to hear from him today. We believe he is safely out of the way. Margaret is now married to me, and I hope for her sake that is an end to it.”

John saw the Captain frown. He had to talk with him soon. “How long are you here for, Captain?”

“I’m not sure, yet. I will talk about that when we are alone.

 

Branson returned to the kitchen for the hot tea.

“Branson, how many people are up there? If they are going to stay, I will need to change my menu for midday,” Cook said anxiously.

“There are five, but I expect Mr. Bell will not be long before arriving. I would have thought him to be first. So, it best be six plus us.”

“Well . . . it will have to be sandwiches again, but I think I can make a few side dishes to go with it. I’ll have to wait on Miss Margaret’s special meal, I suppose.”

Branson returned with the tea when there was another knock.

“Sir, I’ll get that. I expect it’s Mr. Bell.”

“Thank you, Branson. That’s about all that is missing from this group.”

Branson trotted down the front stairs and opened the door to find Chief Inspector Mason and another new gent with an unlit pipe.

“Hello, Chief,” greeted Branson.

“I see a coach outside which isn’t yours. Would you tell Mr. Thornton, that I and Detective Boyle from the Metropolitan in London, are here to see Mrs. Thornton.”

“Yes, please come in and wait here. He may want to come speak with you before you go upstairs. There is family from London visiting Mrs. Thornton. I’ll return shortly.”

Branson flew upstairs to his Master and whispered in his ear. John shook his head and stood. “Captain, maybe you would like to come with me.”

Maxwell rose to his feet, setting his glass aside and pulled down his uniform jacket to perfection.

“John, what is it?” said a worried Margaret.”

“I am going to see about what is it right now.”

“And Maxwell is going with you?”

John couldn’t lie to her, and he couldn’t get close enough to whisper to her. The men had to be here to question her, and there would be no hiding their reason.

“Branson, bring them upstairs. Captain, have a seat.” John walked by the doorway to the downstairs and waited for them on the landing.

Margaret and the women peered over to see two men standing with John. Branson was trying to squeeze through the trio. Captain Lenox heard the voice of Boyle and rose himself, in respect.

“That’s Chief Inspector Mason,” Margaret said.

“And that’s Detective Boyle from the Met in London, I believe,” said Edith.

“I wonder if our driver could take me to the hotel,” asked Mrs. Shaw. This was all too much for me.” She would rather Edith told her about it later tonight. She motioned to Branson.”

“Yes, Mrs. Shaw, may I help you? More tea?”

“No, help me down the stairs. I will have my driver return me to the hotel.”

“Will you be all right mother?” asked Edith.

“Yes, stay if you will; I can manage.”

“Mother, Margaret is tiring. I will go with you and see her later. Is that agreeable, Margaret?”

“Yes, Edith. It would appear that I am in for some questions and then I will want to rest. Thank you, Aunt Shaw, for making the trip. Do not worry about me. I shall write to tell you how I am progressing and how much in love I am.” Margaret waved.

“Do that dear. Take care.”

The two women spoke to Maxwell on their way out and could see that he was going to stay.

“I will be at the hotel when I can. Just send the driver back,” he replied.

There seemed to be congestion at the doorway leading to the stairs.

The three men stepped into the parlor and let the ladies and Branson pass through. There were no goodbyes, as John seemed quite tied up with the Detective.

Margaret felt helpless sitting in the middle of the sofa, not having the armrests to aid her to rise.

John came to her side. “Margaret, you know Mason and the other man is a detective from London. He wants to question you after we have talked. I am going to carry you into our bedchamber and let you rest until I bring them to our room. I can turn them away if you want me to, but it will only be temporary. He wants to talk with you sometime.”

“Take me to rest. I’d like to get this over with. It would seem he is after that Grant Hartford?”

“I believe that’s his reason for being here. Captain Lenox, and your family opened the case in London. Since you are here, and they know you are too injured to return, he has come to you. Are you ready?”

“Yes, John.”

“Branson, seat the gentleman while I take Margaret to our room.”

“Yes, Guv.”

“That sounds wonderful, John.”

“What does?”

“Our room,” smiled Margaret.

“Sweetheart, nothing has yet gone the way I had planned. I wanted to introduce you to our room, alone. Now, I have to just deposit you and return. I shall make all of this up to you some day, my love.”

“Yes, I think I have missed all of the wooing and kissing alone this path to our marriage and no honeymoon.” She spoke in light-hearted tones, so John didn’t feel any worse than he did.

“I don’t know how long, we will be.”

“Oh, let me take my book.”

John turned with her in his arms and lowered her to grab her book and then swiftly moved through the crowd to get her out of there.

Captain Lenox greeted Boyle and was introduced to Mason. Branson took orders on drinks for the two new men. Mason declined, and Boyle asked for a whiskey, seeing that other alcohol was being consumed in the room.

Detective Boyle did not take a seat. He should have realized he would speak with the lady first and she may be able to rest.

John returned to the room.

“Mr. Thornton, I apologize. I do not wish for your wife to wait on us. If you don’t mind, I will speak with her now. Would that be possible?”

“I’d like to be present,” John said.

“Sir, with all due respect, I would wish to speak with her alone. Some things a woman will not say in front of her husband.”

“Being a Magistrate, I am quite aware of that.”

“I will be glad to call you in, in a short time,” replied Boyle. He hadn’t known the mill master of some fame was also a Magistrate. He was dealing with an intelligent man, he surmised.

John went upstairs, and Boyle followed. John tapped lightly on the door asking if he and Detective Boyle could come in.

“Yes, of course.”

Margaret was sitting up with pillows behind her, just as she had been in the hospital.

“Margaret, Detective Boyle would like to speak with you alone. Do you feel well enough for this?”

“Alone? Yes, if I must. I mean, yes. I am fine.”

John left the room and closed the door behind him. Detective Boyle introduced himself while pulling over a small chair to the bedside.

“My, this is some bed,” he cajoled.

“This is my first time in it or in this room. It’s been a hectic day starting out.”

“I will try to be brief. I have a few questions. I have asked your husband to be absent because I feel you will have something to tell me that he may not know about. What you tell him is not a problem, but what you tell me will mean a great deal. Do you understand what I am saying?”

Margaret blushed, and the whimpering began. “I know exactly what you are saying. My husband does know everything, I believe, as the doctors seemed to give him a full account. But having to finally say the words myself is going to be hard and I am glad he is not here to hover. He is very concerned for me, and he’s holding back his anger, but I can feel it there.”

“That’s understandable. Inspector Mason has cleared up the reason for why you came to him and are now married. That was a surprise to hear. My congratulations. Can you tell me in any words you can manage about the last night you were with Captain Hartford? And, before you begin, I know all about your brother’s past. Mason and I are in agreement and apparently your husband is, too, that we are not looking for him. Let the navy do their own job.”

“Thank you, Detective. That is such a huge relief. My whole life seems to have been one disaster after another because he’s been a mutineer, but I would not change what I have done, except where my husband is concerned. Had I’d known of his attitude about my brother, we would have been married before now.”

The detective pulled out a pad of paper and a pencil. Margaret thought about how the Met didn’t operate on much more of a budget than the local police.

“Begin where you can, Mrs. Thornton.”

Margaret didn’t start with the last night, she started from the beginning. She told of her injuries that the doctor had told her she’d had over a long time. She talked about how the injuries seemed placed to be hidden. Margaret spoke of her coercion to marry because of her money, so she thought, but everything was predicated on her brother being turned over to the Navy. She held up well until she finally arrived at her final night at his home.

“Mrs. Thornton, you are doing well. I am fairly certain I know what you are going to tell me, as it seems Captain Lenox has put a lot of this puzzle together. Tell me as best as you can, or I will say the words, and you can correct me.”

“Maxwell? Maxwell thinks he knows what that man did to me?”

“Yes, he gave me his assumptions and why. I find it quite likely he is right.”

“Can I ask what made him know?”

“It seems he visited Hartford the morning after you had disappeared, to ask about his knowledge of how you were taken home that night. Hartford, had, for two days, a lap blanket, lain across his groin area, each time Maxwell went. On his first visit, with his wife, she noticed your little handbag had slid to the side of the couch. Now, can you tell me?”

Margaret broke down and told him exactly what had happened that whole night. She showed him the hand prints on the back of her neck and tops of her arms. He declined to see her broken rib. Her black eye was most apparent.

“Mrs. Thornton, this is a travesty I have yet heard of in all my years. I am terribly sorry for your torturous times with that man.”

“I won’t have to say this in a court, will I? Margaret sniffled.

“I’ll make sure you don’t.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“I can’t answer that right now. We do know a lot more about this man than you do, and none of it is pretty.” Boyle told her.

“Is he still in London, walking around like nothing happened?”

“I cannot tell you that either, but I will say, we are watching him. When we have enough facts, we’ll know where he is to pick him up. Mrs. Thornton, you have been a brave woman, and I should not think that I will have to speak with you again. I know this has been very traumatic and some things may be recalled that are being left forgotten now or blocked out. If there is anything new, I will be here for a few days, or you can relay it to Inspector Mason. He is fully aware of this case and had started one of his own here in Milton.”

“He has?”

“Yes, your husband has been keeping him apprised of the situation. Mr. Thornton is very protective of you. Since he cannot leave you to see to this man himself, he wants to ensure he doesn’t come here.”

“Do you know anything about my brother?”

“No, we don’t. I am hoping to learn more about that while here. Is there anything I should know that you know?”

“I have no idea about him. I’m so worried. Mr. Bell, who was my father’s best friend all his life while he lived, has taken on the role of guardian because my father asked him to. Even being of age, he still feels the need to see that I am happy. He is dying soon,” Margaret wept the words. “He has endowed me with his fortune, which is what Grant was after, I believe. Mr. Bell is the only one in the family who may keep in some contact with my brother and know what’s happening.”

“And where is this Mr. Bell?”

“He lives at the university in London, but he’s here in Milton at the hotel. I guess you’re at the hotel?”

“Just arriving a little while ago, I think I’ll be staying in one of the empty jail cells while here. I will try and contact this Mr. Bell, later today. Again, my sympathy for your experience and hopefully, I won’t need you before this is all over. We will get this man, there is no doubt.”

“Thank you, Detective Boyle. That relieves me greatly.”

“I’ll show myself out. Good day.”

 

John had been waiting on the landing for the Detective to call him into his bedchamber, but Boyle exited instead.

“Have you completed your questions?” John asked.

“Yes. She is very brave, that wife of yours. After you’ve seen to her, I’d like to talk downstairs.”

“I’ll be down when I am sure she is all right. Please, have Branson fix you a drink.”

“The lad has done that. Thank you.”

John stepped into their bedchamber. Margaret looked pitiful; his heart wanted to break. She was propped up in such a large bed which made her look even smaller, she was alone and wearing a nice black eye. Now, her eyes were swollen, and her cheeks were red.

John sat next to her on the bed and held her in his arms. He didn’t need to say anything. She clung to him like she was drowning.

“John, she said, he won’t need to talk with me again, he thought. He said he would get the man. Maybe the real healing can begin now.”

“Margaret, this emotional wounding will be smothered away. I will see to that. You will not ever have to worry about him. It will just be you and I. I love you so much,” he said.

“Thank you, John.”

“For loving you?” he asked.

“Well, I guess and so much else. I don’t know where I’d be if you weren’t on the other side of that door when I knocked. You could have been married or any number of reasons for not wanting me. I guess I am thanking you for waiting . . . waiting for me to come home.”

Still cradling her to his chest, he allowed his own tears to fall on her shoulder.

“Can I lay down, now? I’m tired.”

“Is our bed softer than your one at the hospital,” John said, attempting to pass through the highly emotional moment.

“You still don’t have shoes on. Someone is going to think we are poor if I don’t get my love a pair of shoes,” he chuckled.

John helped her lay down.

“John can you pull that slip off of me.”

“Yes, love. Just lay still and close your eyes.” John reached up and untied the drawstring and gently wiggled it off of her. He pulled the light quilt at the foot of the bed, over her. He left the room.

John found little surprise finding Adam Bell downstairs, but Adam walked over to him before he could sit and whispered in his ear.

John turned to his visitors. “I will be right with you gentleman. I have a small emergency. It shouldn’t take more than a few moments. This may be worth our wait.”

John walked down the stairs and outside with Bell following. He arrived at his office steps and took two at a time before opening the door.

“You must be Margaret’s brother.”

I Killed Him – pt 17

 Chapter Seventeen

Margaret tried to reach for the parcel that Edith had left at the foot of the bed. John retrieved it for her.

“What’s this,” he asked.

“My frock to wear home and some undergarments. I won’t wear the corset, of course.” Margaret stalled as she waited for the obvious to be mentioned.

“Don’t be alarmed, my love. I will dress you since there will be no corset.”

“But . . .”

“But nothing, my dear sweet wife. You can deny me nothing, remember?” John said to smooth the sticky moment for Margaret.

She smiled, through her weeping that she was holding at bay.

“Somehow, I heard that differently, I thought.”

John unrolled the parcel and found the split bloomers. He gently pulled her to her feet and sat on the side of the low bed.

“Now put your hands on my shoulders and step into these when I say so.”

John readied the garment and told her to lift her foot, and he would slip it into the legging part.

“Are you all right?”

“Yes, John. I think so. It’s not the medical condition you know?”

“Yes, love. It’s nerves and the newness of us, again. Here, now step into the other side but don’t let go of my shoulders. This is very enjoyable you know.”

“It is? Really?”

“If you only knew. I am grossly understating it.”

As he slid the garment up, he pulled her gown up and kissed her belly.

“Next we have this half slip, I guess you call it. It’s not that big puffy one.”

“John, the puffy one is called a crinoline. No, Edith knew better about me wearing one of those.”

“We will do the same thing. You raise one foot, I will slide it under your foot, and then you put the next foot inside.”

“Dear husband, I think I have that part down for the past twenty years.”

“But have you ever had a husband help you?”

“I don’t even think my father helped me when I was a small child.”

“How are your nerves doing?” he asked.

“Better. I might come to like this one day.”

“I will love this forever,” John said.

Margaret stepped back, still wearing the hospital tent, a slip, and bloomers. All there was, was the frock. Margaret couldn’t see any way around getting the frock on without taking off the gown.

John rested back on the bed with his arms behind him, smiling at her face as she worked out the next step.

“I’m really going to enjoy the frock,” he said.

“I think I am breaking out in a sweat,” Margaret replied.

“Does that mean you feel warm all over?”

“Yes, it does. No, wait . . .”

The look on John’s face would have made her fall in love with him at that moment if she hadn’t all ready loved him.

“Can you pull this off without kissing me?”

“No,” John said, continuing to rest on his arms.

“Can you limit the kiss to my lips?” Margaret asked.

“No.”

“John!”

“All right, Mrs. Thornton. No kissing.”

John stood and looked over the frock to study how it should be handled to slide over her easily. He would have to gather all of the fullness in first, but not before removing the white hospital garment.

“Are you ready? I see how this will slip on faster.”

Margaret closed her eyes and lifted her arms. “Ready.”

John lifted the gown bringing those bountiful breasts into close view. He dropped the white gown and rubbed her nipples with his thumbs, holding her under her arms with the rest of his hand.

Margaret moaned. John was undone by her reaction.

“John, please!”

“Please what,” he asked, looking into her closed eyes and saw a flush come to her cheeks. He continued to tease her and please them both. “I’m sorry. But I didn’t kiss you as you asked.” John stopped his self torture and settled Margaret on steady feet. She waivered, and he caught her.

“I think there are two people in this room that rather liked that,” he said.

“I think one of them loved that, and it isn’t you.”

John kissed her lips and found the frock. He gathered the voluminous lower half and slipped it over her head, taking one last look at the perfect woman before him.

“There.” John held her to his chest while she was standing. Finally, he sat her in the chair and opened the door to her room. He looked about the room and gathered the rest of her belongings and rolled them into the brown paper parcel that her cousin had brought.

Nurse Pickering arrived with the rolling chair. “Mrs. Thornton, I’ve enjoyed having you as a patient and meeting the famous John Thornton in the bargain.”

Nurse Pickering maneuvered Margaret into the chair while she watched John’s face. He had no reaction to her compliment. That was the John that faced the world.

“I’ve enjoyed knowing you, Mrs. Pickering. Thank you for listening to me at times and your gentle care. Maybe we could have tea in the future.”

“Thank you, I would like that. Are you ready?”

“Let’s go,” Margaret smiled.

John followed, bursting with happiness to finally bring her home.

 

The coach was waiting at the rear door. John easily pulled Margaret into his arms. He climbed into the coach at an angle and gently settled her on his lap as he sat. Branson reined the team slowly home.

John kissed her repeatedly during the ride. He slid his hand down her legs and realized she was barefoot. Why hadn’t he notice that before?

“Margaret, did you travel to Milton with a pair of shoes?”

“I must have.”

John remembered they must still be in the guestroom, where Donaldson first examined her.

“Mrs. Thornton, you cannot know how much this day means to me.”

“Do you mean, aside from my body being present.” Margaret smiled.

“Yes, you silly goose. I love you in spite of your exquisite body. How’s that? I have wanted you, the core, and soul of you, in my life. I’ve wanted to talk with you and laugh with you. I admit I want to pleasure you, too, but that is only part of the Margaret, I love. Now, I have all of you. Margaret, my life is abundant. I am a completed man.”

“Yes, that is becoming apparent underneath me.” She laughed.

John smiled. “Be serious for a moment. I’m trying to tell you how much you mean to me. I guess we’re both trying to tell you how much we love you,” he chuckled. He has a mind of his own, sometimes. Most of the time, we get along, but there are going to be times with you that he will embarrass me, especially if others are present. You see, I have issues too, about bodily reactions, but I have no screen to hide behind. You will just have to know me and him. And I will not be ashamed or embarrassed with you.”

“He really does things on his own?”

“Yes, it is a curse that men have been proud of since the dawn of time.”

“I shall be glad to meet him,” Margaret tittered.

Margaret saw the broad beaming smile coming towards her lips, once again.

 

The drive was slow, the kisses were hot, but they finally made it to Marlborough Mills.

“It appears you are home with me,” John said still holding her in his arms, as Branson opened the coach door. Branson ran ahead and open the house door.

“John, I think I would like to try the steps.”

“Not until I have realized one of my dreams, Mrs. Thornton.”

“And what is that?”

“I’ve always dreamed of carrying you over the threshold. Then I shall put you down, and we shall see.”

A crowd quickly gathered from the mill workers and started to applaud. As John got to the top of the porch, he turned to the waiting crowd, still with Margaret in his arms, as said, “People, meet my new bride, Mrs. Margaret Thornton. When she is recovered, she will want to meet all of you. Thank you for your thoughts this morning.”

John turned and carried Margaret through the door, as Margaret waved to the workers standing there applauding. There again, a pang hammered his heart as he felt his first love would easily interface with his second love . . . his mills and its people.

Kicking the door closed, he asked Margaret if she still felt like trying a few stairs. Margaret looked up the steep expanse and changed her mind.

“Maybe I will try coming down them, first, but not today.”

 

From a distance, Frederick Hale watched with utter confusion as his sister was carried across a threshold. Now, he remembered seeing that man when last in Milton at the train station. That must be John Thornton. He had to hand it to Adam Bell; he sure found a way to keep her from marrying that other man in London. She looked happy, but he wouldn’t leave until he knew for sure. She looked like she had a black eye. Frederick decided to wait and find Adam Bell. After watching the Milton Grand for several hours, he had only seen his aunt and cousin leave the hotel. Frederick pulled back into the shadows. He needed time to sort out what Bell and told him and what his eyes were telling him before contacting his sister. He walked a distance, not conscious of where he was. He found a small dirty pub in the poor section not too far from the mills and entered. It was dark, and he found a booth where he could watch the front door.

Frederick pulled Adam Bell’s note from his pocket and read it again. He was now in Milton, and so was his sister. John Thornton was not a military man but announced that he had married his sister, to the people who had congregated. He, himself, was free from the man in London, but he didn’t know if his sister knew that. She must know that by now, he thought. Bell should have received his letter and told her. Frederick thought that his sister may have been injured from his glimpse of her, but it was from far away and very quick.

“I’ll have a pint and a beef sandwich,” Frederick replied to the barmaid who had come to his table.

He had to find Bell.

 

It was nearing midday when Detective Boyle boarded the train for Milton. Before leaving, he had checked on the availability of a telegraph station in Milton and found there had been one recently wired through. The address of the telegraph office and the address of the police station seemed to be within a relatively close distance to each other. He left two men watching Grant Hartford’s movements, although they could not watch him on post. His men could only hope to spot him coming or going through the post gates since he didn’t seem to spend time at his home.

 

John carried Margaret into the parlor and set her down on her feet easily. Jane and Cook were there to greet her and congratulate the two of them. Margaret enjoyed her arrival not only from the hospital but now to the home that she would share with John. She had never seen past the dining room and parlor but knew it to be a handsome home for Milton. Jane and Cook seemed to be genuinely happy that she was coming in as the woman of the house. Margaret was warmed by their sincere wishes and offerings to help her settle in and eventually learn the running of a house this size.

Cooks first question was about menus and did she want to prepare them.

“Ladies, please.” John interrupted, “my wife is only shortly out of a sickbed. Let us give her some time to heal and adjust before she begins to make decisions. She will be mistress of this house, but for the next week or so, she will be treated as a special guest.”

The staff welcomed Margaret once again and left the room. Cook said the nurse would be arriving in about two hours.

“What would you like to do first, Mrs. Thornton?” John asked, not able to control his happy face.

“I would prefer to sit a while. I don’t feel like going to a bed yet.”

Branson entered the parlor and asked where he should put the parcel of clothes that came home with them. “I’ll take it,” said John, setting it aside, on a chair.” Thank you, Branson. Wait. Don’t leave just yet. I have a question.”

“Yes, Guv?”

“Your Mistress told me that she and you were discussing her and my feelings for each other earlier today. Is that a true statement?”

Branson looked bewildered at Margaret, “I’m sorry, Miss. No, we did not discuss that, Guv.”

Margaret watched John expand his chest with a triumphant look on his face.

“Branson, please excuse your Master for asking such a personal question and putting you ill at ease. He does not have it correct.”

“If I remember correctly,” John puffed, “I said, ‘I love you, Mrs. Thornton’ and I distinctly heard you say ‘We discussed that, too.’ Is that not correct?”

“Yes, that is correct,” smiled Margaret.

“Margaret, help me understand why that isn’t what I just asked Branson.”

“Are you sure you’re a Magistrate? Heaven help, Milton,” she laughed.

John looked stupefied with his mouth gaping slightly open as he fell onto the couch beside her.

“I see I will have to explain myself to the all knowing John Thornton of Marlborough Mills.”

“Yes, Margaret Thornton of Marlborough Mills, do explain yourself.”

Branson was baffled.

“The phrase as you correctly stated was, ‘I love you, Mrs. Thornton’. Branson and I discussed if he should call me, Mrs. Thornton, or something else.”

John looked at Branson, and he could see Branson was enjoying seeing his boss, upstaged.

“Branson, you are excused.”

“Gladly, Guv,” Branson replied while being glad to be out of that funny moment.

“Margaret, you only have a few weeks to play these games and show me up in front of my friends, staff, and peers. After that, you will be swept off to bed for every concoction of mischief that you place me in. And mind you, you shall beg me to stop.”

John saw her face change with his last statement. He moved over beside her and placed his arms around her.

“Oh, Margaret. How foolish I am. I am so very sorry. I hate myself for bringing back any despicable memories.”

“John, it just caught me off guard. I don’t know why. I don’t want you having to watch what you say or do. I know where I am and who I am with, and I know I chose to be here. These things will fade. And you were talking so lovingly to me, and I just froze. Please forgive me.”

“Margaret, there is nothing to forgive. And I don’t want you to be ‘on guard’ around me. This is all so fresh for both of us. I should have been more sensitive. Margaret, this is for both of us to get through. Do not feel you are alone in getting past these terrible events. We are one, now. It’s our problem to put behind us, not just yours.”

“John, sometimes, I think you are carrying a heavier burden than I am. I know what happened. I know how I feel. I know I will recover. You can only imagine. You may have doubts about my ability to pull through this, and you worry more than I do. One’s imagination can conjure something more intense than is actual fact. Someday, if you want to hear about that night, I will tell you. I am not a weak person. Please, do not, watch what you say. Please, don’t do that. I want the John that I love now, not some other John Thornton that chastises himself. You don’t need to fall on your sword every time you or anyone else says something around me. I am not going to fall to pieces. These all will pass. I’m not sure I could say that if you were not in my life and by my side. You give me the strength to return to the woman I want to be for you.”

“Margaret, never think you need to be more of a woman for me. You – just as you are – are everything I ever wanted out of life. You found your way back to me. You will never know how that makes me feel. There are no words for the feelings I had when I opened the door to find you there. Whether you were injured or not;, I wanted to die of happiness. You are the woman I want you to be. Know that and never change. You make me so proud to be your husband.”

John tenderly kissed her. Then, he backed away and stood up.

“Whew,” he said, walking around the room to cool off, running his fingers through his hair. This isn’t going to be easy, is it?”

“No. It is not. Remember, we will work through this together.” Margaret smiled up at him.

“That’s what I am afraid of.”

“Afraid of yourself?” asked Margaret.

“No, afraid of you!” John replied in all seriousness.

“What do you, mean, John? Why are you afraid of me?” Margaret faltered.

“Because as I said, I cannot deny you anything. If I should excite you before you are ready, it would be dangerous. I couldn’t say, no, to you.”

Margaret laughed with relief.

“I see. I will be to blame when you kiss my fool head off, as you like to say, and then I want more, is that it?”

John smiled. “I think you have it. I am the husband of a very passionate woman, I believe, and if she wasn’t I would make her so. So, I need your help now. Push me away; do not encourage me, or you might suffer the consequences.”

“Maybe I want that.” Margaret cajoled.

“Not the first time around, love. For a long time, I have dreamed of the tenderness of our first night together. There are a hundred plans floating around in my head, do this, don’t do that, gentle here, extremely gently there and then a more active vigorous claim on you. I am almost twice your weight and ten times stronger. Right now you would be crushed under my loving you.”

“Aren’t there slower introductions?” she echoed.

“Oh yes. Those are already planned, or you will have fallen in love with a man gone mad. It’s not that I need do this for me, but I cannot wait to do this for you. I have waited for a real woman I would love, to show me that I am a good lover to her. You are that woman. It has only been and will only be you.”

John had finally sat down by Margaret once again when a knock came to the front door.

“And now it begins – the endless parade of well-wishers. That should dampen the fires. You will be safe as long as there are visitors,” John smiled as he strode to the front door stairs.

“I’ve got it, Jane,” he called out.

I Killed Him – pt 16

 Chapter Sixteen

“Good morning, Margaret. You look happy this morning. It must be because you are going home with that handsome husband of yours.”

“Yes. Do you know he spent the whole night with me in that chair, holding my hand? I woke in the middle of the night and found him still here.”

Outside the room, Branson heard that endearment about the Guv, and it reaffirmed that his boss was a passionate man. Those were sides he’d never shown to anyone, but Branson had always felt were there. He hoped to be that way, himself.

“I’ve brought you a frock today. I wasn’t sure about a corset, but I brought one along in case.”

“I’m afraid I have a hospital corset looking thing bound about me that I shall wear for a few weeks, I suspect. I’m waiting on breakfast and the doctor. John should return soon.”

“But, wasn’t that his driver?” huffed Aunt Shaw, which drew a stern look from Edith.

“Yes, that is Branson outside the door, listening,” she laughed. “I am sure he is here as my guard. I have a suspicion that John does not want to leave me alone or unwatched.”

“Well, I would hope so!” said her aunt, which sparked a chord in Edith.

i-killed-him-268x179“Mother, you see that Margaret is recovering. We know she’s happy about her marriage to Mr. Thornton. It might be best for you to return to your committees and teas in London. I know you care dearly for Margaret and she knows it, too, but you will soon be an unwelcome guest in their home if you continue these snide outbursts.”

“Snide, you say! Humph. I will see Margaret today, get settled into the home she will live in and then I will take a train home. God seems to have forsaken this part of England.”

“Aunt, nothing will ever compare to London and the circles you move in. You will find that nowhere else within this land. You are comfortable there. I am comfortable here. Let that be something we will both learn to live with.” Margaret gently spoke.

“Well, if you are sure you are happy?”

“Very happy, aunt.”

“I hope that wicked man does not come looking for you when I return. I’ll have my butler bar him from the house.”

“That is very wise, aunt. Perhaps, you should tell the police if he pesters you.” Margaret suggested.

“Oh, they know about him. Edith and Maxwell have seen to that.”

Again Edith snapped a frown at her mother.

“Oh, you went to the police, Edith?”

“Of course, we did, when you didn’t return home. We had no idea of the abuse you had received; we just wanted to find you.”

“So, how did you find me?”

“Mr. Bell wrote to us. We even went searching for you at his quarters on campus, but he’d been gone a day or two. He was here, perhaps. It seems you confided in him about the coerced marriage and not us. Margaret, I don’t mean that the way it sounds. It’s perfectly obvious why ” Edit said as she looked towards her mother. “Mr. Bell would have been in a better position to advise you.”

“Advise her of what?” boomed John as he entered the room. He didn’t know if he would ever warm to her aunt. The cousin was still undetermined in his mind.

“Advise Margaret of what?” he asked again.

“Edith and I were discussing why I confided in Mr. Bell before them of my difficulties with Captain Hartford, forcing me to marry him. That was part of the conversation we did not cover yesterday.”

“Here are you clothes, Margaret. We will leave, now, and see you later this afternoon, when you are settled into your new home.”

“I will look forward to it. Good bye, aunt.”

“Good by Margaret, and to you, Mr. Thornton.”

“Good day ladies,” John returned.

John picked up on Margaret’s look. “I’m sorry, my love. I’ll try harder to get along with your aunt. I just cannot forgive her insistence that you return with her to London. I know, you could not live here alone. We were not, yet, in a position for a second proposal. It was her attitude towards me, the city, and the fact that she didn’t respect you to have a mind of your own.”

“I never looked at it that way, before.”

“I know you didn’t. The loss of your family took all your thoughts and buried them to stave the hurt. I understood that but was powerless to intervene. Certainly, no one, including you, would have listened to me. But I felt I knew you and knew what was best for you in your future. I finally had to let go and hope you found your real feelings. I know that sounds a bit conceited on my part, but that’s how much I loved you. I knew you could and would love me if we only had more time.”

“Now, we have all the time in the world.”

“Thank God for that. Have you been served breakfast yet, or seen the doctor?”

“No, I’m afraid there is a bit more waiting. Tell me, are Branson’s horses still well? Is the coach in one piece or do I go home in a cab?”

John laughed and ruffled her hair. “He told you about that, did he?”

“Yes, he was quite funny about it.”

“He thinks those horses belong to him because he selected them. I do admit, he made a very wise choice, and I have never been sorry for what they cost, but they are still mine,” John smiled.

“Do not ever tell him that. Did you wear his little livery cap?”

“Only while I was within his view. I will admit, it took a bit of handling, and I certainly admire his skills more than I did, but I made it there and back.”

“Some day in the future, I wish to have a conversation about him, with you. He and I had quite a talk when we were alone.”

“Oh, you did, did you? Did he tell you he is an experienced driver and needs a raise in his salary?”

“Nothing of the kind. You will just have to wait and see.”

“I love you, Mrs. Thornton.” John sat down beside her.

“We discussed that, too.”

“What? You were discussing our love with our driver?”

“John, you know he’s more than a driver. He is almost family. You own horses that he belongs to; I think that makes us related, somehow, don’t you?” Margaret laughed, forgetting her rib, again.

“You see, that’s what you get for discussing personal things with our friend, the driver.”

John waited for her discomfort to ease and explain what she had meant.

Margaret knew he was waiting and kept silent.

A moment passed.

“Well, Mrs. Thornton?”

“Well, what?”

“You know very well, well what.” John returned.

“You said, ‘I love you, Mrs. Thornton’ and I said that he, Branson, and I had discussed that.”

“Mrs. Thornton,” John soothed, with a smile on his face. “I know very well what I said, and I distinctively heard what you said.”

“And then you said, ‘You were discussing our love with our driver,’ I do not believe I heard a question in there. Was there suppose to be one? Being your wife, does that include being a mind-reader?”

John sighed, pulled a bit of paper with writing on it from his pocket. He reached for a pencil near Margaret’s chart and scribbled on the back of the paper. He replaced the pencil and put the paper in his pocket, sat back and folded his hands in his lap.

Margaret watched his actions, trying to figure out what he was doing, knowing he wanted her to ask.

Another moment passed. John, now, had the upper hand. She put on her pouty face and looked at him with sad eyes.

It didn’t work. He just smiled back at her.

Another moment passed.

“Well, so much for not denying me anything!”

John almost doubled over laughing; instead, he moved to the bed and held her in his arms as he had last night. “I love you, Mrs. Thornton, and you can discuss that with the whole world if you care to.”

“All right you two love birds; it’s time for some food,” announced Nurse Pickering, as she entered the room.

“Margaret, your food will be a little more solid this morning. You know what that means; don’t you?”

Margaret looked bewildered.

“Didn’t your husband show you the list?”

“No, what list?” Margaret asked, looking at John.

“Margaret, it was a list of items and foods you should have at home, which includes, drinking prune juice daily.”

Margaret turned red. John beamed. “Did you have to tell me that with him in here?” she frowned.

John got up and walked out the door. He was bursting inside. If discussing natural body functions was an embarrassment to her, he’d give her time to adjust.

Nurse Pickering watched as John left the room. “Margaret, you are married, now. These things are a part of life. You almost act as if you have just met the man.”

“I have, really,” she said, looking at her eggs and toast.

“What do you mean, you have just met him?”

Margaret explained the two year’s separation and just returning to him only a week ago. “We hadn’t even kissed until a few days ago.”

“My, that is a story. It’s a beautiful love story if you had found a different way to be together than being beaten by another man. That explains a lot to me about your reluctance on these personal matters and his failing control to keep his hands to himself. You two make a sweet couple. I’ve heard about your husband, being a Milton native myself for 10 years, but I see a different man than I thought him to be. He’s very loving.”

“Nobody would recognize the man that loves me,” Margaret said.

“You are a very lucky woman,” replied Nurse Pickering.

“He’s already lied to me, though. What do you think I should do?”

“Lied to you? That’s unfortunate.”

“Yes, he said he would deny me nothing, and he just did.” Margaret waited for the laugh outside the door. It was there. She finally heard his booted steps move away from the door.

“Was he listening?” asked the nurse.

“I thought he might be, that’s why I said what I did. Of course, I was kidding.”

“The doctor should be in within a half an hour. He’s on the floor. You may dress and leave after he’s seen you unless he tells you different. Do you want me to come back and help you dress?” Pickering smiled.

“I don’t know. I might try it myself behind that screen first. I’m steady on my feet this morning. I’ll send my husband after you or another nurse if I need help.”

“All right, MISS Thornton,” the nurse said for amusement.

Margaret thought about her little joke and realized she was right. If her rib was not bound, they would be past the initial lusts of a newly married couple. She would have lost her virginity by now. That had not occurred to her, but she thought it must have occurred to John. Well, maybe not because of her injuries. He was being terribly kind and patient with her. She knew he really loved her.

John saw the doctor headed towards Margaret’s room and caught up with him. The doctor stopped to talk with John before going in.

“Mr. Thornton, I am sure this does not need telling, but it is my duty. I can hardly imagine what it must be like for you to bring your new bride to your bed but you must exercise great care.”

John felt like a child being admonished. Who did he think he was? “There are no needs for such words, doctor.”

“I am sure of that, too, but I cannot pick and chose who and what to advise. There are rules, and I am at their mercy.”

“Proceed, doctor,” John replied.

“There should be no pressure against that rib for a few more days. It won’t be fully healed for another three weeks, she may begin to move and lift as she feels fit. Unfortunately, she will feel good before she is completely healed and may try things beyond her capacity. Just take note of today and keep her from hurting herself for the next three weeks. I would like to see her in my office, each Friday morning for the next month.”

“I understand.”

John and Doctor Wagner entered Margaret’s room as Pickering was leaving.

Margaret noticed the doctor had closed the door behind him and John came to sit beside her. He held her hand.

“Mrs. Thornton, are you ready to leave this place? We’ve enjoyed having you, but I’ll bet you would rather be somewhere else,” said Wagner.

“Yes, I am anxious to go and sit and walk and see the sun,” Margaret replied.

The doctor pulled another chair to her other side and placed her chart on his lap. “First we will talk a few minutes and then I will check that rib one last time. All right?”

“Yes, please.”

“I’ve talked a bit with your husband about how you will feel well before you truly are. Take one more week of rest. After that you may begin to move about as you feel you can, but under no circumstances must you lift anything more than your handbag for three weeks. You will need assistance in and out of the tub for washing. And definitely, someone else must wash your hair.”

Margaret could feel John squeezing her hand in delight.

The doctor fished in his pocket for a packet and handed them to John. “Those are pills to ease the pain. Take one twice a day for the next week and then take them as you need after that. As I told your husband, I will see you for the next four Friday mornings in my office and any time you find you have any problems. The rib corset can be removed to wash it when you bath and if you feel at ease, it can be removed at night. Otherwise, keep it on during the day. Do you have any questions?”

“How about using the steps?”

“Have someone with you for a week or two. You will exhaust yourself quickly. There is nothing to prevent you from using steps, but you’re own strength. You must remember, you had internal bleeding for at least seven hours that we know of. It will take approximately, six to eight weeks for your body to build back to its normal level. You will be weakened from that alone. Your bed rest for these 5 days and a few more to come, plus the damage to muscle tissue; you will not be strong. The medication will hide that from you, so you use your head. Anything else?”

Margaret looked at John to see if he had questions. “I do not believe we have any more questions.”

“Are you ready for me to check your rib? I will push a bit on it to gauge your discomfort.”

“Yes, I am ready.”

“Do you mind your husband being here?”

Margaret thought that an odd question and quickly said, “No, of course not.”

John continued to hold her hand.

The doctor lifted her head and removed the pillow, so she was laying flat. John turned towards her to watch for her pain.

The doctor then proceeded to pull down the sheet and lift her gown above her breasts, exposing everything except her corseted rib area. Margaret was mortified, but it was too late. John was stunned.

John quickly looked at what God was about to bless him with and squeezed Margaret’s hand firmly. He knew she was in shock. He hadn’t expected that either, but after his quick perusal, the large blotches of bruises brought watering to his eyes. He squeezed his eyes tightly and brought his thumb and forefinger to wipe away the evidence. She was a man’s dream in body, but the nightmare she suffered was all too apparent. He wanted to look away but didn’t for fear Margaret would think he found dissatisfaction. She was firmly holding on to his hand as the doctor prodded her rib area. John heard her inhale through her teeth with a hissing sound. He lowered his forehead to her shoulder, so she knew he wasn’t staring at her nakedness. He leaned in and kissed her on the cheek while the tears began seeping from the corners of her eyes.

John quietly whispered in her ear, “You are exquisite, my love.”

Finally, the gown was lowered, and the sheet returned. John moved back as the doctor returned the pillow under her head.

“I think we can let you go, Mrs. Thornton. I believe it best if you take her through the back entrance where there are no stairs. When she is dressed, open the door, and a nurse will bring in the rolling chair and wheel her to the door. Mr. Thornton, you may want to sit her on your lap to absorb the bumpy ride.”

“I am eager to help,” he smiled at Margaret.

“Thank you, Dr. Wagner, for tending to my wife so well. I have been impressed with your courtesy and medical knowledge throughout her stay. We will see you on Friday.”

“Yes, doctor thank you so much,” Margaret added.

The doctor left the room, and Margaret was speechless over what had just happened.

“John, I didn’t expect . . . I mean . .I”

“Shh . . . Margaret. That took us both by surprise. I’m sorry your surprise was upsetting, but mine was magnificent. I am fortunate to have someone with such a beautiful body as yours. You are far lovelier than I deserve and expected. I’m afraid you have a few extra colors that I had never fantasized about, but we will heal them. I would have preferred to kiss you naked for the first time, but that still waits.”

John leaned in and kissed her lips passionately. He lifted her to his chest and ran one hand down her body over top of the sheet. Then he held her with both arms.

“I love you, John.” Margaret whimpered.

“I hope so because I would never give you up.” John kissed her again.