The Counterfeit Governess – Part Thirteen

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Thirteen – Uproar

 

For the second time that night, Stephen dashed after Beth but this time, she outran him and reached her room to close and lock the door, right in his face. He spent the good part of an hour pleading in whispered tones to listen to him so that he might explain himself. He still did not grasp what he had been amiss in his conduct nor what he was going to explain but still, he tried to make her hear him out. To no avail, for there was no sound coming from Beth’s room, not even sobs or muffled weeping. When he finally gave up, the bleak November dawn was not far away.

 

~~~~

 

“I beg your pardon, my lord, but I am afraid I have some disturbing news.”

Stephen looked up from the estate ledgers he was trying to inspect and sent his butler an inquiring gaze. Raleigh was not his usual, stony self, this morning, he thought. The man was white as a sheet and his hands were shaking, despite the control he was trying to enforce on them.

“Yes, what is it?” he replied, far more harshly than had been his intention.

“Well, sir, it seems that Mademoiselle Guillaume and the children are nowhere to be found. Nobody has seen them since dinner last night, and, when Trixie went up to bring them breakfast this morning, she found their rooms empty and all their belongings gone.”

“Poppycock, man! They probably are gone to visit the grandmother in the village and will return soon.”

“I beg to differ, my lord, but would they have taken all their belongings with them, would that be the case? Besides, I have taken the liberty to send a footman to Mrs Bradley and inquire after them but she too has not seen her grandchildren since yesterday.”

A small knot of concern began forming deep in Stephen’s gut, yet he did not immediately give in to its nagging. Surely, there must be an explanation? The events of the night before again popped up in his mind, again churning his stomach with disgust and humiliation.

Damned the woman! He had practically flaunted himself at her feet, with his heartfelt apologies! He had as good as said that he loved her and wanted her to love him back but she had acted like a schoolgirl being toppled over for the first time! She was twenty-five, for God’s sake, and she had lived in bloody France for ten years! In no way could she be ignorant in the ways of love and courtship!

Stephen rose and began pacing the Aubusson carpet on his library floor.

“Let us not do foolish things, Raleigh, at least, not immediately. Mademoiselle Guillaume might return any time from a long walk in the countryside with her charges. Wait for another three hours and then, we will see what is needed.”

“Certainly, my lord,” Raleigh replied, his voice even but his eyes doubtful. The butler then left the room in offended silence, leaving his master to brood over the events that were about to stir up the whole household.

 

~~~~

 

By dinner time, it was abundantly clear that Lily, Oliver and Beth were gone with no indications as to their whereabouts. Stephen had ridden to the village at breakneck speed to question Mrs Bradley but her cottage had been deserted. The neighbours – no, the whole village – had been interrogated but every single villager said the same thing; Mrs Bradley had gone to visit her widowed sister, and no one had seen nor heard anything about the governess or the children. When asked where Mrs Bradley’s sister lived, again every single one of the interrogated villagers denied knowing anything at all. They did not even know the name of the woman, let alone where she lived, my lord, I am so very sorry, my lord.

Now, Stephen and Henrietta were in their dining room, manfully forcing down a charred meal, being smacked down in front of them by a stony-faced footman. Raleigh was overseeing the proceedings with a face rigid with disapproval, though he kept himself quiet enough, giving only reluctant replies to Stephen’s remarks.

“Did Mademoiselle tell anybody where she was going or what her plans were, Raleigh?”

“No, my lord.”

“Have you found any note, issued by her?”

“No, my lord, none.”

“Damn it, man, can you tell me nothing about her intentions, then?”

Raleigh stood next to Stephen and was about to serve him with a glass of port. He threw back his shoulders, and his back was ramrod straight when he replied.

“No, my lord, nothing. I should think Mademoiselle would have informed you of her plans, as her employer, not me. I am the butler, my lord, and, although relations between me and Mademoiselle were excellent and cordial, she did not deem it fit for me to know of her plans.”

“That will be enough, Raleigh!” Stephen barked, irritated by the man’s clipped tones. “You may leave us now!”

All the servants left the room, blatant disapproval on their countenances. An awkward silence filled the space as mother and son were staring after them in stunned surprise.

“What the devil has gone into them?” Stephen fumed. Henrietta put a steadying hand on his.

“Calm yourself, my lord. The whole staff have taken a liking to the children and, alas, also to the confounded governess. They do not know you had to put her in her rightful place. I would not have thought she would take her charges with her, though.”

Stephen frowned at the dowager, not grasping her meaning.

“Put her in her place, mother? I did no such thing!”

“That is not how I witnessed it last night, my lord. She taunted you with her charms and you turned her down and very skilfully, if I may say so. The minute you proposed that she become your mistress, the game was up and she fled.”

The words his mother so contently uttered rankled in Stephen’s mind for some unknown reason.

“Have you been eavesdropping, dear Mama? How shameless of you!” he said, in a more lightly tone than he felt himself to be in.

“My lord! Who do you take me for? No, I only overheard your last words to her and had to hide myself most precipitously when she came running out of your bedroom. I am most grateful that you found a way to get rid of her without having to pay her salary for the entire time she stayed here. She was trouble, my son, and she would have inflicted great misery upon our House. Yet, I think you should find out where they went to. I already miss Lily and Oliver and their sweet chattering at dinner time. Bring them back to me, Stephen.”

The dowager rose and bade her son goodnight before retiring.

 

~~~~

 

Lounging in the comfortable chair in front of his bedroom fire, Stephen cradled a glass of brandy in his palms. He sipped absently at the pale, golden liquid, but without even tasting it. Instead, his memories of what had transpired in this same room the night before kept invading his peace.

They had an altercation, he and Beth, but that was nothing out of the ordinary. They frequently quarrelled. In fact, if he were to be honest with himself, he liked their bickering. It enlivened his days of dreary estate business, and he appreciated seeing Beth at the dinner table and bickering with her.

He admired her courage in trying to search for proof as to his involvement in her family’s accident and would have given it gladly, had she asked for it. And then, there was the attraction they had begun feeling for each other … so thrilling and exhilarating.

After his darling wife’s tragic death, Stephen had vowed never to marry again. Florence had been his soul mate, his dearest friend, his heart, and even the sadness of not conceiving children together, had not estranged them. Her demise had been sudden and violent, and excruciatingly hard on him. From one minute to the other he had been robbed of the most precious person in his life. Losing Florence left him aching, not only for a pleasant and satisfying bed partner, but also – and this far more drastically – for a supporting, loving companion. Replacing the first need had not been difficult – bed partners were easy to find – but finding companionship, matching the quality of one he had with Florence, had proved to be utterly impossible amongst the simpering young ladies in the shire or Town.

Impossible, but for Beth Williams … his wayward, counterfeit governess came very close to what he lost when his beloved Florence was taken from him, Stephen realised with a shock.

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.”

The Counterfeit Governess – Part Twelve

books

Twelve – First Battle

 

Five seconds later, Stephen caught Beth on the first floor landing and gripped her arm in a crushing hold. The force of it caused her to whirl around and bump into his chest so violently that tears of sudden pain filled her eyes. She had a stinging reproach ready on her lips but Fenton did not grant her a chance to speak. He dragged her along to the nearest door, forcefully shoved her inside and threw the door shut, never releasing the vice-like grip on her arm.

“Confound it, Beth Williams! I will have you listen to me, right here and now!”

Beth was in no fit state to listen to anyone, least of all to this scoundrel of a man who treated her like a mad dog! She thumped his chest with her free hand and, breath burning in her lungs, she tried to wrench her arm loose!

“Let … go … of … me …” The words came in staccato gasps, as if she could not find the air to speak them, but every one of them bit into Stephen’s heart like sulphuric acid drops. Belatedly, he realised he was bruising the soft flesh of her upper arm! He abruptly lessened his grip – only, to stroke the damaged spot with the back of his fingers. Heat flared up in his groin like molten gold, and he fixed his eyes upon the sweet curve of her rosy mouth, now trembling under her fury.

“I am so sorry, Beth. I had no wish to injure you but …” He felt his lips twist in a painful smile, meant as an apology but sadly lacking. “I always seem to anger you or hurt you, do I not?”

His eyes bore into Beth’s with vulnerable honesty, causing her heart to flip-flop inside her chest. He was apologizing? Stephen Fenton? Impossible! And how could she possibly answer that question of his without uncovering her own uncertain and foolish heart? Speechless and hurting, Beth just kept on staring into those impossibly beautiful blue-grey eyes, her blood hammering in her ears.

“Look,” he said, his voice soothing and gentle, “I know what I did, all those years ago. Beth, I have not lived a day without regretting it deeply and painfully!”

Stephen saw the hurt blossom in her eyes, spilling over in big, shiny tears, that came rolling down her cheeks, and he instantly regretted his heedless words. My God! How could he have been so rude and thoughtless!

“Come here, my sweetling,” he whispered and gathered her into his arms, where she dissolved into mindless sobbing, shaking with every heart-wrenching gasp she made. Revelling in the feeling of her slender, soft body against his heart, Stephen dreamily stroked her back with soothing gestures, while his head went empty of thoughts except for the huge tenderness he felt for Beth.

Beth … who still had not stopped fighting him and was still trying to pummel his chest, though her strength was beginning to fade away. Beth … so intimately near and yet, so distant.

 

~~~~

 

Beth was so thoroughly immerged in her excruciating memories that she felt completely lost. All conscious thoughts were drowned in that overwhelming, bone-deep feeling of miserable loss, the death of dear Mama and darling Julian. Again she re-lived those terrible hours of that long-ago day, when villagers brought back the bodies of the two people she loved most in her young live. Mangled, disfigured, broken bodies … of her mother and brother, whose curricle she had witnessed being driven off the road by Lord Fenton’s phaeton. Those few seconds, when she stood there, rooted to the spot, alone and paralyzed with horror, when she watched Lord Septimus as he peered over the rim of the abyss that swallowed her family. He had not done a single thing to assist them, nor had he gone down the slope to investigate. Instead, he had gripped his young son’s arms in a tight grasp, brought his face close to the boy’s and hissed. “Do not ever tell anyone you were the one driving that phaeton, Stephen! Better, do not betray to anyone that we were here at all. There are no witnesses. No one will ever know what just happened. Promise me, Stephen, swear it!”

Beth could still hear those words in her dreams, even after all these years. The pain was hot and searing, burning her heart to ashes, robbing her from every happiness she ever felt. Oh, how she longed for the pain to go away and leave her free to start a life without the images of Mama and Julian, lying dead and broken on a wooden board.

“Shhh, my sweetling, be still. All is well, all is done. I will make it up to you, my dearest, I swear I will.”

Those words, uttered in Fenton’s mellow baritone rumble, penetrated the misery Beth was in and she startled when she felt his strong heartbeat against her flushed cheek. She ventured to look up at him. In his eyes was a soft glow that made her heart jump. His gaze travelled over her face and settled on her mouth, and in the dim light of the room, Beth saw his lips part for just a tiny bit. The tip of his tongue slid over his finely outlined lips, awakening a response, deep in Beth’s stomach. Mesmerized, she stared at that beautiful mouth and could not stop her hands from moving upwards, along that broad, hard expanse of chest, towards his neck.

 

~~~~

 

Stephen lowered his face to Beth’s and brushed her lips with his in a divinely tender caress. She just felt so good in his arms, her fragrance muddling his senses and her soft, slender body complying to every pressure of his. Under the gentle assault of his teasing tongue, her rosebud mouth opened and her own tongue dashed to meet him. He was pleasantly surprised and instantly aroused. God knew he did not need much to be swept into arousal by any gesture she made!

She allowed him to kiss her, first gently, then, as he deepened their kiss, responding to him with a passion of her own. A small cry of delight, coming from her as he pressed closer to her, sent him reeling with burning need.

“Oh, Beth … sweet, beautiful, exquisite Beth! Are you aware of what you are doing to me? Can you not feel what I am feeling for you? I want to worship your body with mine, my beauty! God is my witness but I confess I have always burned for you, my splendid governess!”

 

~~~~

 

Through the woolly layers of rapture bestowed upon her by Stephen’s sweet kiss, Beth fought to regain her composure when she heard those last words. This was no kiss of love but one of lust! Her eyes flew open and she cast a glance to her surroundings. His bedroom, they were in his bedroom!

“What … what did you just say?” she stammered, blinking into focus.

“You know what I said, my exquisite beauty! You and I are made for each other. We were meant to give pleasure and delight to each other. It feels so good, Beth, so right to hold, kiss, caress you. Let us seal this wonderful feeling with our union, my sweet. Be my love, now, tonight!”

“I … I cannot understand … whatever do you mean?” Beth breathed, hurt blurring her voice, and still unable to comprehend what just happened, she cautiously freed herself from Fenton’s hold.

“I wanted you the minute you stepped into this house, Beth! I have wanted you for … my whole life! Your beauty, your body, your liveliness and passion, everything about you makes me ache for you, my sweet!”

Beth could swear she felt her heart shatter into pieces, the pain of it so deep and churning that she backed away, just to increase the distance between them and be safe from being charred by his hideous lust. So that was how he felt? That was what he thought her to be? A harlot?

When Fenton took a step towards her, extending his hand, Beth gave a choked cry and fled.

 

 

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.

The Counterfeit Governess – Part Eleven

books

Eleven – Frantic Searches For Answers

 

Beth knew she had to act – somehow do something sensible and to the point – but her brain seemed too numb to find answers. She had always feared the Dowager Baroness for the cruel, cold-hearted woman she was, since that long-ago day when her father had been dismissed as a vicar by Lord Septimus Fenton.

Beth, frightened with awe for the tall, stern master of Brixton Abbey as he strode into the vicarage’s tiny parlour, instinctively looked at the mistress for compassion, because she hoped the baron’s wife would somehow soften him. How she had been mistaken! Henrietta Fenton was even more unforgiving than her husband and she had looked upon the trembling fourteen-year-old vicar’s daughter with eyes full of unmitigated fury and burning revenge.

“The insult, inflicted upon our family by your daughter, vicar, is beyond redemption! We cannot allow this lying, scheming girl to live in a house where only the worshipping of the Lord must dwell. You must therefore leave our service and take the sinner far from here. You have three days to prepare yourself. Good Day!”

Those had been the dowager’s words while her husband stared broodingly ahead without meeting her father’s pleading gaze for mercy. Vicar Peter Williams, devastated by the loss of his beloved wife and son, did not riposte. He simply bowed to the will of his lord and master and left within three days for France. Beth’s aunt Lucie lived in Avignon, in the south of France, where she had been the wife of a rich wine merchant, before she had been widowed. Lucie Cordier had a beautiful house – much too large for one person – and the childless widow welcomed her brother-in-law with a warm, compassionate heart. She had been appalled to learn of her sister Camille’s tragic death and immediately began mothering her sister’s only child with a deep love.

But – what was she to do now? Beth’s thoughts, reluctantly withdrawing from the happy times she knew in France, raced through her head like a caged bird wanting to escape. Hurriedly, she withdrew to her room.

 

~~~~

 

Fenton raised surprised eyebrows at his mother’s remark.

“You, my lady mother? You will speak with Miss Williams? And what, pray tell, might you say to her?”

Henrietta was a tall, thin woman and when she drew herself up, she was quite impressive.

“I will tell her that she will be sent away, for beguiling my son with her girlish wiles, Stephen. From the moment she laid eyes on you, she set her cap on winning you. That, my son, would be the ultimate revenge, would it not? Trapping you into her bed and forcing you to act upon your honour by taking her as your wife so she will become mistress of your ancestors’ house.”

When Fenton was about to protest, Henrietta stilled him with an upheld hand.

“No! Do not think me a fool, Stephen. Your countenance betrays you, every time you look at her. You are infatuated, my son, and if you follow this foolish passion, you will soon be damned!”

Stephen Fenton held her fiery gaze with a steadiness he had a hard time summoning up.

“I am stunned, Mother, and deeply hurt that you think me shallow enough to let myself be drawn to a woman who could be dangerous to our family name. That would never do, would it not? Yet, I think you are thoroughly mistaken about Miss Williams’ character. She would never go so far as to give herself to me, just to punish me for what I did. Do you remember, Mother? I was the one who robbed her of her beloved mother and of the brother she adored.”

He fell silent, lost in memories. Henrietta saw the raw, excruciating pain sweep over his sensitive face and it tore at her very heart!

“Stephen …” Her hand touched his bleak face in a tender caress to make him look at her. His gaze turned to her, and she spoke to him with all the love she could muster.

“Stephen, my dearest boy … I know all too well that you think yourself responsible for that long-ago accident but that is where you are wrong. It was an accident, nothing more, nothing less.”

Henrietta sent her pleading gaze at her son who did not respond, not with words nor with gestures. She went on, urging, pleading, coaxing.

“I know you have been lonely since Florence died. I have felt every stab of your pain in my own heart, my sweetling. I understand your predicament but I also beg you; do not give in to this emotion! It will destroy you and it will annihilate the House of Fenton for good! Beth Williams is poison to us! Please, my son, heed my words!”

His voice was wrought with a strong emotion when he replied.

“Mother, please, do not continue in that way. I appreciate your concern but I have no need for it. I will deal with Beth Williams when and how I see fit. Now, please, leave me. The hour grows late and I still have obligations. Goodnight, Mother.”

However gentle the words, they were a dismissal and Henrietta did not press on.

 

~~~~

 

“Come in, Miss Williams, if you please?” Fenton made an effort to keep his voice level when he saw the paleness of Beth’s face as she entered his study. She was composed, he saw, but only barely so. Her dark brown eyes were filled with concern, and when she sat down on the chair in front of his desk, he noticed the slight trembling of her slender hands. What was going on behind that smooth, alabaster brow of hers?

“Miss Williams,” he began, smiling at her encouragingly, “I want you to inform me about the children’s progress, so far. I am seriously considering sending them to a good boarding school after Christmas.”

Beth blinked and swallowed with apprehension at this. She always knew her assignment was only temporary and now, she suspected it might soon end for good.

“The children are making a satisfactory enough progress, my lord. I believe they will be ready for school at the time you mention. However, I have one favour to ask of you on their behalf.”

Fenton gestured for her to continue and she did so.

“Lily and Oliver still have a strong bond with Mrs Bradley, the grandmother who raised them. I fear they will emotionally suffer from being taken from her. For Mrs Bradley, too, it will be hard. The children are her only family, my lord. I would like to prevail upon the goodness of your heart and reconsider this.”

Beth kept her own voice equally level, carefully avoiding emotion to seep through, because she knew all too well what it would mean if Fenton decided to carry out his plans for her beloved charges. She would be unemployed and she would have nowhere to go. Yet, first and foremost, she would never again see Lily and Oliver, and that was unbearable! The children had become so dear to her that a separation from them would break her very heart. She closed her eyes, not wanting Fenton to witness her sorrow. He surprised her, though, when he spoke, in soft and gentle tones.

“Why do you not admit that you would miss them, Beth? That you have come to love them, as I have done? That you do not want to be separated from them? Neither will I, Beth. Lily and Oliver will stay at Brixton Abbey for yet a considerable amount of time and so will you, Beth. I hope you will not disappoint me in this?”

Beth gaped at him in sheer bewilderment! She never expected this, never dreamed he would keep her in his employment, after what she had done! It took her a while to recover her strength of voice and respond.

“But … I do not understand! I … I was convinced that you would dismiss me, my lord, as indeed, you have a right to, after …” She could not finish her sentence because a lump of shame and fear had formed in her throat.

Fenton did not answer her right away, instead fixed her with friendly eyes.

“Beth …”, he began but stopped when he stared at the object she drew out of her skirt pocket. His diary! In astonishment, he took it from her outstretched hand. “Why?” he asked, incredulously. “Have you not read it? I want you to read it, Beth! I want you to …”

“My lord!” Beth cried out. “Please, do not continue! I … I am very grateful to you for not sending the children away and I will gladly keep the position you so graciously offer me. Now, if you will excuse me, my duties await me. Goodnight, my lord.”

She then fled the room, leaving Stephen with an intense feeling of frustration and disappointment.

He found himself trembling with the sheer fury of it! How dare she reject the honest expression of regret he had been on the verge of delivering? He had been willing to apologize to her for what he had done to her and her family, by Jove!

Anger wrenching in his chest, he bounded after her with long, distance-eating strides.

 

 

 

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.

The Counterfeit Governess – Part Ten

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Ten – Complications

 

The dowager’s words rang clearly, and Beth heard them as she was about to step into the room. She froze in horror. Dispose? Did the dowager know what Beth was up to? Had she recognized her? Or had Fenton told her about her? Too many questions, too little answers! She looked at Stephen and was surprised to see a look of pure dismay on his face, yet he said nothing in response to his mother’s quip. Instead, he walked toward her and bowed, his mocking smile firmly in place.

“Ah, Mademoiselle Guillaume, I trust you received the book you were looking for earlier? It was not hard to find, once I remembered where I put it in the first place. That was, after I recovered from my ‘fall’, that is.”

He said this in a low voice, so that his mother would not hear the words. His bright, blue-grey eyes burned with suppressed anger now, and Beth swallowed, unable to reply.

Fenton left her standing there as if she were a servant he just scolded and dismissed. He turned to the twins, greeting them in a cordial way, and accompanying them to his mother so that they could pay their respects to her. Beth watched in utter astonishment as the dowager – usually quite stern with the children – now began a friendly conversation with them. Lily and Oliver seemed to respond spontaneously as always and soon, their laughter rang through the room. Beth smiled, her heart warming when she saw the children’s happy faces.

“What I would not give for that smile to be directed at me, Beth,” Stephen Fenton’s quiet voice sounded right behind her. Beth had not noticed him standing there and she startled. She also did not understand the meaning of his words, unless he meant them to be mocking. A ready answer would not materialise in her brain, so she just looked up at him, trying to keep her countenance bland. And why had there been a catch in his tone, as if he felt genuinely envious over her attachment to the children?

“What? No scolding reply to my friendly remark? How extraordinary, Mademoiselle Guillaume!” Fenton bent over to her so that the breath of his words tickled her ear when he spoke.

“You will be so good as to notice that I mean to keep up your little charade, my dear. If my mother knew what you are up to, she would have you on the streets in the blink of an eye.”

At that moment, Raleigh glided into the room to announce dinner and Beth was, once again, saved from having to answer. Dinner was actually quite pleasant, the two children being relaxed and behaving sweetly and naturally with the baron and his mother. Fenton amused the twins with stories of his childhood, occurring while he was home from Eton for the holidays. He spoke of his father, Sir Septimus, and the close relationship they seemed to have had. The previous baron apparently spent a good deal of his time with his only son and heir, fishing, hunting and instructing him on estate matters. To Beth’s astonishment, Fenton’s words rang with deep respect and genuine love for his father. He clearly seemed to have suffered a loss when the baron died.

When the dowager chimed in with funny stories about her son at Oliver’s own ten years of age, Beth’s astonishment grew into utter bewilderment. Henrietta, Dowager Baroness of Brixton Abbey, telling witticisms? Soon Lily and Oliver were merrily laughing and telling stories themselves, and the four of them were having a jolly good time. Once again, Beth was excluded from their company but it did not bother her. To watch the children growing closer to their father and grandmother, was a pleasant sight to her.

When the meal ended and the dowager rose to retire, Fenton addressed her courteously.

“My Lady, I would be very much obliged to you if you would stay with me for a short time. There are some matters in which I could use your advice.” Henrietta nodded and sat down again whereupon Fenton turned to Beth.

“Mademoiselle Guillaume, I have some new instructions regarding my children’s upbringing so I will need you to come down again, when you have seen to your charges. Meet me in the library in half an hour.” It was an order, not a request, and it stung. Beth had no choice but to curtsy and leave to put the children to bed.

 

~~~~

 

Stephen’s thoughtful gaze followed Beth as she left the dining room, her back ramrod straight and her head held high. The sway of her hips when she turned away in anger had been particularly tantalizing in its utter defiance of him, so much that his cock had stirred as a violent shock of need stabbed through him.

Ah! But that was only one of his many problems, was it not? This powerful urge of him to bed this mysterious woman he knew for so long and yet, knew not at all. The frustration he felt when in her company, with that annoying ability of hers to challenge him with every word she spoke.

A sudden cough from his mother spun him back into reality and he hastened to apologize. His mother’s eyebrows rose in mocking surprise.

“I am astonished, My Lord, but you have nothing to apologize for. Yet, you seemed to be in a totally different place, just now, and it occurred to me that you might want to come back to this one and inform me about why you need my advice.”

Stephen turned away from the dowager’s keen gaze and, involuntary, gave a deep sigh. Then, realizing what he had just done, he felt his cheeks grow darker in dismay. Drat! His mother still had the power to upset him like if he had been a little boy! He squared his shoulders, looked directly at her and spoke.

“You should maintain a modicum of politeness toward Mademoiselle Guillaume, Mother. She is working miracles with the twins, and I want her to feel at home at Brixton Hall, at least until Oliver and Lily are ready to be sent to a boarding school.”

“Do not patronize nor underestimate me, Stephen. Did you think I had not recognized Beth Williams after all these years? Why is she still in your employment? She cannot have returned solely to be a governess to your bastard children. I am convinced that she has other purposes, one of them most certainly wanting revenge for her relatives’ death.”

“I do apologize most emphatically, Mother, for I was indeed patronizing,” Stephen replied swiftly, amused by his mother’s astuteness. He could have seen that coming, knowing how smart and observant she was. “Yes, you are right. Miss Guillaume is Beth Williams, and I think she is looking for evidence about our involvement with her family members’ accident. Beth knows I was the one driving the vehicle and she rightly holds me responsible for the accident.”

“Well, then you must put an end to this, Stephen! Dismiss her, immediately!”

The dowager looked at her son with firm determination, trying to convey the feeling onto him, but somehow, she knew she had failed. Stephen was smiling faintly, and his gaze took a faraway quality.

“No, Mother, I have something entirely different in mind for Beth, although I have no inkling on how I must succeed in my mission.”

It then hit Henrietta like a blow to the stomach! Stephen was infatuated with the wretched governess, and it was all Henrietta could do not to slap him in the face and bring him down to earth again! Yet, then she saw the hurt in his eyes and knew what she had to do.

“Shall I speak to her, My Lord?” Henrietta kept her voice level and her face bland, even when Stephen turned to her in bewilderment.

 

~~~~

 

Found out! She was found out, not only by Stephen but – oh, horror! – also by the hostile dowager baroness! Beth stood rooted to the spot in the corridor just outside Fenton’s library where she had eavesdropped upon the two. On an impulse, she had sent the children upstairs on their own and returned to know what the baron had in mind for his charges.

Instead, she just heard the worst possible thing the future could have in store for her, banishment from Brixton Abbey and Stephen Fenton!