Last Chapter next week
Chapter Twenty Nine
Nicholas sat for a while reading the paper. He decided to fix himself a drink, but there was no whisky which was the first time he’d ever known that to be missing from John’s bar. He settled for a scotch as his nerves were shot, too.
He walked over to Margaret, wondering if he should find something to cover her. As he looked down, he noticed something coming from her mouth.
“Not again,” he said out loud and hurried to a policeman in the yard.
“Fetch Dr. Donaldson and be quick about it.” He returned to Margaret’s side.
Branson drove the coach on the same route he had done only an hour before, pulling under the same trees near cottage one.
“Do you want me, Guv?”
“No, stay with the team. In case anything happens to one of us, you’ll be ready to move quickly,” John told him.
Branson watched the little he could in the moonlight, as the men slowly made their way to the cottage. Due to the time of night, they followed the road, almost fearless and undaunted in their task. A strange feeling came over Branson as they looked like men from the Wild West, he’d heard about, walking side-by-side into town for a showdown, he thought it was called. These things didn’t happen in England. They weren’t even taking safety measures to hide as far as he could see.
Once the men were nearing cottage three, they headed into the wooded area for cover. Branson jumped out of the box and walked the team to cottage two. If he could get close enough, he would tie the team near cottage two and follow them. If at all possible, he wanted to watch this and see how well his setup had worked.
Branson crept close to cottage three since they would not be looking behind. Maxwell was the one that took the first pass of cottage four. Branson saw Adam restraining his Guv. Frederick was itching to run, too.
Maxwell disappeared to the other side of the cottage and out of sight. Frederick, John, and Adam all followed to cottage four, bent low as they ran to it. Everyone seemed to find a window to peer through. Branson moved close to cottage four as it seemed they were headed for the door. He had one pistol with him, so if seen, his Master would think he was there if they needed him.
The men entered the room and were quite cheated out of the fact that the man was drunk and passed out. John wanted to have a close look at him even though the man was lying in his own vomit. John pulled him by his hair and sat him back in the chair, hoping to wake him.
He waited only a moment and said, “This is for my wife and old Tom,” John pointed his pistol and fired into Hartford’s groin. The body fell forward again, and Frederick then walked to the corpse. He lifted him up as John had, and said, “This is for my loving sister, who you brutally mistreated because of me. Frederick pressed his pistol to Hartford’s heart and fired.
Hartford was still in an upright position now, and Maxwell walked to a spot across the table from him. “This is for the disrespect for a uniform worn by time-honored heroes.” Maxwell placed one directly in the center of his forehead.
He stepped away, and Adam came to the table. He raised his small pistol, but his hands were trembling. John walked over to him and said, “Adam, you don’t have to do this.”
“Yes, I do.” Adam raised the small pistol and aimed. “This is for my failure to keep Margaret safe, as I had promised my best friend.” He fired, in no particular area. He dropped his pistol and walked out of the door.
Branson ran back for the coach and reined it to cottage four. Adam was waiting. Frederick emerged from the cottage and vomited off to the side. John walked over to him and patted him on the shoulder. Branson wasn’t sure but it looked like his master was holding his head a bit higher. He wore a look of satisfaction. The Captain looked unmoved by the whole ordeal and carried Adam’s small gun in his hand. The men stood in a small circle and shook each other’s hands.
“Mission accomplished,” said the Captain.
They entered the coach. Branson didn’t seem to hear any words being spoken after that.
“Home Branson,” John said, being the last one to enter.
“Donaldson arrived and took a preliminary examination where Margaret lay. “Nicholas, could you carefully carry her up to her bed. She’s reinjured her rib if not broken it completely this time. Just try to keep her straight out in your arms, don’t bend her.”
Nicholas eased her into his arms as Donaldson led the way, lighting lamps as he went. Nicholas had to turn sideways going up the stairs in order not to bend her. He concluded that she was unconscious and not sleeping. He carried her to the bed and laid her down, gently. “Can I do anymore for you, doctor?”
“Thank you, Nicholas, not at this time. Please close the door on your way out.”
As Donaldson began to disrobe her, he instantly noticed she did not have her rib corset on. He looked around the room and saw it lying on a chair. He then began to examine all of her ribs. It was clear it was the same rib she had cracked. He checked her mouth for any other blood. He poured some laudanum into her mouth, and she seemed to swallow it. Retrieving the rib brace, he rolled her slightly to fit it under her.
Arriving home, there would be no celebration for a job well executed. Adam and Maxwell got into Adams’s coach and left. John and Frederick came to the house.
As John walked into the parlor with Frederick, Nicholas was standing there with a look that John knew was trouble.
“Margaret?” John asked immediately.
“Donaldson’s with her. He thinks she’s reinjured that rib.
John ran to the steps and Frederick ran his fingers through his hair pacing the room.
“I don’t know how she did it, Fred. She was lying on the sofa when I arrived. I thought she was sleeping. I went to cover her and saw a spot of blood on her lip again. I’m sure it’s not life threatening. How did your mission work out?”
“Satisfactorily, for all of us. The man will never bother anyone again.”
“I wish I could have been there. How about a drink, Fred?”
“I can use one. Make one for John, as well.”
“I’m way ahead of you, lad.”
John burst through the door of his bedchamber.
“Must you make so much noise, John?” Donaldson stated.
“What’s happened? Will she be all right?” John was in a state of anxiety. “We had our first disagreement today, and I haven’t talked to her all day. I’ve felt terrible. You don’t think . . .”
“No, John, she didn’t fall on her sword for you. She was either bumped real hard or fell. She will be fine. It’s just that this healing process has to start over. Since we’re only dealing with a rib, I think you should get that nurse back, and I’ll leave her here. I’ll be by twice a day to check on the internal bleeding.”
John watched as Donaldson hooked the corset on her. He watched her lovely breasts jiggle as Donaldson worked all the hooks. He was struggling a bit.
“John, don’t try to put her in a night dress. Just leave her like this for the night. She was unconscious, but I have given her some laudanum. She will not wake until morning.”
Donaldson rose from the bedside and snapped his case closed and proceeded to the door. “I’ll show myself out.”
“Thank you, Donaldson.”
John sat beside her, looking at his lovely broken angel. His eyes welled, and he wept. The whole day had been almost unbearable, and then he came home to this. Well . . . this was the end of bad times. Tomorrow they would begin a new life devoid of fear. John pulled the bed linens down and returned to carry Margaret to her side. He sat with her a bit longer before returning to Frederick and Nicholas.
“What a way to end the day, ‘ey, John,” asked Frederick, handing him his drink. “Donaldson told us how she is. My sister was a crazy little girl. I guess because I was an older brother she thought she should be able to do what I did. Over the years I’ve tried to figure out when we stopped being even.”
“What do you mean by that?” John asked, sipping his scotch.
She could do almost anything I could do: climb trees, jump ponds plus other stuff. She never was able to beat me because of her size, not her age. Even though we’re three years apart, she seemed to reach the maturity while I reached the muscle at the same time. I even think she beat me through puberty,” Frederick laughed.
“Speaking of being young, and please don’t tell Margaret I am telling you this.” John looked at Nicholas, too.
“It was yesterday morning, bloody hell, how do I say this? Let’s just say we had a very big laugh. I was lying on the bed, while your sister, dressed in her night dress, got out of bed, and I cannot remember why. There was some conversation, and we started to laugh.” John laughed just thinking about it. Frederick and Nicholas were all ears.
“We were laughing most heartily, and your sister put one hand over her mouth to stop the laughing, and one hand between her legs, like a child, will do when they have to urinate. Well, the laughter got worse with her predicament. She didn’t know there was a chamber pot for emergencies. She started jiggling like a child, and I am afraid I was no help at all. It was too delightful a sight to miss, and I was rolling on the bed with laughter. Well, as you can imagine, water began to run down her legs. The look on her face was priceless. She looked down at the floor, unbelieving of the puddle she was standing in. She was my little girl for a minute.” John smiled at the remembrance.
“Then she got embarrassed, and I was able to control some of my laughter. I found a towel and mopped her up and the floor. I told her it probably wouldn’t leak to the floor below and the laughter started again, at least for me.
“Now the only reason I am telling this story is because I was sure she said something that sounded like ooh-ooh. She denied it, but I told her I heard her say it. She refused to tell me. I told her I would walk around all day saying it until she told me what she meant. She refused, so I told her I would ask you. I see a grin on your face. Apparently, you are familiar with that phrase.”
“All too familiar, I’m afraid. For her, it would mean her womanly area. When my mother said it to me, it meant, of course, penis. My mother never referred to private body parts as their real words. I think Margaret and I went on for years wondering why we were different down there and mother called us both the same. We finally, had to understand what mother had done on our own. I grew out of it; apparently, my sister slipped back when she said that. So, she was just referring to her more feminine part as she urinated on the floor.”
Everyone broke out laughing. It felt good to laugh, John thought.
“Thank you, Fred. I will wait for just the right time to spring that on her. I am sure she thought I wouldn’t ask or that you wouldn’t remember.”
“I think I’d like to turn in. Is it all right if I stay here?”
“Of course, Fred. You are always welcome. Never ask. Just find a room and bunk in.”
“I’m on my way, too,” said Nicholas. “I’m sorry about your wife. I feel bad thinking she was asleep when I arrived, and she had been unconscious.”
“Nicholas, you couldn’t have known. She’ll be fine. Go home. Get some rest. Tomorrow starts a brand new life for a lot of us.”
John climbed into bed that night determined to keep his hands to himself. He didn’t succeed.
John woke early. Margaret looked like she hadn’t moved all night. Startled with that, he listened to her breathing. It was faint but regular. He rose from the bed, performed his morning ritual, and went downstairs to the privy. From there he went to the steps for his paper and shouted good morning to cook. “I think we’ll be eating late this morning. Mrs. Thornton has reinjured her rib and is still sleeping from the medicine. Could you bring a tray of tea to our room?”
“Yes, Guv. Right away, Guv.” Cook was upset to hear about the Missus.
“Has Mr. Hale been around to eat yet?”
“Yes, sir. He left early, saying he would be back later.”
John carried his newspaper upstairs. He would not leave Margaret’s side until she woke. He made sure she looked decent for Jane or Cook to enter the room. John pulled the small chair over beside Margaret and opened the paper.
The headlines read:
Unidentified Man Found Slain
Believed to be the man being hunted for the strangulation of Tom Douglas.
John smiled at what must have been the news release given out by the precinct, in care of Detective Boyle. Boyle knew who the unidentified man was and it was a foregone conclusion that he killed Tom Douglas. Hartford would have Tom’s clothing to connect him. As he started to read the article, he heard Margaret’s hoarse voice.
“What are you smiling at, husband?”
“It seems that the police have found the body of Captain Hartford, although, here, it says, unidentified.”
“And you think it’s him?”
“Yes, I do. Since he was believed to have been here and we feel he killed old Tom, it has to be him. You never know, though, where these newspapers get their stories from.”
“It will ease my mind when it is verified.”
John leaned in and kissed her.
“You’re not mad at me anymore?” she asked huskily.
“Margaret, what did you do to yourself, yesterday? Donaldson says you broke your rib this time. We have to start all over again. Donaldson will stop in twice a day to check for internal bleeding. He doesn’t seem too concerned about that. If we get the nurse back, you can stay home.”
“I don’t have to stay in bed, do I?”
“He did not say that you did, but he has left strong medication to take, while the pain is the worst. How did you do that?”
Margaret paused, deciding whether to lie to her husband or not. “I fell, John. I tripped over something.”
“Outside. I was foolish and did not put on the rib corset yesterday. Branson carried me in because I was winded, but we didn’t know I had broken anything.” Margaret was thankful that John seemed to accept that as being enough detail. She hadn’t lied.
“I’d like to get up, now.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I am very sure. You will have to help me.”
“I am going to skip the wash bowl this morning. Maybe I can wash my face and wash my teeth, but not the rest. I know I cannot bend over.”
“A wise choice, my dear.”
“Will you get me a clean undergarment?”
“You’re going to let me help you with that?”
“Only if you are not mad at me anymore. You never did answer me before.”
“I am not mad anymore. I was hurt, not mad. That is now behind us, never to happen again.”
“Somehow, I knew you would come up with a good answer.” Margaret made an attempt to smile.
John walked to the dresser and found what she needed. He helped her to a standing position. John sat back in his chair while Margaret held his shoulder.
“Do I have to close my eyes, this time?” John laughed.
“Don’t make me laugh John Thornton. No, you don’t. Just do not do anything unexpected.”
“Like what?” he smarmed.
“Oh, I don’t know. I just read these things. I don’t know if they’re true.”
“Back to the randy men, are you?”
“It’s the only book I have.”
“Since you will be sitting down for a few weeks, we shall buy you lots of books. Are you ready, because I am.”
Margaret tried not to laugh at that.
John untied the garment. “Are you sure you don’t want to put on the long slip first?”
“Not today. Only my dress which I can step into.”
John pulled her undergarment down, and she was exposed to him. His heart was hammering, but it would just have to hammer. There was an ache in his groin that he would need to adjust quickly. Margaret stepped out of her garment parting herself slightly.
“Margaret, I am going to have to stand for a minute. Can you balance?”
“Yes. Is something wrong?”
“Nothing’s really wrong. In fact, it is quite natural.”
“Then why have you turned your back. I am standing her almost naked, and you start adjusting your trousers. Oh! I see.”
“For his own sake, John looked away, and he slid the clean garment up her legs and tied it.
John went for the dress that she had on yesterday. He carried it over, ready to place it over her head.
“No, John. I wish to burn this dress.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that. Let me see what’s in the wardrobe.”
There was only one clean frock left. “I will have a dressmaker in this week to start fitting you for some new clothes.”
Margaret started down the stairs as she had been doing, but the exertion took her breath, expanding her chest and that was painful. John, seeing the grimace, lifted her down the steps.
Jane passed through the room, and Margaret called out to her.
“Yes, Miss. How can I help you?”
“Do you think you could do something with my hair after I eat? I cannot lift my arms.”
“I would be most happy to, mum.” Jane left with that.
“I think I’ll write Dixon today. Are you still all right with her coming to stay?”
“Yes, whatever you want, love.”
“You keep saying that and I can’t have it . . . yet.”
John kissed her again before seating her at the table.
“What does the paper have to say about the unidentified man and where is Frederick?”
“He was gone before I woke. I’ve told him he is always welcome here. I do not expect him to tell me where he is going or how long he will be gone. He’s his own man. You, however, I want to know where you go.”
Margaret was not sure if he was jesting, but she did not want to take a chance and have another day like yesterday.
“The paper says he was found almost two miles outside of town in the old Cottage Village.”
“Before the mills came, this land was owned by an Earl, and he had tenants on his land. They worked fields and raised animals for income for the property belonging to the Earl. He eventually sold it to the town of Milton that was beginning to spread. The settlers, or crofters, as they were called, had to move on. Most came to work for the mills.”
“I see. Does it say much else?”
“Nothing much. The body is at the coroner’s, and they are hoping someone will come forward to identify him.”
“John, I could identify him, you know. He’s dead now. Maybe his family would like the body.”
“Captain Lenox and Adam Bell could identify him, too. I do not want you involved in any of this.”
John carried their cups of tea to the small tables and helped Margaret. He handed her the front section, and he took the mills again. This time there was a little interruption. John was sinking into the warm arms of home and family. Settled. He was settled in his life.
“John I have yet to see this house. Is there anywhere to lie down on this floor?”
“Yes, there is a second guest room on this floor. My mother used to sleep in that room. I do not know if Fredric slept in there last night or downstairs. You want to lie down?”
“Yes. I think I would like some medicine and a little more rest. I won’t undress, just lay on the bed.”
John hopped up and checked the room. Frederick had not slept in it.
“You can rest in the room down this small hall.”
John helped her to the room and went for her medicine upstairs. Margaret took it, and John made her comfortable lying back.
“Do you want me to stay with you,” he asked finding a small blanket in a drawer.
“No, do any work that you have to. I promise not to do anything foolish. Maybe you could get me a bell if I need Jane to help me or go find you.”
“I’ll find a bell, but I am not going anywhere.”
John left wondering where he could find a bell in the house. He remembered there had been one as his mother failed in her later weeks. It was in the buffet with the sewing basket, he thought.
Walking down the hall to the dining room, he found it. Returning to Margaret, he sat beside her on the bed. He leaned towards her and looked into her eyes. “Everything is good for us, Margaret. Today is a new day. Today is a new life for us. I love you with all my heart and soul.” And then he kissed her passionately.
John left the door open and went to his study. He pulled his pistol out of the drawer and cleaned it all down. He oiled it and the matching one, setting them both away like new. When Margaret was asleep, he would run over to the office and bring back work he could do at home.
Finishing that, he went to the kitchen to advise Jane and Cook on Margaret’s new situation. He asked if either knew where Margaret’s brother was, but neither had any idea.
He was returning to the sitting room when a knock came to the front door. He was halfway expecting everyone and no one. When opening the door, there stood a young lad with a note being handed to him.
“Is a reply needed, he asked the chap.”
“No, sir. Good day, sir.”
John watched the lad run out through the yard. He turned the note over in his hand as he walked up the steps. He glanced in on Margaret. She was fast asleep.
Finding his usual chair, he sat and broke the seal.
Detective Boyle requests the presence of John Thornton, Margaret Thornton and a man known only as Branson to attend a private coroner’s inquest in Courtroom C, this afternoon at four.
Respectfully, Inspector Mason
John had to laugh. This detective Boyle really had a way with dramatics. John and Boyle knew there was no such thing as a private coroner’s inquest. He had to imagine that all the others received one, too. Another knock on the door.
John bet himself it was Adam. He was right. “Come in Adam. I think I know why you are here.” John held up the note in his hand.
“Yes, I got mine a bit ago.”
“What are we to do, do you think?”
“Come sit, Adam.” John went down the hall and closed Margaret’s door.
Adam sat in the chair opposite of where John always sat. John returned from wherever he had gone.
“Where is Margaret? Can we talk?”
“She fell yesterday. This time breaking the cracked rib. She is in the other room sleeping.”
“That poor dear girl. She’s really had it rough for months, it seems. Perhaps, since she left Milton.”
“Adam, there is no such thing as a ‘private coroner inquest’. Boyle is going to have fun with us, I do believe. Look at these notes. They look like invitations to a play. I plan on confessing.”
“You can’t, John. I’m the one to confess. I have very little time and how could you ruin Margaret’s life?”
“Nothing is going to happen to us. There is no proof.”
John went on with other reasons why he knew there would be no arrests made.
“Have you seen Frederick, today?” John asked.
“Yes, not too long ago. I told him about this inquest thing because I didn’t think they could find him. I don’t know what he’s up to.”
“I have an idea, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t need him. Margaret just asked about him, that is all.”
John and Adam talked well into the afternoon, with Adam eating Margaret’s portion of the midday meal. John was sure she would want little to eat. Adam was offered a scotch, and he accepted. John realized he was out of whisky when he went to his bar. He wondered where it had gone. Perhaps, Frederick drank whisky, but he didn’t think so.
It was just after two in the afternoon when John heard the bell.
“Adam, that means Margaret is awake. I need to help her out of bed.”
“You go on, John,” Adam said, swallowing the contents of his glass. “I’ll see you at four.”
John went to Margaret. “How is my sweet wife?”
“I am doing all right, I believe. Can you help me up?”
John steered her towards the dining room table and seated her.
“I let Adam have your portion of the meal. I did not think you would want much.”
“Yes, you are right. What did you have?”
“You know, Adam and I were so busy talking, I don’t even remember what I ate.”
John went to the kitchen steps and called for Cook.
“Could you fix my wife a very small portion of whatever we had for lunch?
“Right away, sir.”
“What were you two so busy talking about?”
John slid the note to her. She picked it up and read it.
“We don’t have much time,” Margaret remarked. I need Jane to do my hair.”
“Margaret, you are not going to this.”
“It says I am.”
“Well, I do not want you to go.”
“John,” Margaret said with a sigh, “I am going. This will be what puts all this behind me . . . us. Can you not see that?”
“But your injury . . .”
“Will have to suffer a little more for a greater reward. When you said, ‘I cannot deny you anything’, was that just words?”
Margaret had him there.
“Yes, you are right. I did say that. I did not think you would hold it over my head when I want to protect you, though.”
“I know. I know what you meant when you said it. I don’t want another day like yesterday. I think it was the worst day of my life.”
“I can agree there.”
“I know you can, John.”
John let that strange sounding answer, pass.
Cook brought a small plate. “Cook, could you find Jane for Margaret?”
“Yes, sir. With two of you in the house, I think her routine has been thrown off. I’ll find her.”