I Killed Him – pt 22

Chapter Twenty Two

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Can she let me go?”

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

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

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

“No, Guv.”

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

“Yes, Guv. Where to?”

“The Grand, Branson, the Grand.”

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is anything wrong, John?” asked Bell.

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you, Adam.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret stretched out her feet and wiggled her toes.

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

“Yes, I will wear your shoes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you want to go to the cobbler?”

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

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

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

“John?” Margaret said, shyly.

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

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

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

“No, I would say it’s divided.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“An appointment?”

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

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

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

“I want to go,” demanded Margaret.

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

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

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

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

“Can we continue this discussion another time?”

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

“I would like to try.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“Not now, thank you.”

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

“Yes, I have!”

“And?”

“He will not listen to me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dinner is served,” announced Jane.

 

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

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

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

The Counterfeit Governess – Part Sixteen

books

Sixteen – Coming Closer

 

Struggling for balance, Beth gripped the edge of the desk and prayed her legs would not buckle beneath her. All the blood seemed to drain from her face and the air from her lungs. It should be declared a crime to be so overwhelmingly handsome as Stephen was looking just now, she thought. His proud bearings, his powerful body, his beloved face, eyes as blue as ice on a sunny winter day, eyes scorching hers.

No, she was wrong. Eyes softening suddenly as if … no, that could not be!

Before her incredulous gaze, he bowed deeply to her, taking off his hat, and spoke in a very respectful tone.

“Miss Williams, ma’am. Forgive me for intruding on your privacy unannounced but there was no one about and the outer door stood ajar.”

Somehow she managed to curtsy and allow some sound to escape from her frozen lips.

“My Lord Brixton …”

Her voice broke suddenly when speaking his name, and all air seemed to be lacking in the entire room. His eyes grew darker with concern and he took a step toward her, taking her arm to offer her some support.

“I daresay you need to sit down, ma’am. Here, let me guide you to …”

“No!” In sudden panic, Beth tore herself loose and leaned back against the desk. She could not bear the softness of his tone nor the concern in his voice. It could not be genuine, surely? No, she would not delude herself in thinking he somehow might care for her.

“What are you doing here, my lord?” she said, her voice wavering.  “Why have you come? If it is your intention to take away the children, it will only be over my dead body!”

Fenton’s face grew grim, and his mouth became a thin line of disapproval, but he did not move.

“Miss Williams,” he said, his voice rigid with suppressed emotion. “I have no such intention, I assure you. I have no right to take Lily and Oliver away from their legal guardian and I am extremely sorry to have done just that, a few months ago. I will apologize to Mrs Bradley if she will grant me to visit her.”

Beth watched him as he closed his eyes and she heard the distress in his voice when he went on.

“The truth of the matter is, Miss Williams, that I miss them. I have come to love them over the past few months and so has my mother, the dowager baroness. I beg you to listen to what I have come to ask you. Please, hear me out.”

Her heart made a sudden somersault when his gaze bore into hers with burning intensity, all unexpectedly! All Beth could do, was to make a small hand gesture, permitting him to continue.

“My proposition is that you and Mrs Bradley and the children all come to celebrate Christmas at Brixton Abbey – as our guests, that is. My mother has a habit of hosting a small dinner party on Christmas Day for our neighbours and for a few of our estate employees, such as Mr Robinson, my steward and his wife, Mr Tremayne and his wife who run the Home Farm and Mr Darton, my game keeper. After Boxing Day, you will be free to do whatever you like, Miss Williams. So are the children. If they choose to go and live with their grandmother, I will not be opposed to it. If – on the other hand – they prefer to stay at Brixton Abbey, I will ask Mrs Bradley permission to have them be declared my offspring. I fervently wish to give them my name and be their father, Miss Williams.”

 

~~~~

 

She must have heard wrongly, Beth thought. Stephen Fenton, Baron Brixton, was humbly asking them to come and spend Christmas at the Abbey. He was prepared to give his name to his bastard children and make them legally his. He was even prepared to let their grandmother have the final word.

“My lord,” she croaked, all confusion, “if that is your wish, then I suggest I take you up to see Mrs Bradley. As for myself, I must decline your kind invitation. I cannot, in all honesty, be a guest at Brixton Abbey since I was your employee and left your employment without giving notice. People would talk, and I do not want that. It would be very bad for the children.”

“You did not leave my employment, Miss Williams. On the contrary, it was I who drove you away through my outrageous behaviour, all for which I humbly beg your forgiveness. You too are free to act as you wish, Miss Williams. You can either come back as their governess, should Mrs Bradley deem it suitable that Lily and Oliver were to stay at the Abbey, or you can stay with us during the Christmas festivities as my esteemed guest and friend. After the holy days, you can do as you please. If you wish to find some other employment, I would gladly and wholeheartedly give you the best of references. However, Miss Williams, I would hate to see you disappear from my life forever.”

Beth stared at him, her mind reeling under what she had just heard.

“I … I do not understand you, my lord,” she stammered. “Your … guest? Your … friend? How can that be since I was a mere governess in your house?”

He smiled so sweetly that her heart once again did that strange flip-flop inside her chest.

“Miss Williams, I do not wish to explain anything. I do not want to influence you in any way. Think about my proposition and act accordingly to your conscience.”

He bowed again and left the room, leaving Beth in utter confusion and turmoil.

 

~~~~

 

Stephen watched from his library window as his carriage rolled over the Abbey’s driveway towards the front of the house. While it performed a perfect half circle to round up before the main entrance and came to a standstill exactly on the right spot, he felt a thrill of something stir his heart. His footman opened the door and lowered the steps while extending a hand which was taken by a slender black-gloved hand. And there she was, Beth, his wayward governess, looking up to the windows behind which he was standing. Stephen raised a hand and smiled. She did not respond to either gesture, he noticed. Instead, she followed Raleigh inside. Lily and Oliver jumped from the carriage, all laughter and merriment. They saw him and their voices rang with joy as they waved and shouted.

“Papa! Papa! Oh, Papa, how we missed you!”

That did it. Stephen was suddenly running down the stairs toward the hall where the twins jumped into his arms, and he clasped them close and kissed them! His heart almost burst with joy and happiness. He had missed them so badly … oh, how he had missed them …

“Oh, my dear darlings!” he said in a choked voice, swallowing at the lump in his throat.

 

~~~~

 

Beth had not wanted to come back to the Abbey. It had been Mrs Bradley who convinced her it was best for the children that she did, and Beth knew she had been perfectly right, of course. Lord Brixton’s protection was vital to Lily and Oliver. Nevertheless, Beth had been frightfully worried when she witnessed Mrs Bradley signing the agreement with the baron, in which he granted the children recognition and gave them his name. It was such a final step. Lily and Oliver were not solely family to Mrs Bradley anymore.

However, it was a solid agreement in which Lily and Oliver were established as the baron’s heirs and officially proclaimed his offspring. Fenton had not even demanded that the children live at the Abbey yet expressed the fervent wish that would be allowed to do so by Mrs Bradley if they wanted it. He even offered that Mrs Bradley come and live at the Abbey, should the children wish it. But the old lady had refused, and secretly, Beth felt very relieved. There still would be a place of refuge in case she needed one.

Now, Beth was horribly shaken by what she had just witnessed. Lily and Oliver seemed very fond of Fenton and he of them. She certainly had not been prepared for this and she did not know how to deal with it. Yet, she had another surprise coming when the dowager hurried into the hall and embraced the children with equal fondness and what seemed to be happiness!

While his mother took the children upstairs, Fenton bowed and extended a hand to Beth.

“Miss Williams, allow me to express my joy on seeing you here with my twins. I am so glad you have accepted my invitation. How is Mrs Bradley? Is she settled in her cottage again?”

“Indeed, my lord, she is but she is not well. She caught a nasty cold, a few days ago, and I will need to go and see her. Ruby Merton offered to take care of her but I feel it is my duty to be at Mrs Bradley’s side, just now.”

Fenton nodded, an earnest expression on his face.

“Allow me to escort you there, Miss Williams. We will call on Dr Forrester, who is my personal physician. I insist that he examine Mrs Bradley so that she may receive the best of treatments.”

Beth had never seen him so concerned nor so generous and she hesitated, not sure how to deal with this new attitude of his.

“Please, Miss Williams, give me some credit. Do not look as if I were to have mischief on my mind. Mrs Bradley is not that young anymore and colds can be serious at her age.”

Beth bowed her head in acquiescence and they both left for the village.

When they arrived at Mrs Bradley’s cottage, Ruby Merton could only offer them sad news.

 

 

 

 

 

I Killed Him – pt 21

Chapter Twenty One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is that, John?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I weep because I am happy, not sad.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not wearing any perfume.”

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

“John, is it hard?”

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

“Getting all the knots and tangles out.”

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

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

“Yes, mostly.”

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

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

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

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

“Would you leave it down for me?”

“Yes, if you wish it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t know what it is?”

“Do you want me to tell you?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Can we talk about this?” John asked.

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

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

“Personal advances?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean, difficult?”

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

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

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

“I know very little about such things.”

“Well, I would imagine your husband does.”

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

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

“I have no shoes,” Margaret declared embarrassingly.

“No shoes!”

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

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

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

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

“Good morning, wife,” he said.

“Good morning, Miss Margaret,” said Nicholas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Marg__.”

“Wait!” she paused.

John gave her his full attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But she did.

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

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

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

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

The Counterfeit Governess – Part Fifteen

books

Fifteen – Struggling

 

“Confound it, man!” Fenton glared at Ben Merton in frustration and raked his hand through his hair in sudden misery. “Does it not occur to you that I might be worried about my children? That I am concerned if they are safe, fed, clothed, cared for?” He realized with a shock that it was true! He did worry about his children, even though he had never done so before. But now, at this very moment, he needed to know how they fared.

Merton, however,  stood his ground, an expression of profound stubbornness upon his ruddy face.

“They’re with their granny and with Miss Beth, melord. Nothing will ‘appen to ‘em. They’ll be cared for because Miss Beth loves ‘em like they’d be her own.”

And she does love them, indeed, Stephen thought. If he witnessed anything at all in the past months, it was Beth’s genuine love for Lily and Oliver. But how was he going to put proof of his own love for them into this man’s thick skull?

“Mr Merton,” his mother’s soft voice sounded behind him. “Please, Mr Merton, if you know where they are, tell us. I am their grandmother and I miss them dearly.” Yet another stunning realisation hit Stephen in the guts! His mother was pleading a commoner for help? Never had he thought to behold that!

Henrietta, her eyes glistening in a pale face, turned toward Ruby and took her hand. “Mrs Merton, you are a mother yourself. Surely, you understand how much I am suffering for the loss of them?”

Ruby Merton glanced at her husband who stood there like a rock, his brawny arms crossed over his chest, his face impassive. Yet Stephen could see a softening in the man’s eyes when his wife spoke his name. “Ben?” Merton looked at her and then, finally nodded.

“My lord,” Ruby said, “you saved our little boy from the fire and I will be forever in your debt for that. My husband made a promise to Mrs Bradley but I did not. For my Johnny’s sake, I will tell you. Mrs Bradley is in Manchester.”

 

~~~~

 

Stephen Fenton arrived in Oxford Street, Manchester three weeks before Christmas 1819 around tea time. The snow had been falling steadily during his journey and now it clung to his black greatcoat in lumps of ice because the temperature had dropped considerably as soon as dust had set in. Grateful to have found a suitable inn that bore the not too original name of “The Queen’s Head”, he assured himself that his horse was taken care of properly before entering the tap room for a pint of ale. Behind the counter, a short, burly innkeeper was serving a few patrons, all sturdy workers in drab dark blue clothes, lounging around the room or indulging in a game of cards. The man welcomed him cheerfully.

“Good evenin’, sir! Bet you’re frozen to the bones, ain’ it? What can I serve ya with?”

“A pint of your best ale, sir, and a room for the night, if you please!”

The innkeeper drew him a tankard of ale and shoved a ledger his way.

“I am Wat Burton, sir, you host for tonight. Would you kindly write down your name and the town you’re from?”

“Stephen Fenton, Baron Brixton of Brixton Abbey in Derbyshire.” They shook hands and Stephen signed the ledger before taking a good swig of his ale. He then bent over the counter and lowered his voice before speaking.

“I wish to know the whereabouts of a Mrs Oakham who, I am told, lives here in Manchester. Can you help me in finding out where exactly I could find her?”

“Mrs Oakham? Dr Oakham’s widow? Well, yes, me lord, she lives here, in Oxford Street, at number 17. Everyone could point out her house to ya! She’s very well known, here about!”

“How is that so?”

“Well, me lord, she’s kindness in person! She helps people with all kinds of sufferin’, as well as she can! From miles around, people come to ‘er with their sicknesses and injuries. I daresay she’d had hard enough times helping ‘em all before her sister arrived with Miss Beth and the children. They all help her, ya know, especially Miss Beth! That is one angel, if I ever saw one!”

There was a general approval coming from the rest of the patrons in the room.

“Miss Beth ‘elped me poor mother when she suffered a bout of rheumatism!” one of the men said, nodding emphatically in the process.

“And she delivered me son, just a few days ago!” another one exclaimed. “And made a dashed good job with it, when old Lizzie, the midwife, was out of ‘er wits, not knowin’ what to do!”

“I’m sure she did save my little Mary’s life when she used her own medicine to cure that nasty cough of hers!” a third man shouted, his eyes gleaming with tears.

Stephen felt a strange tug at his heart as he realised what he was witnessing here; a bunch of unwashed, unshaven workmen in drab clothes, singing the praise of his wayward governess who seemed to work here as some sort of nurse. Of his Beth … but why should he be surprised by that? Did she not win the heart of just everyone that had the good fortune of being smiled upon by her? Did she not always made her way to whatever she set her mind to … or her heart?

All of a sudden, Stephen was not sure anymore that he would be able to bring her back with him to Brixton Abbey. And, oh … how he wanted to do just that …

 

~~~~

 

Beth stretched her painful lower back and sighed. Another very busy morning at the infirmary had kept her on her feet almost from after breakfast until now. It must be near luncheon, she thought, and began ranging the room and readying it for the afternoon rush that would soon begin.

She had been extremely thankful that Mrs Oakham had asked her to help out with the patients. Most of the day, Beth had no time to even think about Brixton Abbey and its despicable master. No, that was unfair. Stephen Fenton was just like any other man of his social class and upbringing. He assumed that he had a right to do as he pleased and to take what he liked. Beth knew she had been too rash when she took Lily and Oliver with her, that night six weeks ago, but she could not bear the thought of leaving the two innocent children under Fenton’s roof without her. Fenton would most certainly try again to lure her into his bed. Beth could not, under any circumstances, risk them to witness or even glimpse something of the ongoing.

So, she had fled to Mrs Bradley and told her, in private, what had transpired. Sensible as she was, Mrs Bradley immediately sent for Ben Merton and Ruby and explained that the four of them would go in hiding from the baron.

Since then they all lived under Mrs Oakham’s roof in Manchester, in the big, old house that she had shared with her husband when he had been alive. Beth had been instantly drawn into Mrs Oakham’s charity work for the poorest of the workers and their families, all undernourished and suffering from lung diseases, due to the cotton fluff that filled their workrooms. There was a great deal of misery in Manchester, especially after the riots earlier in the year, that had cost so many lives and left so many women widows.

Yes, Beth reflected, she had been devastated after fleeing Brixton Abbey. She had begun to fall in love with Stephen and she had thought he was beginning to fall in love with her, too. Oh, how she had been wrong, so terribly wrong! Stephen was planning to make her his mistress, instead, and that, she could not bear to be. She could not even bear the thought of giving herself to him when he did not love her. Never, never, would she give herself to him without love, mutual love, shared love. How else would she be happy again? How else would she be able to make him happy again?

Oh, she was so tired. The morning had been hectic, with loads of very young children, all in need of relief for their coughs and running noses and fevers. Beth was glad she had sent Mrs Oakham upstairs for a much needed rest.

Behind her, the door of the surgery opened suddenly. There had been no knock. Due to her exhaustion, Beth was irritated when she turned around to see who had been so bold as to enter without waiting for an answer.

In the doorway, looking extremely attractive in his black greatcoat and black beaver hat, stood Stephen Fenton, a rakish smile on his handsome face.

 

Happy New Year!

I Killed Him – pt 20

Chapter Twenty

 

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

“It was comfortable but a bit lonely.”

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

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

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

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

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

“What, your help?”

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

“Does the nurse look mean?” Margaret asked.

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

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

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

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

“Let us go ask your nurse, shall we?”

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

Margaret began the descent slowly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Frederick! Oh, Frederick!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

“Margaret?” he immediately asked.

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

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

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

“One.”

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

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

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

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

Both men were aware of female voices heading their way.

“Frederick, you are welcome to stay.”

“Not tonight, but soon.”

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

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

“Excellent.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, what takes you away from us?”

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

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

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

“Can Branson take you anywhere?”

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

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

“Thank you, John. Goodbye, sis.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

“You would be too randy!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And that book talks about randy men?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Counterfeit Governess – Part Fourteen

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Fourteen – Organizing the Search

 

The first days of December brought snow and frost in a most severe manner, keeping man and beast inside with gusts of Northeast winds. The small village of Brixton buried itself indoors to await better times and to prepare Christmas.

There was still no word of Mademoiselle Guillaume and her charges. Stephen Fenton and his mother had grown quite a bit dispirited over the whole affair. Not, that the Baron had not done everything he could about it.

He had been to London to consult his lawyers about his legal rights in the affair. After all, Lily and Oliver had been living under his roof when they were – and he could not mince words here – abducted by their governess.

It all came to nothing. He had no rights at all to warrant an official search for them since he was not their legal guardian. The fact that he had fathered them did not signify since he had failed to grant the children official recognition. Mrs Bradley, their grandmother and guardian, had exactly done that after their mother Molly died in childbirth.

Appealing to the magistrates and asking for an officially conducted search on the entire British soil, had also proved impossible, due to him having no legal rights. Besides, Stephen guessed they might not be inclined to hear him out, should they learn he used his authority as a baron to take the children away against their grandmother’s will.

So Stephen had used the ultimate remedy in appointing a private detective to search for the missing children. The fact that the poor man had virtually no clues at all to start his investigation did not count in Stephen’s eyes.

Now, after five weeks of excruciating concern for Lily and Oliver, Stephen was none the wiser as to their whereabouts and he felt almost ready for Bedlam with fretting over them!

 

~~~~

 

“I never thought I would miss them so dreadfully,” Henrietta said softly when she and Stephen were dining in the much too quiet dining room. Her son looked up from pushing his food around on his plate and cast weary eyes on her.

“Yes … I know, mother. I too had grown fond of sweet little Lily and valiant little Oliver.”

He said nothing further but inwardly, his heart sighed deeply with the memory of Beth Williams. He missed her so dearly that he sometimes wondered why he had not realized it before, while she was still under his roof. He yearned for her laughter, her bickering, her lovely smile, her beautiful face and her exquisite figure far more than he could ever have imagined! He felt as is a part of him had been ripped out, a vital part, like his heart or his very soul!

“Why do I have the distinct feeling that the children’s fate is not the only thing troubling you, my son?”

She had taken him completely by surprise, and he lifted a gaze so deeply pained at her that Henrietta felt her heart clench in sympathy. She narrowed her eyes in sheer dismay and spoke angrily.

“What does that little wench possess to make you ache for her like a love-besotted schoolboy, my lord?”

Stephen abruptly stood and went to the sideboard to pour himself a stiff brandy. This, Henrietta thought in panic, was totally uncalled for! Brandy, when dinner was still going on! But her son downed the liquid in one swift motion and instantly refilled his glass.

“My lord! I beg, do not indulge yourself like that!”

Her son whirled around and his fierce blue eyes bore into hers.

“And since when, my lady mother, do I need your permission to do whatever I wish in my own home?” Whereupon he gulped back his second brandy in a blink of the eye.

Henrietta stood and left the room in indignant silence.

 

~~~~

 

Stephen put down the brandy bottle he had taken with him to his bedroom and shoved it aside. He was not again going to drink himself senseless over the disappearance of a wayward governess! Instead, he was going to use his brains in a proper way to discover where she was hiding. For in hiding she had gone, for sure, by Jove!

First of all, she had removed herself from Brixton Abbey in a hurry, with all her belongings and with two children and their belongings in tow! She would have needed transport of some kind. A cart and horses and a driver, for instance. And that, she would only have found in Woolworth where she had friends and acquaintances galore.

So, all he needed to find was the villager who drove the three of them to a hitherto unknown destination. And Stephen Fenton had a pretty good idea who that might be.

 

~~~~

 

The next day, Stephen had Parsifal saddled despite Thompson’s protests. The head groom wisely pointed out that the weather was far too inclement for such a ride, ice and snow making the roads treacherously dangerous, yet his master had no ears for his serious words. Instead the baron took his steed into a brisk canter over the frost-hardened country road.

The village seemed to sleep under a ten-inches blanket of pure, white snow, and only the plumes of smokes from the chimneys indicate that there were people living under those roofs. Stephen first went to the vicarage where the Reverend Carter had taken up residence after Vicar Williams left.

“Ah, vicar!” Stephen greeted him jovially when the housekeeper let him into the study.

“My lord,” Mr Carter replied, standing up from behind his desk and extending a hand to his sponsor. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary, vicar! Just that, with this inclement weather, I thought it best to hand out the Christmas baskets early, this year. Would you inform the congregation that the event will take place in the Assembly Rooms above “The King’s Head” on Sunday next after Mass?”

“My lord, that would be very welcome! The harsh and early winter has been hard on some of the villagers. They will be very much relieved if they were to have extra food.”

“Then it is settled! I will make the necessary arrangements.”

 

~~~~

 

While dozens of families were queuing to receive their Christmas baskets from the hands of the Dowager Baroness Brixton, her son kept watch for the one family he thought might have something to do with Beth’s flight. He did not have to wait long. Ben and Ruby Merton soon made an appearance, their son Johnny cradled in his mother’s arms. Stephen waited until they had received their parcel before he approached them, a warm smile on his face as not to scare them.

“Mr and Mrs Merton, might I have a word with you in private?” he addressed them and made a gesture towards the vestibule to have some privacy. They followed him in there, concern clearly written on their ruddy faces.

“Mr Merton,” Stephen began, his tone of voice level. Yet immediately, he was checked by the implacable expression on the man’s face! Only for a second, though.

“I have the unwavering certainty, Mr Merton, that you are able to tell me where I might find my wayward children and their governess. They have been missing for six weeks now and Her Ladyship and I are most concerned about their well-being. I pray you will enlighten me.”

While he looked Merton straight in the eye, Stephen was aware of Mrs Merton’s growing discomfort. The woman had given a surprised gasp when he spoke of Beth and the children, and she was now fidgeting with the baby’s frilled shawl, not looking at him directly. Merton himself, a big, sturdily built man with hands like coal shovels, had paled visibly but he had not altered his facial expression, though.

After a long, uneasy silence, Merton drew himself up to his full and considerable height.

“I promised Granny Bradley I’d never tell, a’ least not to you, melord. Me word is as good as anybody’s and I’ll no’ break it and that’s the end to it!”

A very happy Christmas to all of you. May joy and friendship be your companions the whole year long.

9987f616-f90d-3220-9e9b-590159418001Luce Fleming

 

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.