The Counterfeit Governess – Part Seven

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Seven – Under Attack

 

To Beth’s infinite relief, Fenton had no chance to go further down this dangerous path because Raleigh, the butler announced that dinner was ready. The three of them, Beth and her charges, made it through the meal with tolerable ease. Lily and Oliver were quiet but ate well, only darting quick glances at the baron, every now and then, as if they were not entirely sure what to think of him. When the dowager rose to retire, Beth gathered her charges and made it upstairs as well, ignoring Fenton’s dark, brooding gaze.

“I am so very proud of you, my darlings!” she praised while the children were readying themselves for bed. “You have behaved like real genteel-born children, without any flaws, at all!”

“The old lady is very …” Lily frowned for the word so Beth supplied it.

“Intimidating?”

“Yes! Her eyes were like glowing coals! It thought she was going to set me aflame!”

“Silly!” Her brother scowled. “Eyes cannot do that! The baron was nice, do you not think so, mademoiselle?”

“Yes, he was,” Beth agreed and gestured them to bed. She tucked them in and kissed their brows. “Now, you two have a good night’s sleep and then tomorrow, we will go on a walk to collect wild flowers.”

“Can we go and see Granny, too?”, came Lily’s small, sleep-stained voice.

“Promise! We will do that! Sleep well, darlings!”

 

~~~~

 

Stephen Fenton sat behind a desk in his library enjoying a fine old brandy. He had shed his coat, opened his waistcoat and rolled up his shirtsleeves because he truly needed to wind down after the day he had. The cuts and bruises he received in the cottage fire, were troubling him so he poured himself a stiff brandy. With only one small lamp breaking the darkness of the late September night, he leaned back, resting his head against the wall. He did not need more light because he was not working. A glass of brandy and a quiet room were all he needed tonight. He wanted to do some thinking.

Too many unfamiliar feelings harassed him, too many strange emotions but none of them unwelcome.

First, there was the budding warmth he was beginning to feel for his twins. They were fine, sweet children and all these years, he had not known that. He had been a fool, not only for begetting them with silly, young, inexperienced Molly Bradley, but also, once they were born, for not paying attention to them. He needed to remediate that.

Secondly, there was Beth Williams. Pretty, lively, intriguing Beth Williams, who did not want him to know she was in England, on his own estate, in his own home. Did she want revenge for what he did, all those years ago?  Stephen could understand that. He had done a terrible thing and so had his father in hiding the truth about her family’s carriage accident.

The lamp on the desk sputtered and went out. Cursing under his breath, Fenton stood and fuddled with his tinderbox to light the other one when the door of the room opened and someone entered, carrying another small lamp. He ducked behind a book rack and waited. Who could this be, sneaking into the library, that late?

It was a woman but the small lamp did not give enough light to see her face. Fenton, however, would have recognized her everywhere. Beth! That ramrod straight, very slender figure, the way she held her head and the elegance of her step had become very familiar during the weeks she was staying in his home.

What was she doing, he mused. Placing her lamp on one of the many desks in the room, Beth ducked a hand into her skirt pocket and retrieved something that looked like a small briefcase. She took several items out of it and began picking the desk drawer lock. Fenton was stunned! Why would she want to investigate his desk?

In the space of half an hour, Beth searched most of the locked-up furniture in the library and sorted through the contents, becoming more impatient by the minute. Fenton watched her the whole time with growing anger, until he could no longer stand it.

“Good evening, mademoiselle,” he said quietly, stepping from behind the book case. Beth startled so violently that she nearly jumped.

“My lord? Oh, I … I am sorry to have disturbed you. I … erm … was looking for a book and I ignored you were here.”

“A book, you say? Well, mademoiselle, books aplenty, as you can see, but you will not find them in a desk,” he said in a low voice, coming to stand beside her so closely that she was forced to step away.

Her back was now against one of the book cases and in the lamp light, Fenton could see her huge, dark eyes widen with fear. Her breath came in short, shallow intakes, causing her chest to rise frantically beneath the black bombazine of her dress. Fenton’s eyes wandered from her alabaster throat over her face and hair and back to her mouth. That mouth slightly opened and was extremely lovely. He bent his head and touched her lips with his in the lightest of kisses. Her mouth was cool, smooth and firm. She did not draw away but softly whimpered, a sound that went right down to his groin.

Tracing the curve of her cheek with a trembling finger as his hand slipped around her head, Stephen could feel the rapid beat of her heart in her slender neck. Her hands came up to rest upon his chest, the warmth of her small palms searing through the fine cotton of his shirt.

 

 

~~~~

 

In all her twenty-five years, Beth had never been touched by a man. The tender assault of Fenton’s warm mouth was exquisitely pleasant and caused her breath to catch fiercely in her throat. Under her hands, she could feel the muscled wall of his chest, hard as steel and unmoveable as rock. Yet the sensation was strangely reassuring and filled her with an immense feeling of safety. She realised she was not afraid, only increasingly excited as her fingers slid sideways to his back. The movement brought her closer to him and she was forced to tilt back her head so that it lay cradled in both his hands. His mouth was still on hers when he spoke softly.

“What did you come here for, ma belle? What were you searching for? It was no book, was it?”

Pressed close to a healthy male in a sorry state of dishabille should have terrified her, Beth thought, yet it did not. Instead she felt safe and content.

Then, realisation struck her! Safe? In the arms of the man who caused the death of her mother and Julian?

Now, finally, terror shot through her like lightning. Beth tore herself free from Fenton’s grasp and fled.

 

~~~~

 

Damnation!

For a split second, Stephen envisaged going after her and forcing Beth to explain her strange behaviour but then, he gave up the idea. Instead, he lowered himself back into his chair and considered the events that had just taken place.

God! He could not believe what he just witnessed. Beth, trying to pick a lock using a set of real pickpocket instruments!

Beth had been searching for something, that was obvious, but what? He would have to find out so that he could unearth what it was that had brought her here. Stephen realised he had now the perfect opportunity to throw Beth out on the streets, since she had been found out stealing.

Yet, for some reason, he did not want Beth to leave Brixton Abbey at all!

I Killed Him – pt 12

 

Chapter Twelve

Twilight was falling, and so were Margaret’s eyelids. John could see her fighting sleep and knew he should leave. It was difficult to pull himself away. He wanted to lie beside her. He lifted her hand, kissing her palm and bent over to kiss her slightly parted lips. He could feel her breath as she slept. His emotions were becoming undone. He would seek out the doctor and see when she could come home with him.

John inquired at the registration desk as he neared the hospital doors.

“Mr. Thornton, I will check for you. He may have left by now. Please wait while I look for him.”

As John was waiting, he noticed journalists out front, still waiting after five hours. They were a determined lot, he thought.

A few moments later, Dr. Wagner came strolling into view without his white coat. “Congratulations, Mr. Thornton.”

“Thank you. I wanted to ask when I can take my bride home.”

“She is doing well. No doubt she has had incentive,” he said smiling. I think one more day should do it, but you and I will have to have a talk about this before she leaves.”

“I understand and had expected such. I surely understand there will be physical limitations if that is what the talk is mostly about.”

“I felt like I would not have needed to go over that with you. Your love shows strongly for her. I know you would do nothing to cause her the least bit of pain. No, there are a few other issues to discuss. See me tomorrow afternoon, anytime before five in the evening. And I think we can let her go the following day.”

“Very good then. I shall speak with you tomorrow.” John said.

As John walked out of the hospital doors and began his descent of the stairs; the journalists rushed him. Knowing this was inevitable, he said, “Today, at I Killed Him 250x375two this afternoon, I happily married the former Miss Margaret Hale, once a resident of Milton. That’s all I have to say.”

As he looked out, he saw Branson bringing the coach to the center front. He waded through all the journalists as Branson came to move them out of his way. Questions were being shouted at him, but he looked straight ahead in his normal stoic manner ignoring them all. Reaching his coach, he removed his top hat and stepped inside. Branson scampered into his box and whipped the team to a fast start before the reporters could run alongside.

 

Adam Bell was waiting in his sitting room when he arrived home. John hardly remembered getting home; his mind had been more agreeably engaged.

“Good evening, Adam. I think I need a drink too,” he smiled. “I’ve never had a better day in my life. My wait has been rewarded. All the heartbreak and loneliness has reversed itself. I feel whole for the first time in many years.” John poured his scotch and sat in his favorite chair.

“Cheers, my friend,” said Adam. It’s a bit of a sad time for me as I have had to hand her away from me. I did so in great confidence knowing she is where she wants to be and will be well loved and cared for.”

“Yes, she will. You know me well enough to have no doubts there. I spoke with the doctor before facing the journalists outside. He says Margaret will be able to come home the day after tomorrow.”

“That’s good news, John. She looked the happiest I’ve ever seen her, today. I must admit we were all taken aback at her injuries. I noticed the finger marks on her neck and upper arms. She may be mentally delicate for a long time.”

“I am prepared for that. I am prepared to see her through whatever it takes. There is no sacrifice I will not make.”

“Are you still resolute in your actions against the man who did this?” asked Adam, worried. “She’s going to heal. Isn’t that the most important issue?”

“Yes, of course, it is, but it is not the only one. I will have some redress to her abuse. Adam, maybe you can’t understand this, but if Margaret walked away from me tomorrow, I would still do what I am planning. I cannot be the man that I want to be for her if I let this pass. I do it for myself. She will not know.”

“And if you get caught?”

“I won’t.”

 

The coachman carried the Shaw bags to the platform and handed them to a porter. Edith and her mother walked to the ticket counter and bought their fare to Milton. Captain Lenox still had made no appearance, but Edith was assured he’d know where they were when he could not find them at home. Edith could only wonder what he was doing. Maxwell, she knew, had taken a great interest in this other Captain and the mysteries that surrounded him.

Maxwell had traveled to a small hamlet that rumors alluded to having been a part in Hartford’s abandonment of a woman he begat with child. Thinking ahead, he left his uniform home for fear that the townsfolk would shun him. He talked with the constabulary, but with little reason to know the facts, was told nothing. However, he did know the name of the young woman involved.

It took him half a day to locate the family. They lived a little way out of town. Several years ago, Ellen had worked in the local tavern but was now raising a two year old, while living with her parents.

Knocking on the door, he asked to speak with Ellen’s father in private. The two men walked away from the small cottage while Maxwell pled his case against Captain Hartford, and the father believed him. Everyone in town knew the circumstances, so the father had little compunction to hide anything.

The two men sat under a tree and talked for two hours. Maxwell learned that his daughter had been raped but it was her word against the Captain’s and nothing was done about it. Her betrothed went mad and eventually sought out Captain Hartford, and whether it was a fair fight or not, was killed. He had been left for dead, without witnesses and it had always been assumed that Hartford had murdered him. Being a young man, only carrying a knife against a trained military man with a gun, it couldn’t be seen in any other light, as the father told it. Again, that seemed to be common knowledge in the small town but who could go up against the Army.

The father went on to tell Maxwell that a detective from London had been there the day before asking the same questions. He said he was happy to see that the man may not get away with what he did.

Maxwell was surprised. He thanked the man for being so candid and apologized for the intrusion in bringing this up, but promised that he would see that something was done about it. He never spoke of his fiancé’s cousin. It was almost a day’s ride home, and he slept under a tree that night. He was determined to see that justice was carried out. He would contact Detective Boyle at the Met on his way home.

 

That morning, John had breakfast with Adam in the hotel. Adam told John that he hoped to hear from Frederick today and would find him at the hospital if it arrived.

“John, also, be prepared for the Shaw’s to arrive a little after midday. I am sure they will go to the hospital from the train and send the bags along to the hotel. I cannot say that I envy you their visit. Mrs. Shaw will hover and insist this, that and the other.”

“I have anticipated that. It shall not last long.”

“If you are a gentleman, I’m not so sure how well that will work.”

“I do not intend to be a gentleman. I intend to be a husband, and they will see it that way.”

“You’ve become a study to me, John,” Bell admitted.

“In what way?”

“You are almost a different person. The changes that have taken place in your countenance, over the last five days, have been nothing short of extraordinary. You are still John Thornton, but one I’ve never seen.”

“You have never been in love and cannot know the feeling a man gets when his love has been tortured at the hands of another man. I have usually lived in what I’m now calling ‘middle ground.’ I have been torn to shreds these past days. Middle ground is gone; the John that most people know is gone, for now. I am living either in euphoric happiness or finding the depths of a black soul that must reside in me, right now. I am totally at its mercy.”

“John, you’ve always been able to control yourself. I am sure you will find that with Margaret in your life. Why can’t you control this other half?”

“Because I don’t want to. I can’t explain it. I’ll be glad when it has past.”

“And when might that happen?”

John picked up his fork and ignored the question.

Changing the subject, Adam asked, “Have you seen today’s paper this morning?”

“No, why?” John asked, dabbing his mouth with his napkin while accepting the offered newspaper.

The headline was bold.

 

Mill Master John Thornton of Marlborough Mills Weds Miss Margaret Hale.

 

John Thornton stated for this paper, that he and a Miss Margaret Hale, formerly of Milton were happily wed yesterday at 2:00 pm. When asked to comment further, he declined as he left the hospital steps where he’s been seen frequenting of late. The hospital spokesman has declined to speak. It is unknown if Miss Hale, now, Mrs. Thornton, works or is a patient at The Greater Milton Hospital.

Mr. Thornton, a Magistrate and Mill Master of two Mills, is best known for his leadership in the burgeoning age of the Machine . . .

 

John set the paper down and continued his breakfast.

“No comment, Mr. Thornton,” Adam smarmed.

“I would rather have been left alone,” John replied in a serious tone.

 

Captain Grant Hartford picked up his personal post from the first delivery. The only note was from his man in Paris. He anxiously snapped the seal and sat in his chair.

 

Sir,

I have had it with watching this man. He has disappeared, and so did the woman he was living with. I told you it would take two of us to watch him all the time. Now, he is gone. I’ve spent two days watching the postal station, and he has not returned for any letters. Asking questions has led nowhere. You do not pay enough for this boring work. I quit. If you want him so bad, you come find him. I gave you his address in previous note. Good luck.

 

“Bloody hell!” Grant shouted, drawing attention from the other officers. He crumpled the note and threw it into the fire.

“What’s wrong, Grant?” Someone laughingly shouted. “Did your woman leave you?” There was general laughter throughout the room.

Grant ignored them and they went back to whatever they had been doing.

He’d lost his prey, his only means to keep Margaret Hale fearful. She didn’t know that, but he didn’t know where she was or if she was alive. With the detective sniffing around, Grant decided he’d have to rethink his tactics because his game was about to fall to pieces. Maybe she didn’t need to marry him, he could just blackmail her for the money – or ­­­­­– maybe she just needed to be gone so he could wipe his slate clean and start with someone else.

 

John took the small buggy and pulled to the rear of the hospital. As he approached Margaret’s room, there seemed to be a disturbance in front of her closed door. He ran down the hall.

Arriving, the reporters noticed him and turned to fling questions at him from all angles.

“I will answer two questions. This is my private life, and I mean to keep it that way. I will bring my whole mill down here to remove all of you if I have to. I can, also, call out the guards, if you want to spend some time in jail. This room is off limits to all of you. You will eventually know my wife when she has recovered.

“Mr. Thornton, why is your wife here?”

“Mrs. Thornton has unfortunately been the victim of an attack, which happened in London.

“Is there any reason why you rushed a wedding instead of waiting for her recovery? Another journalist asked.

“Quite simply, I love her and have for a long time. That’s all for the foreseeable future until she is well. Good day.”

John walked to the door and stood with his back to it until the crowd had dispersed.

Dr. Wagner came and thanked him for his intervention. You have a lot of power, Mr. Thornton, I’ve never known a whole lot about you, but I am significantly impressed that you have that much clout. Do you often make threats like that?”

“Only one other time when there was a riot at my mill, years ago. It does not please me to bring all I can bear to a situation, but I will not have Margaret harassed.

“I do believe you accomplished your mission.”

“The door is closed. May I go in?” John asked.

“As of yesterday, Mr. Thornton, you have full privileges in the room anytime. But under the circumstances, Miss Hale may have reservations that she will slowly have to work into. I think I’d knock.”

John knocked. “Mrs. Thornton?”

“Who is it?” Margaret called out knowing well it was John.

“Mrs. Thornton, I hope you know my voice by now.”

“Oh come in John. I knew it was you. I’m having oatmeal this morning. Care to join me?”

“I just had breakfast with Adam but a few moments ago. How was your night? As pleasant as mine, I hope.” John went over and kissed her good morning.

“John you would turn red if I told you about my dreams. These dreams are so new to me. You, for being a man of the world, would probably find them quite dull. I’m too embarrassed to even talk about them with you.”

John broke out in a smile. Margaret, my thoughts, dreams, and plans have never included love, and they no longer reflect the opportunity to assuage my needs. My needs are your pleasure now, not my own.”

“I’m embarrassed to say that I have been remembering my romance novels, the rumors, the learning at school, and the women that talk. If half of them are true, I’m afraid I will be a letdown. I don’t know how to do any of those lustful things. I have no experience.”

“Margaret, your innocence is what I look forward to most. We will create our own world, just for the two of us.”

‘You will not compare me to others of more daring adventures?”

“No. Never. I want us to find our way. That doesn’t mean it’s everything that you have ever heard of. I will love pleasuring you every way that you will allow. I am going to be grateful for whatever you give. Our love will grow. Do not dwell on that.”

Margaret looked into his lap and noticed his trousers were tight. “Am I causing that?” she pointed.

“I’m afraid so. You will have to get used to it, for that will happen for many years. I will never have enough of you.”

“Does that hurt?”

“John laughed. I am not going to answer that question. You will answer it for yourself one day soon. Which reminds me, I talked with Dr. Wagner last night as I left. With some training for you and I, today, I can take you home tomorrow. He wants to talk with me about what to expect, sometime later this afternoon. I doubt I will be able to talk with you about it much since your cousin and aunt should be here by then. Margaret, I am going to tell them how it is with you and I, now. You are mine. I am your husband and guardian in a sense. They are resolved of all duties except loving you. Should your aunt try to tell you what is best,,, I am going to speak up. Will you mind that?”

“No, John. I place myself into your hands. You and only you can rule me but only to a certain extent. I will reserve a few of my own rites, you know.”

“Oh, you will, will you. Hmm… We’ll have to discuss that. And to be fair, I expect you to dominate me almost completely. I hesitate in admitting that, but I cannot deny you anything.”

“Do you think we could get the doctor here this morning before my aunt gets here. I am so anxious to leave here.”

“When the nurse comes in, we shall ask.”

 

Adam Bell checked at the registration desk for the first post and was surprised to see a note from Fred. He thought it would be another day. He tucked it into his pocket and strolled towards the guest lounge. This is what they had been waiting for. Perhaps, during the Shaw visits today, he could meet with John and the other men and solidify plans that had already begun on paper. As soon as they could get Frederick out of Paris, or France, the Captain could have no hold over Margaret. She was now married, but he still had Frederick within his grasp. Adam had to wonder what this Captain thought about Margaret’s disappearance. Would he be glad of it, knowing what he did or would he come after her to keep her quiet? Officers in uniform did not take their commissions for granted. He would go far to preserve what he had.

Adam found a comfortable chair and opened the rather long note.

 

 

 

 

AB _

 

Received your note and acted immediately. Still in Paris with friend. I have brought my fiancé with me. We will need accommodations for two. Cannot sleep rough on move. I will be indebted for your help in getting Lisa moved out of Paris.

These past few weeks, I have felt the presence of someone around the periphery of my life. If he was there, I have now lost him. Send help for Lisa at the address below. I am coming to Milton on my way to London to find my sister and this man. If in his coercion of my Margaret, he has harmed her in any way, he will be dispatched. Do whatever needs to done to keep her from marrying him in the next few days until I can arrive.

I will find you or Thornton. Don’t look for me.

My sister is too dear to me, and it is like her to do what she is doing. I will not let that happen.

I am leaving Lisa in the care of my friend Nathan. Any correspondence to her or me should be addressed at…      Randall

 

Adam had not expected Frederick to take such actions as entering England again but then realized that Frederick didn’t know John Thornton or the trust he could feel with him watching over Margaret. What would he do when seeing his sister and learning of her injuries? Finding a new place for his fiancé seemed an easy task since Frederick was taking all the risks, but there was good news to know that he had lost his shadow. That pretty much left this Captain out in the cold; it would seem. This situation, with Margaret, seemed to be growing and growing with revenge being the only issue at hand, of which Margaret knew nothing. What would she think when hearing of Frederick coming to her rescue? It was starting to look like a family reunion in Milton with everyone missing the wedding.

Adam felt there was no way that he could stop Frederick from coming now so their plans to move his Lisa could be done quickly and with only one or two of them leaving.

Frederick was going to need a place to stay while everything was sorted out, and that place had to be somewhere on Marlboro Mills property. He’d better find John immediately. It was likely that Frederick left after posting his letter and could soon be here.

 

The Counterfeit Governess – Part Six

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Six – Severe Complications

 

All around Beth was instantly forgotten and she had only eyes for Fenton’s  prostrated form. He had fallen onto his side and one arm was trapped under his body. Wanting to do something – at least, to help him – she knelt down beside him. To make him more comfortable, she carefully turned him onto his back – and gasped at the sight of the long, ragged scar that crossed his abdomen. It was of an ugly red and marred the beautiful muscles of his stomach, slicing across the fine spray of dark hair that covered his chest. She put out a trembling hand and touched it. Fenton’s stomach muscles rippled in response, causing a knot of fire to pop up, low in her stomach. Oh, sweet Lord!

There were many burns on his arms and shoulders, some of them bleeding, and he was trembling rather badly. He was in shock, she knew, and needed care but somehow, all she could do, was take his head onto her lap and caress his face.

“Stephen …”  Was that her voice, so shaking and full of despair?

“You there, boy!” Granny Bradley’s voice sounded. “Run to Brixton Abbey and fetch help! Mary, bring on some blankets! Ben, Tom, Jack, I need him to be transported into my house, now!”

Then Granny touched Beth’s arm and spoke softly to her. “Come, my child. You must leave it to me.”

Blinking back tears, Beth realised she was compromising herself immensely, sitting in this very close position to a man in full sight of everyone. When the men and Mary came toward them with the items requested by Granny Bradley, she slowly rose and took up her position again with her charges. She waited, however, until they finished carrying Fenton inside before she rode back to Brixton Abbey with the children.

 

~~~~

 

“Stephen …”

The soft, wavering voice pulled at his very heart as his awareness slowly came back. He could not quite believe his ears, though. Nobody ever had spoken to him that way, so full of concern, of caring, of – dare he think it – love?

When Fenton finally managed to open his eyes, he found himself lying on a board that was carried away by four men, but what he saw most clearly, was the retreating figure of Beth Williams. Beth? Beth, speaking his name so lovingly that his heart was still singing with joy from the memory? Impossible!

“Well, my lord,” an old woman’s voice drew his attention. “I certainly never dreamed of letting you into my home!”

“Mrs Bradley!” Fenton exclaimed, recognizing Molly’s mother.

“Yes, and I should let you rot in hell for what you did to my angel.”

She said it in a controlled voice, however. Fenton found himself breathing again, although he never knew he had stopped doing so.

“I am trying to repair the damage by taking the children into my home, Mrs Bradley. They have an excellent governess to see to their education.”

The old woman’s face was impassive when she neither thanked him nor cursed him for taking her charges from her.

“I will see to your injuries now, my lord,” Mrs Bradley said, matter-of-factly. “You have quite the number of them. So, as we are clear about this, I am only doing this because you rescued little Johnny. Is that understood, my lord?”

“Quite so,” he replied curtly, then continued in a softer voice. “Is the baby alright? He was so quiet when I took him out of his cradle.”

“Yes, he is fine, thank you. Ruby is already nursing him at her parent’s house and his appetite was as good as ever.”

Without further ado, she began examining him, causing him to curse under his breath when she applied some sort of ointment onto his burns.

 

~~~~

 

For the rest of the day, Beth kept her charges inside, asking them to make a drawing about what they had been subjected to, that afternoon. Lily and Oliver applied themselves to it with an unexpected zeal, allowing Beth to sit quietly with them and give herself a break. She badly needed to recover from the appalling emotions that hit her on seeing Stephen Fenton pass out and getting hurt.

What struck her the most had been the realisation that he was concerned enough about his people to risk his own life to save them. She never suspected that of him, nor would she have thought him that brave. He must possess a great deal of courage, judged by the seriousness of the injuries he suffered during the Peninsular War. That scar was horrible and it was little wonder it had cost him months to recover from it.

As the hours passed by, Beth found she could not concentrate on the book in her lap. Her scattered thoughts kept wandering to Stephen Fenton, a man she thought she knew but in fact, did not know at all. A man she was undoubtedly attracted to, which made her panic a little. How could that be? Was it because, today, for the first time, he had shown a genuine interest in his children? He had been patient with their efforts on horse riding, had even praised them.

Their rooms on the fourth floor overlooked the stable yard, and the rattle of the Brixton carriage wheels on the cobbles drew her to the window. Stephen Fenton alighted from the vehicle, a blanket thrown over his shoulders. Denying the help of his valet, he strode toward the house, apparently strong enough, after his ordeal.

Beth resumed her seat again, imagining Fenton’s progress through the house. He would first go to his chambers to bathe and change. By then it would be dinner time, and Beth fervently prayed she would not be required to dine with him and his mother. She would be unable to bear it.

A knock on the classroom’s door startled Beth but it was only Trixie who came in.

“Beg yer pardon, miss, master asks you to come down ter dinner with the children. Says they’re ter dine wi’ the family, ternight.”

 

~~~~

 

As she walked into the dining room, preceded by her two very nervous charges, Beth hoped they would remember what she taught them. Lily was wearing a light blue muslin dress which gave her grey eyes a hint of blue, and her honey-coloured curls were brushed into a neat ponytail. For Oliver, Beth had chosen white knee breeches and stockings, a white linen shirt, grey waistcoat and a jacket of dark grey wool. His unruly curls had been cut shorter so that they were easier to handle. Beth wore her usual black bombazine dress because she was still in mourning for her father.

The Dowager Baroness stood near one of the windows when the children came to stand before her, just like Beth taught them. Lily made a reasonably acceptable curtsy while Oliver executed a nearly perfect bow to their paternal grandmother. Beth saw the surprised look in the dowager’s eyes and was secretly satisfied with her charges.

“Good evening, my lady,” she said, as she made her own curtsy.

“Good evening, mademoiselle,” the dowager replied, but curtly and without warmth. The proud elderly woman had only managed the briefest of acknowledgements on the children’s greetings.

The Baron’s reply to his children was genuinely warmer than it had ever been before. He bowed back to Oliver, then took Lily’s small hand in his and kissed it. The little girl’s eyes widened and her mouth gaped open, which got her a jab in the ribs from her brother. Lily snapped her mouth shut but sent a furious glance to Oliver. That made the baron laugh so spontaneously that Beth felt her heart warm in response. When the children went to sit down on a settee and wait for the butler to announce dinner, Beth addressed the baron.

“I trust, my lord, that you were not seriously injured, this afternoon? It showed of great courage to rescue Ruby’s baby, and I thank you for it from the bottom of my heart.”

Stephen Fenton’s eyes narrowed and he drew in his breath sharply.

“You know that woman? How come?”

Beth bit her lip when she realised she was close to betraying herself if she could not turn this around.

“I must confess to a subterfuge, my lord. I have taken the children to see their grandmother for several times, since I have been in your employ. I beg your forgiveness for it.”

The baron’s cool grey eyes raked over Beth’s figure like a cold north wind, sending shivers all over her spine. His voice was equally cool when he spoke.

“Why do I have the feeling, Mademoiselle Guillaume, that you have many other ‘subterfuges’ to confess? Rest assured that I will find them all out, in due time, ma belle!”

I Killed Him – pt 11

Chapter Eleven

If Margaret thought she had been in a weakened state before, it was now officially confirmed when John walked through the door in his exquisite evening I Killed Him 250x375attire. He had a yellow rose in his lapel and a yellow rose nosegay for Margaret. He handed Nicholas and Adam yellow roses for their apparel and went directly to Margaret. Peggy moved away and everyone walked out of the room to give them privacy. Nicholas even closed the door behind them.

John knelt at Margaret’s feet.

“I love you more this minute than any time before. Are you ready to be Mrs. John Thornton?”

“You know I am. John, you are so handsome, you make me want to cry.”

“All for you, my love. Only and forever for you, Margaret. Where is that stunning hospital gown I was expecting? I even wore a white cravat to match you,” he smiled. You look positively stunning. And what are you doing sitting on the side of the bed? Shouldn’t you be sitting up with pillows behind you?”

“I convinced the doctor that there was nothing wrong with me legs. I want to stand beside you for as long as I can. When you kiss me at the end of the vows, just don’t squeeze me too hard. I’ll take a lot of pain for that kiss I want so badly, though.”

“Oh, how I want to squeeze you now. I cannot wait to get you home so that I can serve you and hold you and stroke your forehead and kiss your neck. I am going to stop there, or you will know me better than you should right now.”

Margaret smiled and grimaced once again.

John leaned in and parting her lips gave her a sensual kiss. “I won’t be able to do that with everyone watching. Are you ready?”

“I’ve been ready for two years. I am eagerly waiting to give you my vows. I do so love you, John Thornton.”

John kissed her once again and then helped her to her feet. Do you have a preference where you want stand?”

“I think at the end of the bed. I can lean back on the footboard if I need to.”

“If you need to lean, you lean on me. I want you to lean on me always, Miss Hale. And say goodbye to Miss Hale, now.”

John placed Margaret at the end of the bed and opened the door for the others to take their places.

Margaret was surprised that Adam stood next to her and not John. She realized he was giving her away. She looked up into his eyes, and both had tears welling.

The minister stood facing Adam and Margaret and asked who gives this woman away.

Adam said, “I do.” Adam turned to shake John’s hand and then placed Margaret’s hand into John’s. Adam and John exchanged places.

Peggy collected the flowers Margaret had been holding and Margaret could feel John looking down on her. She peeped up and saw an almost reverent benevolent smile. His eyes were speaking his love to her heart.

Staff from the hospital had drifted in, including Nurse Pickering and Dr. Wagner.

The minister continued into the vows and then Nicholas had to fish out the emerald ring for Margaret’s finger, to hand John. Margaret gasped at its loveliness as John looked into her face and slowly slid it onto her finger, then squeezed her hand. Margaret felt her knees trembling, and John felt that happening, too. He gently folded his arm around her waist and held her up until the final words of Man and Wife were spoken. He had wanted to kiss her tenderly in front of the crowd but found no success there. He kissed her for long moments, to the applause of everyone in the room. John, the passionate man and lover, was finally revealed to all who watched.

As soon as he gave her breath, he escorted her to the chair, where she received all the well wishes and kisses.

 

The doctor was in and out of Margaret’s room until he thought the festivities had gone on long enough. He could see his patient tiring and spoke to Mr. Thornton. John went to his friends and told them of Margaret’s fatigue. To Adam, he said he would seem him later this evening at his home.  Branson carried the minister back to the church and John said he would get a cabby to take him home.

“No, sir. I will be back for you. I will be outside starting at 7:00 pm.

John walked his friends to the hospital entrance while Nurse Pickering changed Margaret back into a fresh cotton gown and got her comfortably settled into her bed.

“Mrs. Thornton, you can’t seem to stop smiling.”

Margaret paused, hearing that phrase for the first time from someone other than John. Her face flushed as the smile grew larger.

“Mrs. Thornton,” she sighed out loud.

“Yes, Mrs. Thornton,” John repeated coming back through the door.

The nurse disappeared knowing that Margaret was settled, perhaps in the best situation of her life.

John quietly pushed the door closed when she had left, not latching it, but hiding them from onlookers. He walked back to Margaret’s bedside and took the chair pulling it close to his new wife.

“Margaret, you have made me the happiest man on this earth today. Even up until you said, ‘I do’, I feared something might interrupt us for what I have waited for since meeting you. I want to make you as happy as I am.”

“You already have. You’ve taken on a woman of reduced circumstances, who treated you poorly, and then left you heartbroken. I am a woman who returns to you when everything in her life has failed her and asks for sanctuary, and you took me in. You give me love and not just abidance.”

“Margaret, stop that. You sound like you are making yourself self out to be a charity case. Had I known there was any regard for me, I would have sought you out long ago. I have done nothing but think about you. I tried to carry on; I saw very few women since you left, but no one could compare to you, my love. Under any condition imaginable, I wanted you, everyday in every way. For the past few months, I have even thought of selling the mills. I had to make some change in my life to get past you or give up living. I could no longer face the world with you somewhere that I couldn’t touch. Don’t ever think there is gratitude in my love for you. You don’t think that I could ever entertain the idea that you returned because I just happen to be a little better than the last man seeking you. Do you? No, I know that you love me and today was something we both wanted. This wedding was not a rescue for either of us. We’re married because we should have done this, two years ago. I know I rushed you into this, perhaps much faster than is proper. Here you lay in a hospital bed, delirious on laudanum and saying you will be my wife. I hope you never come to regret that. I was terribly selfish in gaining your hand while you were willing.”

“John, now you stop talking that way. I was not delirious when I accepted your offer of marriage. It wasn’t long after I was taken from Milton that I knew I had left my heart behind. I felt trapped between the two men I love most in this world. I knew I broke your heart as mine had already done, but my brother’s life could have been at stake and that weighed a bit heavier than my happiness.”

“Margaret, let’s not dwell on the past and the why’s. We have finally reached each other for all time and that’s all that matters, now. We just need you to concentrate on getting you well, so that you can come home with me. You cannot imagine how my mind is carrying me too far off places I’ve never thought of before. You will be loved like no other woman.”

“I hope can live up to your expectations.” Margaret said softly.

“Margaret, you far exceeded my expectations long long ago. I guess I am too anxious to know all of you and I have told you not to think of me being anxious. There is love driving me, not lust. It feels quite different, you know? My desire lies more with me wanting to please you than the other way around. It is a most exhilarating fantasy, waiting to come true. You’re blushing! Black eye, red cheeks, what more could a man ask for?” John laughed.

“I loved our little wedding. Everyone here wanted this for us, too. I am glad it is behind us now, so when I face my aunt, she will have no advice to give me.”

“Yes, I am afraid you have a couple more days of discomfort with visitors. Your aunt and cousin will want to know what happened, why you are here, and why you are married. It will be up to you what you say to them. I will not tell them what I know.” John moved towards Margaret’s lips. It was their first kiss since the ceremony. Margaret was able to manage one arm around John’s neck. John put one arm behind her, anchoring his hand under her bottom and pulled her to him. The other hand stroked her face and neck. He tenderly made love to her with his tongue and hers intertwining. They eventually pulled apart and John withdrew his hand from underneath her. That had been their most intimate contact.

“John.”

“Yes, my love. What is it?”

“This medicine hasn’t dulled all my feelings.”

“I don’t understand. What are you telling me?”

Margaret blushed and smiled causing John to kiss her again, as before.

The Counterfeit Governess – Part Five

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Five – An Unexpected Hitch

 

After luncheon, Beth prepared for the children’s riding lessons by providing them with clothes suitable for the activity. She planned to take them to Granny Bradley on horseback, thus providing them with an occasion to test their skills. Michael, the youngest groom, helped Lily onto Pearl, the pony he had chosen for her, while Thompson, the head groom, assisted Oliver onto his gelding Rainstorm. Beth mounted on her own; she was very fond of her placid mare Sparkle. That was a badly chosen name, for there was not a quieter animal in the Brixton Stables. Thompson had chosen well for her.

They were just getting ready to leave when the master’s deep baritone sounded through the stable yard.

“Just a minute, lads! Michael, go saddle Parsifal. I am accompanying Mademoiselle and the children.”

Beth felt the colour drain from her face when Fenton addressed her.

“I want to see the children’s progress first, mademoiselle. Perhaps you had better dismount until I deem it appropriate for us to leave?”

So she watched from a bench in the yard while Fenton judged Lily and Oliver’s riding in the paddock. The children looked nervous but they nevertheless seemed to manage quite well. Their father was satisfied and gave his praise whereupon the small group departed for the village.

 

~~~~

 

She rode extremely well, Stephen Fenton admitted to himself. He had not even known Beth could ride at all. Ten years ago, she blundered about the country side on that ridiculous pony of hers, and had not had the slightest notion how to handle the beast but now … now she was an excellent horsewoman, her seat easy and graceful.

The first sight of her on horseback had him baffled and shocked at the same time. Dressed in a peculiar sort of riding habit, the colour of green olives, Beth rode astride instead of sideways. The full skirt of her habit was divided and the legs of the trouser-like garment were broad and flowing, allowing her to ride without violating the rules of propriety. They were also shorter than a normal skirt would have been, showing her lower legs in their long chestnut boots. It was so attractive Fenton felt his groin tightening in a rush of pure, unmitigated lust. Sweet Lucifer! He needed to keep a tight rein on his rampaging emotions, now and without delay.

It was not the first time he had lusted after Beth Williams, he remembered. Years ago, even before his affair with Molly Bradley, Fenton had been visiting Vicar Williams with some errand on his father’s behalf when Beth returned from a ride after a sudden rainstorm. The sight of her young, slender body in the soaked clothes, the budding breasts peaking through the clinging fabric of her dress, had fired him up so violently he had needed to retreat in haste before the vicar – or Beth herself – would witness his embarrassment. For a few days, he had toyed with the thought of accosting her and try kissing her, but some strange feeling of reserve had held him back. In a sudden surge of conscience, he had shied away from defiling her, somehow. He had not had the same reservations with her friend Molly, though, with the well-known consequences.

While the two children rode ahead, holding a race between them, Fenton kept his black stallion apace with Sparkle.

“What a strange cut your riding habit has, Mademoiselle Guillaume! Is this the latest Parisian fashion for ladies, fond of riding?” he attempted to start a conversation.

“No, my lord, not at all,” Beth chuckled. “I got this as a present from some American relatives who claim it is rapidly becoming fashion in the United States. When a woman is forced to cover the vast distances over there on horseback, she needs something much more comfortable than a side saddle and, accordingly, must adjust her clothing.”

Fenton caught her gaze in his and smiled languidly into her brown eyes.

“It is unusual,” he drawled, “but very attractive. It emphasizes a lady’s … lower limbs to perfection.”

The sudden glow of Beth’s cheeks gave him a wicked satisfaction. He loved to get her fired up, had always loved to! God! She was irresistibly beautiful! When her mare took an unexpected side step, Fenton’s hand reached for the bridle but instead, caught Beth’s hand. Even through the leather of their gloves, he could feel the heat of their skins. Panic darkened her eyes, and he instantly released her.

“I am sorry, mademoiselle, but for a moment, I feared Sparkle would stumble.”

She nodded, and they continued in silence.

 

~~~~

 

Inwardly Beth blazed with suppressed fury!  Damn him! It was so typical of Fenton to turn on the charm on a woman he had only just gotten acquainted with and one who was in his employ and all! She was raking her brain for some retaliation when she heard his alarmed cry.

“By Jove! There must be a fire!”

He dug his heels in Parsifal’s flanks and galloped toward the village. He was right! A black plume of smoke rose from between the thatched roofs of the village and a crowd of people was gathering and running toward it.

Beth suddenly saw Lily and Oliver go after Fenton and she spurred on Sparkle to follow them. When she drew nearer, for a split second she thought it was Granny Bradley’s cottage that was on fire! Panicking, she hurried on, just in time to see Fenton jump off his horse and toss the reins into some farmer boy’s hands.

“Lily! Oliver! Take care!” she shouted, suddenly afraid they would fall off their mounts. Then she reached the children, hastily got off Sparkle and helped first Oliver, then Lily down.

“Stay here!” she ordered. “Do not go near the cottage.”

“But it is Ruby’s house!” Lily screamed.

“Yes, I can see that but look, there is Ruby and Ben, her husband!”

Ruby, however, stood wringing her hands in despair and panic.

“Oh, my lord, help us! My little Johnny is still inside!”

The baby! Beth ran toward Ruby and took her hands in hers.

“Ruby, where is he? In which room?”

“The ground floor room, at the back! Oh God! Oh dear Lord!”

People were running to and fro with buckets of water, throwing it into the fire without result until Fenton quickly organized them into a line, so that the buckets could be passed on in a chain. He then tore off his riding jacket and emptied one of the buckets over his head. Dripping with water, his shirt clinging to his chest, he shook himself vigorously. Beth found herself staring at the outlines of that broad torso, the long muscles rippling. Her mouth went dry and breathing became difficult. Fenton snatched a shawl from the shoulders of one of the women, dipped it in water and threw it over his head.

Before Beth’ horrified eyes, he then disappeared into the burning cottage. Beth’s heart stopped beating that same moment, as she realised he was putting his life at risk to rescue Ruby’s baby. Ruby, who was hysteric with fear … Beth went to put her arms around the slim figure of the young women.

Ben, Ruby’s husband, had put himself at the head of the chain and was desperately throwing water onto the flames.

Interminable seconds lengthened into minutes, slowly killing Beth with every beat of her terrified heart. Stephen – for the love of God, Stephen was in that hell fire! Pacing up and down in front of the cottage, now roaring with huge flames, she bit her knuckles in sheer agony! When would he come out? Soon – it would have to be soon! This was not happening, she could not lose Stephen!

Abruptly she stopped and realised what she had just been experiencing – a huge, heart-wrenching feeling of panic, because Stephen Fenton could actually be in mortal danger and perish. Stephen Fenton, the murderer of her family – the man who destroyed her life. Yet, she was so anxious about him, about facing a life without him, that her heart was aching with a tremendous pain, right then and there.

To calm herself and get out of her strange mood, she went back to Lily and Oliver and was relieved to see that their grandmother had joined them.

“I never thought to see the day when a Fenton would risk his life to save someone else’s,” Granny Bradley said in surprise.

“No, me neither,” Beth murmured in return.

A cry from the crowd drew her gaze back to the burning cottage. Covered with soot, Stephen Fenton came staggering out, a small bundle clutched against his bare chest. He seemed to have wrapped the baby in his own shirt. Hands reached out for little Johnny but his mother was first and took him from the baron.

Beth gave a sudden cry of alarm when she saw Fenton collapse onto his knees, blood running down his face and torso.

I Killed Him – pt 10

Chapter Ten

Captain Hartford returned to post with explanations to his Commander. He had entered his Commander’s office with great hesitancy only to be buoyed by the fact that nothing seemed out of order. Surely, there would be a severe questioning session if Miss Hale or Detective Boyle had come to him with any suspicions. Grant wondered how long it would be before Miss Hale was found, dead or alive. She had to have taken her own life as she admitted she had been thinking of doing. There could be little hope of reconciliation after all this time, if she lived. Grant decided to stop worrying about Miss Hale and do something about it. Looking over his shoulder was something he caused to others, and not something he would endure himself. Once he could locate her, he would dispose of her as he had once done to the fiancé of a woman he forcefully bedded. When all doubts of his involvement in her death were well and truly dismissed, he would pick his moment to expose her brother and gain the accolades of the crown.

 

I Killed Him 250x375It was nearing midday when the Shaw household received their post. The housemaid set it on the table in the foyer where it always rested in a silver tray. Edith and her mother were in the parlor still suffering the loss of Margaret.

“The police have had twenty four hours and still no word,” Mrs. Shaw stated as she paced the room. “She cannot have just disappeared off the face of the earth.”

Edith remembered spotting Margaret’s reticule on the sofa in the house of Captain Hartford. She knew the police had that knowledge but her aunt did not. Edith began to think that the waiting was starting to take a great toll on her and her mother. A doctor should be summoned tomorrow to ease her mother’s nerves.

“Mother, how about a cup of tea with me?”

“Yes, Edith, ring for the maid.”

The maid entered the parlor as requested and asked what she could do. Directed to bring a tray of tea, she turned to leave, offhandedly telling the Mistress that the post had arrived.

Edith walked to the foyer and brought the small bundle into the parlor. Noticing a post from Mr. Bell, she handed it quickly to her mother.

Mrs. Shaw snapped the seal in an instant and began to read of Margaret’s whereabouts. Almost with the vapors, she grabbed her heart and shouted, “She’s alive. Margaret is alive. She is in Milton.”

Edith pulled the note from her mother’s waving hands and read it for herself.

“Mother, it says she is injured and in the hospital there. We must go at once.”

“Edith, we will go a first light tomorrow. We will pack. Today we need to inform Maxwell and he will know who else should know of this. Oh, Thank the Lord, she is alive. Do you think Maxwell could have some time to come with us?”

“I hope so, Mother. He’s been very involved in this, much more than I think we know. I will take the buggy to the post right away.” Edith went outside and asked the groomsman to harness the buggy. She returned to the house for her shawl and to calm her mother before leaving.

As Edith reined the light buggy towards the fort, she kept repeating the words ‘particularly injurious condition’. Now, she was sure and Maxwell would be too, that Captain Hartford was hiding something. It did solve the worry that he had her tied up somewhere in his home or other place. Still upsetting to Edith was, why did she not come home that night. Did Hartford drop her home or not? Did her cousin have to run away from him? What took her to Milton?

Edith thought about the note saying that she had arrived at Mr. Thornton’s home. She had run to him for help, for protection. She still loved the man. It was as plain as day but created more questions than it answered. She could have had nothing to do with Captain Hartford, so why did she? Edith couldn’t wait to get to Milton tomorrow and she hoped Maxwell could attend with them.

 

The guard at the post gate admitted Edith Shaw into the visitor area behind the first gate. He sent a horseman across the fort to fetch Captain Lenox, if he were in his quarters. He was not and knowledge of his whereabouts was not immediately known.

Edith wrote a note, sealing it and handing it to the guard. “Please see that he gets this as soon as possible. It is a family emergency,” she told him, lying just a little bit.

Instead of returning home immediately, she went to see the local constable to acquaint him with the facts that they had just received. Someone should know something before they stepped onto the train tomorrow bound for Milton.

“You say you have had word from the Mr. Bell, who you spoke about before, that Miss Hale is in a Milton hospital?”

“Yes, that’s correct. I do not remember the exact wording but it said she arrived, injured, at the home of Mr. Thornton, a man who she once had feelings for. I believe she ran to the only male she trusted. Mr. Bell was not in London, and my fiancé, Captain Lenox, also, wears a red coat. She may not have wanted to confide anything to him. I’m just guessing, you understand.”

“I know of this Mr. Thornton. He is a well respected Mill Master in Milton. He has done much to place that city on the map. I will get this information over to the Met right away. You say you are leaving for Milton in the morning?”

“Yes, early.”

“Is Captain Lenox going with you?”

“I’ve just come from trying to locate him to see if he could accompany my mother and I, but he couldn’t be located. And should he contact us, I do not know if he would be permitted to leave his post.”

“Do you know where you will be staying when you arrive, in case the need arises?”

“Yes, we will be registered at the Milton Grand Hotel, but will be found at the hospital, I am sure.”

“Since we and the Met have a file started on Miss Hale, someone should be down there tomorrow as well. We will need her statement.”

“I’m glad to hear that. This is all so confusing.”

“Do you have a particular sense of what is confusing to you?”

“She is my best friend, and I believe I am hers. After her father died a year ago, she came to live with us rather than staying in Milton alone. I should rephrase that. My mother insisted that she come and stay with us. As she began to slowly recover from her grief, she talked more about Mr. Thornton, quite a bit more. I could tell that she had loved him, but something wasn’t right between them when the death came and my mother pulled her to London. I’ve been confused since this letter this morning.”

“And why is that?”

“I do not see why she began to see or continued to see this Captain Hartford if her heart lay elsewhere. It’s quite unlike Margaret to do something she does not want to do. Like we said before, when she began seeing this Captain we started noticing a different person in her. She was quiet and withdrawn. That in and of itself was odd, but now, out of nowhere, she runs to her first love. I can’t blame her for that. The note said she was injured. Captain Hartford had to be abusive for her to run so far and not let us know. In her darkest hour she ran to the man she loved.

 

Mr. Bell was Margaret’s first visitor, almost an hour early. Margaret had tears in her eyes after seeing him come into her room and set down his top hat and cane.

“Margaret, my dear.” Were the only words that Adam Bell could say as he walked towards her. He struggled to hold his own emotions back as he looked at her face with the black eye.

Margaret tried to stand from the side of her bed, to hug him, but didn’t make it. Adam knelt on one knee in front of her and wondered how he could hug her. Instead he held her shoulders and kissed her on top of her head.

“Margaret, I have no words and you know that is most unlike me. You cannot know how we have grieved over what you have suffered. Before you ask, I think we have Frederick in a safe position. We will know more by tomorrow or the next day. Your torment is over and here, today, you finally wed the man that you should have, two years ago. Margaret you don’t know how John has been waiting for this day. He will not show it, but he is extremely upset at what this man has done to you, but you have brought him the happiest time he’s ever been in all his life.”

Margaret tried to bend and reach forward to put her arms around him but only found a small success. “I know, Adam. It took leaving him to know how much I loved him. I’m the lucky one that he didn’t have another woman in his life. I’m blessed that he still loves me.”

“I know you couldn’t know, but there was never any doubt in that. It was all too clear to me. You two will make the best couple I have ever had the good fortune to know. So, are you healing as expected?”

“Yes, I am doing well. I think I might even be a day ahead of their expectations or it could be just the good day that started for me today. You see the decorations that the hospital staff did for our wedding. I think John bought the entire flower seller’s wares. Look at this room. I did not think we could get the alcohol smell out of here, but John found away. Oh, Adam, I do love him.”

“And where did this frock come from? You did not arrive with that. I bet someone on the staff brought something from home for you. I must say it clashes with your bright black eye,” Bell laughed instead of crying for his charge.

“Oh, wasn’t that nice of them to do. John will be so surprised. The doctor and nurse worked with me this morning so I can stand for a few moments for the ceremony. I’m glad John doesn’t have to remember this day with me wearing a while sheet,” Margaret laughed and then grimaced. “I can see that laughing will a bit uncomfortable for a few weeks.”

Adam Bell stood and pulled a small chair to her side.

“Adam, who knows about me?” Margaret asked in a serious tone.

“That would be myself, John, of course, Nicholas and his wife, and Branson. Your aunt should be getting my note today about your condition, I didn’t say much, mostly about your whereabouts. I expect them very late tonight but more likely tomorrow afternoon. I have rooms reserved. Only John, Branson, Nicholas and myself, know about Fred. I hope John has told you we are making plans and feel good that Frederick is taking actions now, on his own. We want to help him get to another country. I am sure your cousin and aunt have been to the police about you being missing, but I don’t know what they told them. They didn’t know about this treatment that you were hiding from all of us, from this Captain Hartford.”

“You know about that? All of that?”

Adam, slowly nodded his head and pulled her hands into his. “Margaret we all love you. You can’t hurt and we not know why. It is absolutely unbearable to think of what you endured. He will be dealt with; you can be assured of that.”

“How? I cannot stand in a witness box and tell strangers what I have been through.”

“That is not going to happen. John is going to see to that. You must speak with him after your happy wedding day today.”

Changing the subject, “Margaret, your parents would be so proud of you and Frederick would be too, if he knew John. I hope they meet some day.”

“I want that more than anything. Besides you, Frederick is the only family that I have and who’s opinion I highly regard.”

“Margaret, you certainly have mine. You could not find a man that loves you more, will cherish you, will protect you beyond his own life, than John Thornton. It’s nice that you love him, too, don’t you think?”

“I couldn’t ask for anything better in my life than to have found him. And to think I did not like him when I saw him. The first I saw of him, he was losing his temper.” Margaret paused, thinking of that side of John. What would he do if he came face to face with Captain Hartford? Margaret set that aside for later thought.

Next came, Nicholas and Peggy through the door. Peggy set the cake off to a side cabinet and ran to Margaret. “Oh dear, Margaret. I wish the circumstances could be different but I am so glad to have you back in Milton. I have missed my friend. And now, you are going to be the famous Mrs. John Thornton.” Peggy kissed her on the good cheek followed by Nicholas doing the same thing.

“Miss Margaret, you have finally reeled in the catch of Milton. It’s about time. I’m tired of watching over his life and his moods. It’s your turn now.” Nicholas said.

“You two are scaring me. You mean I will be famous?” she laughed.

“Oh yes, you will need a spokesman to talk with all those reporters outside. They know something is up with John being seen here so many days in row. You don’t know how many hearts you will break today when you take him off the market,” Nicholas continued.

“Look at this room!” said Peggy. The women started to talk as Adam gave Peggy his seat and went to the corner to talk with Nicholas. Both had to admit they were wearing false smiles, when all they felt was sorrow and rage at this initial look at Margaret.

“I think we’ll both do better when we see the happiness on John’s face in a little while. I can’t say it will be worth what it costs, but everyone’s prayers are answered today,” added Nicholas.

 

John finally remembered to tell Cook and Jane that he was getting married today and that Mrs. Thornton should be in the house in a few days. Cook jumped for joy and Jane smiled for the happiness of her employer.

“There will be no celebration here at the house, at least not today. Mr. Bell may come back for a drink or two, and maybe one or two more, but no food will be necessary. I would hope between the two of you, you can stock the house with what a woman needs. I’m not sure of what it all is and Mrs. Margaret Thornton will not be in a position to shop for herself. Cook, since you go home nightly, the live-in nurse will take your room for a week or so. Include her in all meals as well.”

“Master, we are so very happy for you. I’ve been waiting for this day nigh on ten years. I’ve watched ‘em come and go. You and I have had our talks about a few of them, but no one ever measured up to Miss Hale in our eyes and apparently yours, either. Congratulations. We will do everything thing to help her settle in and teach her how to run this house.”

“Thank you, ladies. I couldn’t ask for more. I think you will come to love my lady as I do. I guess it will take some getting used to, to have a woman in the house after the both of you have left for the day. Somehow, I think I will manage that,” John smiled.

“I’m sure you will manage that quit well,” said Cook. The wedding starts shortly and Branson and I must pick up the minister.”

“Do you have the ring in your pocket,” asked Mother Cook.

John tapped his vest pockets and went scurrying back to his bedchamber to the clothes he had on moments ago. Coming back through the kitchen on his way to the stables, he kissed Cook on the cheek. “You saved me a terrible embarrassment. Thank you. Next you see me, I will be married.” John picked up his best top hat and left through the back door.

The Counterfeit Governess – Part Four

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Four – The Beginning of Battle

 

Beth’s face froze at the casually spoken accusation. He could not have found her out, she thought. Had he recognized her despite all the precautions she took? Even as the colour left her face, she realised she would have to answer him – and quickly.

“Intentions, my lord? I do not understand!” To give herself space to breathe, Beth did not sit down but wandered to the high windows to contemplate the beautiful rose gardens below. When Fenton’s voice suddenly came but from inches away, she started involuntary. Her hand, holding her glass, wavered and the golden cherry spilled over her employer’s coat sleeve.

“Oh, I am sorry, my lord! Here, let me …”

He grabbed her hand, removed the glass and put it on a nearby table. Not releasing his grip, he slid his other hand under her chin in a gesture of pure male dominance.

“I will not be distracted, mademoiselle. Why are you badgering me into forcing your charges upon me and my mother?”

Regardless of the consequences, Beth only listened to her own, indignant fury and snapped at him.

Because you are their father! Because you have a sacred duty to them to care for them – no, to love them! They are very young and extremely distressed to have been taken from the grandmother they love! Telling Lily and Oliver that you love them and that you want them near you, would be the only explanation they would accept. If you do not give them that, they will simply wither away with misery.”

Fenton’s grey eyes were alight with rage, she saw, and in his livid face, his mouth quivered with the effort of restraining himself not to slap her. Narrowing her own eyes at him, to show him she was not intimidated by his fury, she tilted her chin and wiped his hand away.

 

He ached to kiss her! No, he just wanted her! That was the only thing on his mind because all other coherent thoughts seemed to have vanished like water drops a hot stone. As his gaze travelled from her rosy, moist lips to the spot right under her ear where her blood pulsed vigorously, Stephen Fenton felt his stomach muscles tighten with a knot of sheer desire. By Jove, what the deuce was wrong with him? He needed to get a hold on these uncontrolled feelings and right now, before she noticed them!

His long years of rigid army training served him well as he drew himself up to his full 6’2 and cut Beth off in a voice as clipped as a razor blade’s edge

“Mademoiselle Guillaume, let me clarify the position in which you serve this household. You are a governess on my payroll and you follow the rules I deem appropriate for the education of my bastard children. My bastard children, mademoiselle. Kindly take care you do not lose sight of that tiny little detail. Lily and Oliver are to be given a basic , and I do not expect them to behave as if they were to have a London season and a presentation at court. I provide for them in a very generous manner so that they can make their way through life. I believe that is already more than I am obliged to give them. Love is no part of the arrangement so keep your French emotions in check and stop interfering where it is not wanted.”

Beth could not believe her ears at this ice cold little speech but she would rather die than letting him see her indignation. This man, she told herself, was a cold-hearted rogue and immune to feelings of the heart. And she would be wise to always remember that.

“Very well, my lord,” she replied as politely as she could manage. Making him a perfect curtsy, she added a little sting. “I will tell Lily and Oliver that they do not need to love you, only pay you the respect you are entitled to as their provider. It will make matters much simpler. Goodnight, my lord.”

She had almost reached the door before his barked reply stopped her.

“For the love of God, what do you want me to do? I do not know these children at all! How am I supposed to convey feelings to them that I do not have?”

“I leave that entirely up to you, my lord,” Beth answered neatly. “A man of your breeding and experience surely must know how to convey his feelings if he puts his mind – and his heart – to it.”

With that, she left the room and went upstairs on shaky legs.

 

~~~~

 

Beth’s first month at Brixton Abbey had every day fully packed with various activities. She imposed a strict schedule to her charges and kept to it. Mornings were for study – reading, writing and arithmetic. As the weather was fine in this month of September, she often took Lily and Oliver outdoors, instead of keeping them cooped up in the dreary classroom on the top floor of the manor. They found a quiet terrace in the gardens where they could not be seen from the house. It was surrounded by yew hedges and had a stone table and benches.

Afternoons were for visits to Granny Bradley’s or horse riding lessons in the paddock near the stables. Beth thought it important that the children should learn to handle a horse.

Four weeks after they started, both children were tolerably fluent in reading. Lily had the upper hand  in writing and Oliver excelled in riding. Their weak point seemed to be arithmetic, although Oliver was better than Lily. The latter showed a knack for French, which Beth had introduced fairly quickly. All in all, she was very pleased with her charges’ first accomplishments.

Lily was a quiet girl who could concentrate, if she put her mind to it. Her brother, being a healthy, twelve-year-old boy, hated sitting still for more than a quarter of an hour at the time. He relished the horse riding and the thought of it kept him focussed during the other lessons.

However, Beth’s major accomplishment during that first month was that she succeeded in gaining the children’s trust and friendship, which was even more important for their well-being than the rest.

 

~~~~

 

It was one of those splendid September mornings when one did not think it would ever be Fall again, Stephen Fenton thought as he rose from behind his desk in the library. He had been working on estate matters and was eager to take a stroll and stretch his legs. As he began walking the path beside the large lawn toward a set of secret gardens and terraces, he acknowledged his master gardener‘s  good work in tending his vast grounds. Everything was in perfect order.

He descended a flight of shallow stairs that separated the lawn from the formal gardens beyond, when suddenly his left knee gave way, causing him to stumble and flail his arms to regain his balance. His reward was a sharp stab of pain on the right side of his abdomen where a French sabre left him with a horrible scar. The sabre cut and a bullet in his thigh were the injuries that had brought him on the brink of death after the Badajoz siege in 1812. If his mother had not moved heaven and earth, first to get him home and secondly to nurse him, he would have died far away from home and under miserable circumstances. His battle scars kept troubling him from time to time, though, causing him to be bitter and ill-tempered.

As he neared one of the secret gardens, the sound of a voice irresistibly drew him to it.

“Mon … nom est … Lily et je … suis une … fille,” Fenton heard. It was Lily’s voice, he realised with surprise! Reading in French? Her accent was not even that bad but he would have to thank the governess for that.

Elle Guillaume – aka Beth Williams – seemed to be doing a great job, Fenton mused. Who would have foreseen that the awkward vicar’s daughter would grow into so refined a lady.

“Très bien!” came Beth’s voice. “Et maintenant, Oliver, c’est à toi.”

“Oh, must I, miss? I do not know how to!”

“Yes, you do, Oliver. Come on, make an effort! You know the rules; if you do your lessons well enough to satisfy me, you’re allowed to make the trip to Granny’s on horseback, this afternoon.”

And, to Fenton’s surprise, Oliver obliged in a mangled French and recited the required words.

“Mon nom est Oliver et je suis un garcon.”

What surprised Fenton even more, was that Beth had arranged for the boy to have riding lessons! Nothing had been said about riding lessons, and Fenton was determined to have a serious conversation with Mademoiselle about that! His horses were not to be touched without his strict permission and it seemed that his head stable master had neglected his orders.