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 two 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?”
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.
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.
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.