John spent the next hour with Cook, finishing up what could be needed at the house. He was surprised to find that he wasn’t quite as naive as he previously thought. He had to concede that living with the woman he loved meant he gladly had to survive with a lot of stuff around him. Soaps, and ribbons, combs and feminine needs where going to need their own room, he laughed.
“Has anyone changed my dresser around? I know there was room that could be made.” He asked Cook
“Jane has done that, sir. There are a few bits of undergarments for Miss . . . Mrs. Margaret in one drawer and one other empty one for her. I think you will need a second wardrobe. When she buys her frocks, that’s going to take a lot of room, but it isn’t necessary today.”
John thought about her frocks hanging next to his clothes. A feeling rushed through him. It was all real. It had really happened. She was his.
After leaving Cook, he headed to see Inspector Mason to talk with him about the latest details, leaving out the part about Margaret’s brother. He wasn’t sure if Mason would see it as he did. But Margaret came first, and if Mason needed that information, he would just have to trust him.
Finding Mason in his office, he entered and closed the door.
“Mason, I’ve come to let you know what is happening. There is reason to believe that this man that attacked Miss Hale could be boxed into a corner and may come searching for her. Easily, he knows that she is a witness to all of his abuses and is unlikely to think she will be quiet about it. Tomorrow, Margaret comes home. I will spend the night at the hospital since this new information has come to light. There seems to be a gathering of protectors for Margaret, including family and friends of family and most of all, myself. You’ve known me quite a few years, and I believe you know I will do whatever it takes to protect her. I cannot stress that enough.”
Mason could read between the lines with what John was telling him. “Congratulations, by the way. It sure took you long enough to wed that Miss Hale. My best to you both. It will be nice to have her here again in Milton. It will be nice of you to give the other single men a chance at the single ladies. I’ve heard today of two successes in men asking a lady out for the evening and have been accepted.”
“Mason, you jest. It wasn’t like that, at all.”
“It’s good the type of man that you are. Humble, I guess I would call it. I don’t think you ever realized the pressure you put on the rest of us, single men. You were a hard man to live up to in the women’s eyes.”
“Now, stop that. You’re beginning to sound like Higgins.”
“I may be kidding you a little, but not much. Now, getting back to this information. Do you know what he looks like?”
“No, but I guess I could ask Margaret’s family that has arrived from London today. As of yet, Margaret knows nothing of this. The doctor and I still feel she could be emotionally unstable in her acceptance of all this torture she endured.”
“And do you know why she endured it?”
“Yes, but telling you would put you in a position in finding yourself at odds.”
“If you are talking about her brother, I have known about him since he left Milton when her mother died. Not knowing that Miss Hale would leave Milton, I looked into that. I’m not interested in doing the Navy’s work for them. I’ve always felt the Navy was too harsh on their treatment of such acts. It’s like they don’t want to hear any rebuttal. I don’t want to see her brother hang, especially now that he’s your brother-in-law.”
“Yes, I guess he is at that. I only learned of his existence a few days ago. If I had only known back then, it would have saved Margaret from all of this. She would have been my wife long ago. Mason, I appreciate you seeing it the way, I do. It appears that he may be heading this way, too, to rescue his sister. He doesn’t know she’s here or she’s married. He’s looking up Adam Bell, trying to find this Hartford. Somehow, we’ll get a description of him to you. He could be here now, or very soon. Since we’ve gotten Frederick away from his watcher, his only recourse now is to silence Margaret with his plan falling apart.”
“I will have a meeting with my men. Keep me informed of any news and get me that description.”
“That I will. Good evening, Mason. Thank you once again.”
John returned to the hospital as the late afternoon gave way to early twilight. He was sure Margaret would be exhausted by now, and he would clear the room for her. First, he sought out the evening doctor, in charge. He didn’t ask; he told him he would be in her room for the night. She could be in danger, and he was not leaving her side. The hospital was glad to give him full responsibility.
John walked into Margaret’s room as if nothing was going on.
“Ladies, I think you have had enough time with my wife. In fact, you have had more time than I have. I want her to rest, so if you will excuse us, I believe Adam is awaiting your company for dinner at the hotel.”
“Margaret, I will bring you a lose frock to wear home tomorrow,” Edith noted.
“That is kind of you, Miss Shaw,” said John “When she arrives home and settles in she will be required to rest for a while. Please do not come to visit until the middle of the afternoon. Take some time and see our city.”
John walked Mrs. Shaw and Miss Shaw a short way down the corridor. “Miss Edith or Mrs. Shaw, our Inspector would like a description of Captain Hartford if you can provide one. He could come looking for her, and we want to be prepared. As I said, I am taking no chances. I would appreciate it if you could stop by the police station which is located in the Central Court House on this very road.
“Please call me, Edith, Mr. Thornton. After all, we’re family, now. Yes, we will stop by the police station. Who do we ask for?”
“Edith, and you may call me John, ask for an Inspector Mason. Tell anyone you meet that John Thornton as sent you to see Mason.” John offered, never looking at Mrs. Shaw. He was not going to offer the same familiar courtesy to Mrs. Shaw, to call him by his given name. She was senior to him, and it was only right that he continued to call her Mrs. Shaw.
“I hope you two have pleasant accommodations in the hotel. It’s not London here. We’re a working town. There are no society levels here. I hope you can bear with us on that score. Good day ladies. My driver is waiting for you outside. His name is Branson.”
Captain Lenox had arrived back in London and decided to see Detective Boyle before going to the Shaw’s home.
“Come in Captain Lenox. What can I do for you?” asked Boyle.
“I believe you are the man that Constable Leyland turned over the Margaret Hale case, to.”
“That would be correct. And you are?”
“I am Captain Maxwell Lenox. I soon will marry Miss Hale’s cousin, Edith. The Captain Hartford, who I only just met a few months ago, has caused me some uncomfortable feelings.”
“Before you go through the whole story, Captain Lenox, I have the report and know of your participation. What can I do for you?”
“I just returned from a small town far outside London where I followed a rumor regarding Hartford’s past. The father of the daughter said that a detective had been there only yesterday. I wanted to ensure you found out all that I did. The police would not speak with me, but the father was very candid about his thoughts.”
“Please go on Captain Lenox. I will be interested to hear what you were told.”
Maxwell was shown to a chair in the detective’s office and began his story. He included everything in case some items were missing from the report that the detective had received.”
“Thank you, Captain. Your information matches ours fairly close except we received more from the police there. I wish I could share it with you, but you understand that I cannot. Have you spoken to your commander about any of your suspicions?” Boyle asked.
“No, I have told no one. Even the family does not know all that I know. I find it very embarrassing that a man of such rank could act as it seems he has. I am not sure how I want to handle this. I’m sure you cannot advise me. It’s just that the Commander should be notified, but I have no witness to bring forward. We haven’t located Miss Hale, yet, to know the whole story.”
“You have now, Captain. She’s been found. She was injured and wound up in a hospital in Milton.”
“Milton? She lived there over two years ago. You said hospital. How badly was she injured?”
“Severely, it would seem. She’s recovering well, and I just heard that she married a man she knew when she once lived there. I believe the Shaw’s left today to see her. I’m going there tomorrow to interview her. I would appreciate it if you didn’t tell your Commander. After all, like you said, you have no proof. I think we do. Let’s not spook him. I have someone watching him all the time now.”
“I will not speak with the Commander, then. I’ll wait and see how you progress. I will be off to Milton tomorrow myself, it would seem.”
“Can you just take off like you did yesterday, today and now tomorrow?”
“I have leave coming to me. It is not a problem, at least for a couple more weeks. I was saving time for my honeymoon, but this has taken a priority in the family’s life. I will not wear my redcoat but will have it with me if you think I can be of any help in uniform. I can understand why Miss Hale ran, but we have no motive for any of this. Can I ask if you know why this behavior?”
“You can ask, but I am not permitted to say. Perhaps, when you reach Milton, more will come to light for you. It would seem that everyone of any knowledge of this case is going to be in Milton by tomorrow. I will be working with a Chief Inspector Mason when I arrive. I’m not sure where I’ll stay if you need to get in touch, but there must be a hotel there somewhere. Certainly, you can find me through their local police station. Thank you, Captain, for bringing your concerns to our attention. It would appear that you are not closing ranks on this and I appreciate that. I shall see you in Milton. Good day, sir.”
Maxwell nodded and left, quite relieved and surprised at the events that took place while he was away for one day. He would stop by the Shaw’s home for his own knowledge.
Not finding the Shaw’s at home, the housemaid said they had traveled to Milton very early this morning. Returning to his quarters, arriving only by minutes when a note was delivered to him. It was from Edith telling him essentially what he had heard from the detective. He pulled his leather satchel down and packed for his trip to Milton.
“Do you know what I am going to do to you when I get you home tomorrow?”
“I don’t know, but I think I’ll like it,” Margaret replied, resting back after her long day of relatives.
“I am going to kiss you until you cannot breathe. We are far behind where we could be in kissing, and I will start making up for it tomorrow. Perhaps, tonight even. I am staying here with you tonight.”
“You are!” was heard from a gleeful Margaret. With a little consideration, she asked, “Why?”
“You wish me to leave?” John feigned hurt.
“No! No, of course not, but it’s not permitted, is it?”
“I permitted it, myself.”
“Do Magistrates have such powers?” she asked.
“Yes, have you not known that?” John replied, kiddingly. “How many weddings do you think take place in hospitals? Have you ever heard of that happening to anyone else?”
“I do not think you are speaking truthfully. I think you just want to kiss me,” she laughed.
“That I do, too, my love.”
“Are you really here for the night?”
“Oh, dear,” Margaret quietly bemoaned. “Can you call a nurse, please?”
“What is it? Do you feel bad?” John asked anxiously.
“No. Before I settle down for the night, I should go over to that screen.”
“Oh, I see,” John smiled to himself. “I can help you get there.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
John didn’t hear the amusement in her voice and was taken aback momentarily. “Margaret, are you really afraid of me or is it just the newness of us?”
“I’m really afraid; you know what I mean. I guess it is the newness of us. That sounds exactly like what it is.”
John was relieved.
“Margaret, I will simple help you to get there since the room is becoming dim. I’m not asking to take away the screen, my love.” He wanted to laugh but held it in. “You will have to talk with Cook tomorrow, and she’ll tell you how proud she was of me as we, together, went shopping for a woman’s needs today.”
“You did not!”
John was silent. John could see her studying his face for some smirk, but he had none.
“You did not!”
“If you insist,” John replied.
“I knew it.”
“All right. I guess we have to start somewhere. You can help me to the screen.”
John popped out of his chair. He waited for Margaret to adjust her gown and start to push the sheet down. John gently felt behind her knees, which brought on a typical male reaction, and swung her legs to the side of bed.
“Did I do good? I can’t see how badly you might be grimacing.”
“That was fine. When I know it’s going to happen and can turn my whole body at once, it works without pain. I don’t know if my rib is getting better or I am just getting used to the discomfort of it.”
“Yes, that’s probably so. I doubt the medication for pain has anything to do with it, anymore.” John smarmed.
Margaret wiggled until her feet touched the floor. “Can you pull my hands now? I can’t seem to use my stomach muscles to stand myself up from this low bed.”
John pulled her to her feet and then took her elbow to steady her for the short walk across half of the room. Arriving at the commode chair, he moved the screen away momentarily so she could maneuver herself, and then replaced it.
“Thank you. You can sit back down now. Don’t hover.”
John was enjoying himself, exceptionally, at her shy innocence. He could hear her rustling her gown which must be a nuisance for women, he thought. The room was finally quiet. He started to smile. Either Margaret was trying to urinate quietly, or she was finding it difficult. He knew it would never happen quietly, as she dribbled into an enamel pan.
“Can you talk or sing or let me hear about one of your cases in the courtroom?”
John could hardly answer for the grin on his face at her nervousness.
“All right. There once was a man from . . .” John stopped. A light tinkling sound was heard. “I h-e-a-r you,” he said.
The sound stopped immediately.
“That’s interesting, he laughed.
“What is?” asked a helpless Margaret.
“That’s very interesting,” John repeated.
“Are you talking for my sake or are you actually talking to me.”
“I am talking TO you, Margaret.”
“Well, what’s so interesting and hurry up about it.”
“That the sound stopped in a snap. Just like that. No more water running into the pan.”
“Can’t men do that?” Margaret asked, now with interest.
“I’m really not sure. I’ve never had an occasion to try it.”
“Yes, I’ve heard about that part of men’s bodies. Once that thing gets going, there’s no stopping it.” Margaret heard the biggest laugh from John and was able to release the rest and finish. “Don’t try to deny that you’re not sure about that.” Margaret chuckled.
John finally caught his breath, and the room was silent again.
“Is everything all right with you? Do I need to leave the room?” he asked, still stifling his last bout of laughter.
“No, I’m done.”
“Are up ready to return to the bed?”
“Not quite yet.”
John waited and could her a few groans coming from the other side of the screen. He was confused. Was there another step he didn’t know about?
“Is there a problem, my love?”
“There seems to be a small one. I think I need the nurse this time.”
“Margaret. Let me help you. I want to help you. We are going to have several weeks of this, so let me help you now, while the room is dim,” he chuckled.
“I can’t bend over to reach my drawers that slid to the floor,” Margaret said embarrassed.
“Lucky me,” said John, quietly.
“Nothing, sweetheart. I’ll be right there and even close my eyes if you insist.”
“If you won’t call the nurse, I have no choice.”
“All right. I am in front of the screen. Tell me what to do.” John was now serious.
Nurse Pickering had stepped into the room unobserved and marveled at the sight happening. She placed her hand over her mouth and continued to watch.
“Close your eyes.”
“Now, slide the screen away . . . that’s it.”
“Next,” John replied, keeping his eyes closed as promised.
“Now, feel my hands?”
“Yes, I have them. You want me to pull you to a standing position first?”
“All right. Here we go. I can’t see what I am doing so shout if I have you off balance.”
“You’re doing fine . . . that’s it.”
“Now, I suppose you want me to find your drawers and pull them up.”
“Yes, and don’t be funny about it.”
“Margaret, this is funny. I shall remember it all my life. I’m supposed to be pulling these the other way. I will try real hard to reverse the male’s coveted role in life.”
Now, Margaret was laughing, and Nurse Pickering couldn’t hold her laughter back either.
“Bravo said Nurse Pickering. You two work well together. I hope it becomes easier when there’s more light.”
John almost fell back on his butt at being surprised by their audience. He recovered gracefully. “Did we pass muster, Mrs. Pickering?”
John stood up and held Margaret’s elbow, guiding her back to bed. The nurse collected the enamel pan and left the room, laughing.
“Well, Mrs. Thornton, this honeymoon has been slightly different than I’ve always thought one should be, but I am loving every minute, even when I heard you,” he exaggerated for good measure. “Let’s see . . . I’ve touched the softness at the back of your knee. I want to do better at that. This was just a trial. You let me skim the sides of your legs as I struggled to pull up your undergarment. That had me in a sweat. Please do not let another man know I did that.”
Margaret was laughing too hard. “Stop. It hurts to laugh this hard.”
“I have had so many “firsts” today, I must write them down. I never want to forget these past two days with you.”
“You will not write them down.”
“I will need to refer to my notes for future reference until I am proficient.”
Margaret just sighed, hoping he was teasing her. He was going to be caring with her shyness. John would soothe her fears, she knew. She wondered where their sense of humor came from when it wasn’t there before. They both were appearing slightly different but in a nice way.
It came to her that two years ago, they had been in love separately, now they were in love together and very happy about it.
Captain Grant Hartford sat at his desk and began to assemble the broken puzzle.