John opened the door to the Shaw’s and a smartly dressed young man with perfect posturing in a red-coat. No one was going upstairs until he knew who this man was.
“Good afternoon, Miss Shaw, Mrs. Shaw, and you, sir, are?”
Maxwell extended his hand. “I am Maxwell Lenox. I am betrothed to Edith.”
“Oh yes, do come in. I am John Thornton, husband to Margaret Hale Thornton,” he said for good measure.
As the four came up the steps, John asked, “Are you the brother of Henry Lenox?”
“I hope you will not hold that against me, Mr. Thornton, but I am. Margaret made her choice a long time ago, and that was his and her business, not mine. I can well imagine that you look at anyone new now as ‘friend or foe.’”
John had no reply to his last statement, but let it slide back in his mind for now. Unusual, he thought.
Margaret heard the visitors coming up the steps with John. It would be nice to see Maxwell again, she thought, but when she saw the red-coat, she let out a scream.
John squeezed past everyone coming through to the parlor room door and ran to her.
“John, I’m sorry. Everyone, I am truly sorry. Maxwell, I’ve so wanted to see you again, but your uniform just startled me. I’m fine now. Everyone, please sit down.”
“Margaret, I do apologize. How thoughtless of me.” Edith ran to Margaret’s other side. Do you want us to leave, Margaret?”
“No, don’t be silly. John and I just finished discussing these issues I will be working through. I’m sorry everyone. Maxwell, come here.” Margaret sniffled.
“I’m sorry to scare all of you. Maxwell, give me a gentle hug and put it out of your mind, what I just did.”
Mrs. Shaw wandered over to John’s chair and dropped in it, completely shaken by Margaret’s outburst.
John had been shaken to his core with her reaction. No matter how she tried to soothe his concerns for her, he knew they were buried deep as the doctors had mentioned.
As Edith petted Margaret, John went to the back stairs and called Cook, asking for her to get Branson up here to serve the bar.
Maxwell walked to John and apologized. “Mr. Thornton, I was thoughtless. I am sorry.”
“Captain, please be at ease. I have but just recently said words that had almost the same reaction. This is still very fresh, and we are beginning to manage.” John explained.
“In regards to ‘it,’ I would like to have some private words with you in the next day or two. I have information that I feel I should tell you. I will be at the Milton Hotel.”
“I would very much like to hear what you have to say. I will set something up and send word.”
Both men returned to the center of the room. Maxwell went to the other fireplace chair and John on Margaret’s side.”
“Aunt, it will be another time that I show you through our house. I have only seen this room and that one myself,” Margaret said, pointing to the dining room.
“Margaret, do not concern yourself with me. I will be glad to see it another time.” Mrs. Shaw was overcome with Margaret’s fright at seeing Maxwell’s uniform. She realized that her fear ran deep, even this far from London. What she must have suffered.
“So, I gather you just returned home, then?” Mrs. Shaw asked, endeavoring to take the conversation in a new direction.
“Yes, we have not been here an hour, yet.”
Branson appeared at the stop of the steps when all eyes landed on him.
“Everyone, this is my fearless and experienced driver,” John smiled, “Branson. He is here to take your refreshment orders.” Branson remembered the two women who had come to the hospital earlier that morning. He didn’t know the gent.
Maxwell rose and unexpectedly walked to Branson with his hand extended. “I am Maxwell Lenox, friend of the family.”
“Thank you, sir. It is nice to meet you.” Branson was taken aback at his courtesy to a driver.
Branson turned to the lady’s first. Branson went around the room. Mrs. Shaw wanted a cup of tea, Edith and Margaret had decided on a wine, while the men asked for scotch.
“I see you are a scotch man, too, Captain.” John offered.
Conversations were started, and John realized that Mrs. Shaw had trouble hearing across the room and offered to switch places with her. She agreed. Edith had brought Margaret a book to read while she recovered and the women talked about that.
John lowered his voice to speak with the Captain. “You have knowledge of most of this ordeal that Margaret has suffered?” John appealed.
“Yes, much more than Margaret, I dare say. Do you have any word on her brother?”
“I think Adam Bell is expecting to hear from him today. We believe he is safely out of the way. Margaret is now married to me, and I hope for her sake that is an end to it.”
John saw the Captain frown. He had to talk with him soon. “How long are you here for, Captain?”
“I’m not sure, yet. I will talk about that when we are alone.
Branson returned to the kitchen for the hot tea.
“Branson, how many people are up there? If they are going to stay, I will need to change my menu for midday,” Cook said anxiously.
“There are five, but I expect Mr. Bell will not be long before arriving. I would have thought him to be first. So, it best be six plus us.”
“Well . . . it will have to be sandwiches again, but I think I can make a few side dishes to go with it. I’ll have to wait on Miss Margaret’s special meal, I suppose.”
Branson returned with the tea when there was another knock.
“Sir, I’ll get that. I expect it’s Mr. Bell.”
“Thank you, Branson. That’s about all that is missing from this group.”
Branson trotted down the front stairs and opened the door to find Chief Inspector Mason and another new gent with an unlit pipe.
“Hello, Chief,” greeted Branson.
“I see a coach outside which isn’t yours. Would you tell Mr. Thornton, that I and Detective Boyle from the Metropolitan in London, are here to see Mrs. Thornton.”
“Yes, please come in and wait here. He may want to come speak with you before you go upstairs. There is family from London visiting Mrs. Thornton. I’ll return shortly.”
Branson flew upstairs to his Master and whispered in his ear. John shook his head and stood. “Captain, maybe you would like to come with me.”
Maxwell rose to his feet, setting his glass aside and pulled down his uniform jacket to perfection.
“John, what is it?” said a worried Margaret.”
“I am going to see about what is it right now.”
“And Maxwell is going with you?”
John couldn’t lie to her, and he couldn’t get close enough to whisper to her. The men had to be here to question her, and there would be no hiding their reason.
“Branson, bring them upstairs. Captain, have a seat.” John walked by the doorway to the downstairs and waited for them on the landing.
Margaret and the women peered over to see two men standing with John. Branson was trying to squeeze through the trio. Captain Lenox heard the voice of Boyle and rose himself, in respect.
“That’s Chief Inspector Mason,” Margaret said.
“And that’s Detective Boyle from the Met in London, I believe,” said Edith.
“I wonder if our driver could take me to the hotel,” asked Mrs. Shaw. This was all too much for me.” She would rather Edith told her about it later tonight. She motioned to Branson.”
“Yes, Mrs. Shaw, may I help you? More tea?”
“No, help me down the stairs. I will have my driver return me to the hotel.”
“Will you be all right mother?” asked Edith.
“Yes, stay if you will; I can manage.”
“Mother, Margaret is tiring. I will go with you and see her later. Is that agreeable, Margaret?”
“Yes, Edith. It would appear that I am in for some questions and then I will want to rest. Thank you, Aunt Shaw, for making the trip. Do not worry about me. I shall write to tell you how I am progressing and how much in love I am.” Margaret waved.
“Do that dear. Take care.”
The two women spoke to Maxwell on their way out and could see that he was going to stay.
“I will be at the hotel when I can. Just send the driver back,” he replied.
There seemed to be congestion at the doorway leading to the stairs.
The three men stepped into the parlor and let the ladies and Branson pass through. There were no goodbyes, as John seemed quite tied up with the Detective.
Margaret felt helpless sitting in the middle of the sofa, not having the armrests to aid her to rise.
John came to her side. “Margaret, you know Mason and the other man is a detective from London. He wants to question you after we have talked. I am going to carry you into our bedchamber and let you rest until I bring them to our room. I can turn them away if you want me to, but it will only be temporary. He wants to talk with you sometime.”
“Take me to rest. I’d like to get this over with. It would seem he is after that Grant Hartford?”
“I believe that’s his reason for being here. Captain Lenox, and your family opened the case in London. Since you are here, and they know you are too injured to return, he has come to you. Are you ready?”
“Branson, seat the gentleman while I take Margaret to our room.”
“That sounds wonderful, John.”
“Our room,” smiled Margaret.
“Sweetheart, nothing has yet gone the way I had planned. I wanted to introduce you to our room, alone. Now, I have to just deposit you and return. I shall make all of this up to you some day, my love.”
“Yes, I think I have missed all of the wooing and kissing alone this path to our marriage and no honeymoon.” She spoke in light-hearted tones, so John didn’t feel any worse than he did.
“I don’t know how long, we will be.”
“Oh, let me take my book.”
John turned with her in his arms and lowered her to grab her book and then swiftly moved through the crowd to get her out of there.
Captain Lenox greeted Boyle and was introduced to Mason. Branson took orders on drinks for the two new men. Mason declined, and Boyle asked for a whiskey, seeing that other alcohol was being consumed in the room.
Detective Boyle did not take a seat. He should have realized he would speak with the lady first and she may be able to rest.
John returned to the room.
“Mr. Thornton, I apologize. I do not wish for your wife to wait on us. If you don’t mind, I will speak with her now. Would that be possible?”
“I’d like to be present,” John said.
“Sir, with all due respect, I would wish to speak with her alone. Some things a woman will not say in front of her husband.”
“Being a Magistrate, I am quite aware of that.”
“I will be glad to call you in, in a short time,” replied Boyle. He hadn’t known the mill master of some fame was also a Magistrate. He was dealing with an intelligent man, he surmised.
John went upstairs, and Boyle followed. John tapped lightly on the door asking if he and Detective Boyle could come in.
“Yes, of course.”
Margaret was sitting up with pillows behind her, just as she had been in the hospital.
“Margaret, Detective Boyle would like to speak with you alone. Do you feel well enough for this?”
“Alone? Yes, if I must. I mean, yes. I am fine.”
John left the room and closed the door behind him. Detective Boyle introduced himself while pulling over a small chair to the bedside.
“My, this is some bed,” he cajoled.
“This is my first time in it or in this room. It’s been a hectic day starting out.”
“I will try to be brief. I have a few questions. I have asked your husband to be absent because I feel you will have something to tell me that he may not know about. What you tell him is not a problem, but what you tell me will mean a great deal. Do you understand what I am saying?”
Margaret blushed, and the whimpering began. “I know exactly what you are saying. My husband does know everything, I believe, as the doctors seemed to give him a full account. But having to finally say the words myself is going to be hard and I am glad he is not here to hover. He is very concerned for me, and he’s holding back his anger, but I can feel it there.”
“That’s understandable. Inspector Mason has cleared up the reason for why you came to him and are now married. That was a surprise to hear. My congratulations. Can you tell me in any words you can manage about the last night you were with Captain Hartford? And, before you begin, I know all about your brother’s past. Mason and I are in agreement and apparently your husband is, too, that we are not looking for him. Let the navy do their own job.”
“Thank you, Detective. That is such a huge relief. My whole life seems to have been one disaster after another because he’s been a mutineer, but I would not change what I have done, except where my husband is concerned. Had I’d known of his attitude about my brother, we would have been married before now.”
The detective pulled out a pad of paper and a pencil. Margaret thought about how the Met didn’t operate on much more of a budget than the local police.
“Begin where you can, Mrs. Thornton.”
Margaret didn’t start with the last night, she started from the beginning. She told of her injuries that the doctor had told her she’d had over a long time. She talked about how the injuries seemed placed to be hidden. Margaret spoke of her coercion to marry because of her money, so she thought, but everything was predicated on her brother being turned over to the Navy. She held up well until she finally arrived at her final night at his home.
“Mrs. Thornton, you are doing well. I am fairly certain I know what you are going to tell me, as it seems Captain Lenox has put a lot of this puzzle together. Tell me as best as you can, or I will say the words, and you can correct me.”
“Maxwell? Maxwell thinks he knows what that man did to me?”
“Yes, he gave me his assumptions and why. I find it quite likely he is right.”
“Can I ask what made him know?”
“It seems he visited Hartford the morning after you had disappeared, to ask about his knowledge of how you were taken home that night. Hartford, had, for two days, a lap blanket, lain across his groin area, each time Maxwell went. On his first visit, with his wife, she noticed your little handbag had slid to the side of the couch. Now, can you tell me?”
Margaret broke down and told him exactly what had happened that whole night. She showed him the hand prints on the back of her neck and tops of her arms. He declined to see her broken rib. Her black eye was most apparent.
“Mrs. Thornton, this is a travesty I have yet heard of in all my years. I am terribly sorry for your torturous times with that man.”
“I won’t have to say this in a court, will I? Margaret sniffled.
“I’ll make sure you don’t.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“I can’t answer that right now. We do know a lot more about this man than you do, and none of it is pretty.” Boyle told her.
“Is he still in London, walking around like nothing happened?”
“I cannot tell you that either, but I will say, we are watching him. When we have enough facts, we’ll know where he is to pick him up. Mrs. Thornton, you have been a brave woman, and I should not think that I will have to speak with you again. I know this has been very traumatic and some things may be recalled that are being left forgotten now or blocked out. If there is anything new, I will be here for a few days, or you can relay it to Inspector Mason. He is fully aware of this case and had started one of his own here in Milton.”
“Yes, your husband has been keeping him apprised of the situation. Mr. Thornton is very protective of you. Since he cannot leave you to see to this man himself, he wants to ensure he doesn’t come here.”
“Do you know anything about my brother?”
“No, we don’t. I am hoping to learn more about that while here. Is there anything I should know that you know?”
“I have no idea about him. I’m so worried. Mr. Bell, who was my father’s best friend all his life while he lived, has taken on the role of guardian because my father asked him to. Even being of age, he still feels the need to see that I am happy. He is dying soon,” Margaret wept the words. “He has endowed me with his fortune, which is what Grant was after, I believe. Mr. Bell is the only one in the family who may keep in some contact with my brother and know what’s happening.”
“And where is this Mr. Bell?”
“He lives at the university in London, but he’s here in Milton at the hotel. I guess you’re at the hotel?”
“Just arriving a little while ago, I think I’ll be staying in one of the empty jail cells while here. I will try and contact this Mr. Bell, later today. Again, my sympathy for your experience and hopefully, I won’t need you before this is all over. We will get this man, there is no doubt.”
“Thank you, Detective Boyle. That relieves me greatly.”
“I’ll show myself out. Good day.”
John had been waiting on the landing for the Detective to call him into his bedchamber, but Boyle exited instead.
“Have you completed your questions?” John asked.
“Yes. She is very brave, that wife of yours. After you’ve seen to her, I’d like to talk downstairs.”
“I’ll be down when I am sure she is all right. Please, have Branson fix you a drink.”
“The lad has done that. Thank you.”
John stepped into their bedchamber. Margaret looked pitiful; his heart wanted to break. She was propped up in such a large bed which made her look even smaller, she was alone and wearing a nice black eye. Now, her eyes were swollen, and her cheeks were red.
John sat next to her on the bed and held her in his arms. He didn’t need to say anything. She clung to him like she was drowning.
“John, she said, he won’t need to talk with me again, he thought. He said he would get the man. Maybe the real healing can begin now.”
“Margaret, this emotional wounding will be smothered away. I will see to that. You will not ever have to worry about him. It will just be you and I. I love you so much,” he said.
“Thank you, John.”
“For loving you?” he asked.
“Well, I guess and so much else. I don’t know where I’d be if you weren’t on the other side of that door when I knocked. You could have been married or any number of reasons for not wanting me. I guess I am thanking you for waiting . . . waiting for me to come home.”
Still cradling her to his chest, he allowed his own tears to fall on her shoulder.
“Can I lay down, now? I’m tired.”
“Is our bed softer than your one at the hospital,” John said, attempting to pass through the highly emotional moment.
“You still don’t have shoes on. Someone is going to think we are poor if I don’t get my love a pair of shoes,” he chuckled.
John helped her lay down.
“John can you pull that slip off of me.”
“Yes, love. Just lay still and close your eyes.” John reached up and untied the drawstring and gently wiggled it off of her. He pulled the light quilt at the foot of the bed, over her. He left the room.
John found little surprise finding Adam Bell downstairs, but Adam walked over to him before he could sit and whispered in his ear.
John turned to his visitors. “I will be right with you gentleman. I have a small emergency. It shouldn’t take more than a few moments. This may be worth our wait.”
John walked down the stairs and outside with Bell following. He arrived at his office steps and took two at a time before opening the door.
“You must be Margaret’s brother.”