Chapter Twenty Three
There were now eight men gathered in a small room at the precinct. John, Frederick, Maxell, Adam, Branson, Nicholas, Detective Boyle and Inspector Mason all were jammed close in the interrogation room.
“Who might you be?” Asked Detective Boyle of Nicholas Higgins.
“He’s my friend and business partner,” said John. “He knows of all of this, has assisted in the relocation of Frederick’s fiancé, and will be involved in Margaret’s protection on the mill grounds.”
Boyle looked at Mason for reassurance and saw an affirmative nod.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a case that proceeded as this one with so many people needing to be kept abreast of the details. I wish I had good news to report, but I do not. Unfortunately, Hartford has slipped through our men. We do not know his whereabouts.”
There were small rumblings in the room.
“In speaking with his Commander, yesterday, he had been told by another soldier that Hartford was called immediately to his mother’s side. Apparently, it was thought she was dying. Further checking revealed she had passed away several years ago. So, he is lying to his regiment.”
That seemed to disturb Maxwell more than the others. He felt it another slap in the face to a proud tradition which he held most high.
“We immediately sent men to watch the train stations, both in London and the next one north. Mason has his men at the Milton station and the next one south.”
“If I may interrupt, asked Maxwell.”
“Yes, Captain. Go ahead.”
“It is our training to seek two stations or exits away from the target instead of one. I think if you check two stations north of London’s last northern station, you will find that someone found a horse or someone bought a rather valuable animal.”
“We will look into that today,” Boyle replied.
“And on this side,” continued Maxwell, “you should find a horse being sold from a stable or smithy, two stations south of Milton. It won’t necessarily be of any particular value, just a horse. From my training, which would be the same as his, I would say that Hartford is in Milton, or very close.”
Conversations went around the room.
John turned to Branson. “Would you take the coach home, get your pistol and wait in the house until I get home. Higgins will drive me.”
“Yes, Guv.” Branson got up and left immediately.
“Men. If I could get your attention back. Again, we do not know if he will do what is assumed. Checking the Captain’s suggestions will give us a better idea. Hartford could be leaving the country for all we know. Mr. Thornton, we would like to post some men, dressed as your workers to watch your yard. You do have men working in the yard constantly, do you not?”
“We do not want to scare Mrs. Thornton with unnecessary knowledge of what the police are doing. And I cannot reiterate this enough, do not take the law into your own hands. Be watchful and then inform us of any suspicious people. We are dealing with a highly skilled soldier. He will be armed, will he not, Captain?”
“What do you mean by exceedingly?”
“He will not have his rifle or sword with him if he’s traveling in plain clothes, but he will have two pistols and a knife that he knows how to use against an opponent. He will be skilled in hand-to-hand combat. He will be more experienced in tactics than anyone here, including myself. That is his trained skill. It will be easy for him to outwit us, but there are a lot of us here.”
“Captain, I feel sure because you are a soldier, you mean ‘us’ as a term you use most frequently. ‘Us’ does not mean the men in this room with the exception of the Inspector and myself. He will be caught, tried, and hung by either the police or the Army. Let us do our job and take that responsibility. Revenge is not the law. Let us handle the law.”
“How will you go about locating him, if he is, indeed, in Milton,” asked Frederick.
“Coming to Milton, unbeknownst to anyone, as he would think, he may feel brave enough to stay at a hotel. Should he see you, Captain, or you, Mr. Bell, he could very well go deep. He may also follow you. Perhaps, he could assume that you are here because you heard of Mrs. Thornton’s wedding. I do not think he would even consider the hospital at all. That might be a safe place for her, now that I think about it. Regardless, we have to assume he read about the wedding and will seek out John Thornton. That will be the only name he knows in connection with her. I seriously doubt that he would go to a big hotel like the Milton Grand,” said Boyle.
“I can tell you that he would not,” declared Maxwell. He is more likely to camp outside of town then chance coming into it unless he can find something in the very poorest sections, but he would have to dress as they are, not to call attention to himself.”
“Thank you again. We will widen our search. Since he is skilled in tactical maneuvers, it would seem he would have to come into town and find the home of John Thornton. He will need time to plan. He will need the layout of the terrain. Is that the way you see it, Captain?”
“He has only one small objective, but still he will have to plan an escape instead of a victory. Since he was lost to your men yesterday, I see three days, this being the first. On the outside, no more than five days, total, before he will make his move.”
“To sum this up for today, gentlemen, we have learned much information from the Captain here, and Mason and I will review our coverage and act accordingly. Again, do not act on your own. If you see him, alert either Mason or myself. Are there any questions?”
“When will you send your men, dressed as mill workers, to the mill?” John asked.
“I believe you have three shifts running?”
“That is correct, but there are not many in the yard on the night shift.” John stated, sitting back with his arms folded.”
“Would you like men inside the house at night?”
“No. My wife is in a state of high anxiety now, coming to her own conclusions. That would intensify that.”
“I feel certain this Hartford has little knowledge of workers at a mill. Our men may stand out to a few of your workers but not to him. Is your wife very familiar with your mill operations?”
“No. She has no idea. All right, I will place two men in the yard and another one or two around the back but out of sight. That will start sometime tomorrow.”
John continued, “Mason will we have any bobbies for the city streets left?”
“Detective Boyle is bringing in added help from London. We will have good coverage everywhere. Everyone will have seen the drawing of this Hartford. I believe they will arrive today in plain clothes. Is that right, Detective?”
“Yes, that is so. In fact, I have seen two already this morning. I rented a flat for a month. They will all bunk there.”
“I would like to reimburse the Met for that expense and the men,” John offered.
“That’s a kind offer, sir, but no. You are a Magistrate, and that affords you a bit more security than most. You have probably never realized that. Knowing you are a fair and just man, might find that disagreeable to your values, but now is not the time to turn it down. Our yard worker detail will be there by this afternoon. Are there any other questions?”
The men seemed to have heard what they needed to hear.
“Unless something of real urgency comes up, I will be here again at four tomorrow afternoon. Good day, gentlemen.”
John spoke quietly with Adam and then remained behind the men leaving the room.
“Detective, may I have a moment?”
“Surely, Mr. Thornton.”
“How many detectives do they have at the met?”
“We started out with five a few years ago when the detective division was initiated. We now have over twenty. Many are now sent to places like here to deal with difficult cases. The science of detecting is becoming quite involved, and we find it yielding high results and captures. I believe we are going to begin classes and offer certificates to qualified men who come to learn the course. In the next decade, most places will see a detective division in their local police force. Of course, that will depend on the size and the budget of the city.”
“As you know, Milton is growing at an alarming rate. I would like the Inspector to have such courses if he wishes and he can select another man, too.”
“I am sure your Inspector is more than qualified. I will talk to him about it and tell him of your suggestions.”
“Thank you. Good day.” John left.
John walked up the next flight of stairs where the courtrooms were. Finding the four men sitting in a corner near the judge’s bench, John walked past them to check the chambers behind. It seemed the clerk had left for the day, so he motioned the others into the room.
Everyone had a comment to say about the plush furnishings that John worked at, on occasions.
“John, I think our office should look this good,” chuckled Nicholas.”
John did not sit behind his desk, but he was asked to point out which one was his.
“Maxwell, what is your real estimate as to Hartford’s arrival?” John opened.
“If he rode hard, and I cannot see why he would do that, he could be here now. I think tomorrow is really more likely, but we don’t have a firm time as to when he was last seen by Boyle’s men. However, I had not thought of this until now, but I think he will come into the town. If he were near Milton with his own horse, which would be well supplied with emergency provisions; he would likely camp outside of town. If he did take the train and was forced to purchase a horse and saddle, he would not have those with him. Tomorrow, if Boyle has any news about a loose or sold horse and then a purchased one, we will know for sure. He’s an excellent rider, and it’s possible that he will ride his horse all the way. That would put him about four days away.”
“Thank you, Captain. Has anyone here been thinking about accomplishing the same goal we all seem to have?”
All nodded affirmatively.
“I have been working on something where all of us could be a part of this together. With the man we’re going to go up against, my thoughts are beginning to come together. As of yesterday, we seemed to be in agreement that we each have reasons to personally plot Hartford’s demise. I know that Frederick and I have very solid reasons for actions we are prepared to take. I doubt either one of us could convince the other to stand back. Adam and Captain, this does not have to be your fight. Nothing less will be thought of you if you have changed your mind.”
“You will not keep me out of this,” Maxwell stated firmly.
“Nor I,” said Adam.
I’m going to lay this idea out for all of you and we’ll begin to shape a plan. Some of you could have something better. I have not been able to get this out of my mind. I want this man eliminated, for myself alone.”
“Let’s hear what you’ve got, John,” said Fred.
The planning began in earnest with everyone making suggestions and using people where they were strongest or who deserved the honors of the final minutes. John was relieved to find everyone was in agreement to be part of the whole. He still worried that Frederick would go off on his own. Maxwell had the guts to go it alone better than any of them. Adam was laid back, which was most unlike him. With the short time he had to live, he could vindicate everyone and take this on himself.
An hour had passed without a definite strategy resolved. John said that he would speak with Mason late morning tomorrow and see if there had been any word on the horses near the stations. If he did, he would call a meeting and somehow make sure Margaret was somewhere else. If there was no new word, they would meet again as they had today.
As John and Nicholas arrived back on the mill property, Margaret was on the porch saying goodbye to Edith, who knew they would both be alone for an hour. John tipped his hat to her as her carriage pulled out through the gate. Nicholas headed for the office to talk with the foreman. John walked up the porch steps where Margaret was waiting for him and leaned down to kiss her.
“I hope Edith helped you down these stairs?”
“Yes, she did, John. The walking and stair muscles are completely back as they were. The only fear now is pressure against this rib.”
“Let us not forget your lovely black eye.” John smiled.
“I hardly feel it anymore. I even forget about it until I pass a mirror and see how hideous I look.”
John monitored Margaret’s step as they ascended. “You are doing well, my love.”
John walked her to the sofa and helped in lowering her to a sitting position and then went to the bar.
“Would you care for a port, Margaret?”
“Yes, that would be lovely.”
John poured and headed for the sofa, handing Margaret her drink. He sat close to her and kissed her again.
“I see Frederick is not with you. I thought he might come for dinner.”
“I tend to think that he likes to keep on the move. I’m sure it has become a habit with the way he has had to live for three years. I told him, I thought he could live here in Milton if he wanted. It’s far from Helstone, where someone might know him. I could give him a decent job to support him and Lisa.”
“What did he say to that?” Margaret asked.
“At first he was not excited by the idea, now that he has someone he loves, but I watched him, and he may be thinking about it. He knows his situation much better than I do so I will not encourage him further. I think your brother is a fine man. I am certain that I will like knowing him. How could I not, being related to you.”
“John, that fills my heart. I will always love you both, and you will always come first in my life, but I am glad I will not be torn apart. I think he likes you, too. He has me on his mind but I was heartened to see you two talking earlier, and you even showed him through the mill. I haven’t even had the pleasure yet.”
“Mrs. Thornton – how I love to say that – there are many pleasures you have not had yet. I would like to show you through them, too,” he grinned slightly.
“Tell me about your meeting,” Margaret said, moving on.
“You are changing the subject, Margaret.” John jested. “I think I told you we would not talk about that anymore.”
“Will you go back tomorrow?”
“I tend to think I will. They may be closing in on him, and we will get word. If that happens, no, I will not go back tomorrow. I want to talk about you. Tell me, what does the nurse do for you that I cannot do?”
“Well . . . Margaret looked down, twirling her fingers. She dresses me. I see you are grinning. I guess you can do that. I’m trying to build up the nerve.”
“Are you hiding behind your nurse, dear wife?” John paused, watching Margaret’s face flush red. “How are you doing in the water closet? Can you tend to yourself there?”
“I’m getting close. Really, I am.”
“Are you trying to convince yourself or me?”
“She helps me bathe . . . I know . . . I know, you can do that for me, too. I suppose I should not be shy about being without clothes in front of you. We are married. Becoming naked has nothing to do with my rib, I guess.” Margaret found the words difficult to come out. Now, the shyness was gripping her, but that had to be the bane of every new bride.
“John, I want you to know that if I struggle through these first tender filled moments, it is only because I am timid. It has nothing to do with my past attack. It will be only me. I guess most brides worry that they will be compared or will disappoint their husband.”
“Margaret, you forget that I have seen that exquisite woman, although quickly, underneath. A man doesn’t fall in love with a woman’s body, but with the woman inside. You could be a skinny waif with tiny breasts, and I would love you the same. I think women have a hard time believing that. I’ve not experienced that because I’ve never loved, but have heard in my courtroom. It was never an issue when I was with other women either, over my lifetime. Men have the same reservations, but usually, his wife is chaste and has no one to compare him to. We have that advantage. But man-to-man, we continue that juvenile pride throughout our whole life. Margaret, our hearts, and souls are matched. Everything else will work itself out, but I have no doubt we have nothing to work out except your shyness. I hate to admit this, but I love that about you. You are becoming a challenge to me, and I must say, I rather like it . . . To the degree that is. It almost takes the place of the wooing that I missed with you. I never did much of that. I was looking forward to it. Here, I am finding it, after I have married the woman I want for the rest of my life. A decade ago, not knowing it would be you back then; I still fantasized and read poetry. I wanted to be the most loving husband when the time came. I never knew it would run so deep and control me more that I can control it with my mind and well-made plans of seduction. They all have floated out the window since knowing you. I’m endeavoring to collect the pieces of the plan since you are unavailable for a full out and out ravishing. If anyone had told me that I would make love to you in stages, I would have not believed such a beautiful experience could be given in such a way. Somehow, I am living through it, though.
Margaret reached for John. She wanted him to hold her. “You always say the right thing to help me get past my reservations.”
“I don’t say them to help you. I saw them because they are true. If you remember correctly, I had asked you to marry me because I knew you. I wanted to marry you, not for what I hoped you would be.” John stood, turning from Margaret and adjusted his trousers. “I need to get some cool air. I will return in a minute. Can you see when dinner will be laid out?”
John walked down the steps hoping he would have the chance to know is wife’s soft body and feminity, before he might leave this world. He wanted to be the first to bring her to ultimate pleasure before he missed the chance. Tomorrow, he would drop by his solicitor’s office and have everything changed over to her.
By the time John returned, their dinner was on the table. As he seated Margaret, she wanted to lower herself to the chair since she had the table to lean on. She felt very little pressure on her rib as she sat.
“I think I am halfway through goal number two,” she told John.
“Oh, you have goals? Are they your goals or your nurse’s goals?”
“They are her goals. There are some goals I must learn to do for myself. There are others that you will help me with, such as washing my hair. I need to climb stairs, sit and rise and dress.”
“I can help you with all of those things. When you can sit and rise, we will let her go, and that’s only due to the water closet because I feel there will be times where you will want privacy there. Mind you that is your own shyness; I am willing to help with anything. Margaret, I love all of you, at any time, not just when it is convenient.” John could see her eyes were becoming glassy and he ceased the conversation. He began to think that by the time Margaret was born into a pious family, that her parents never showed their love for each other, outwardly – if ever in that family. She seemed to have a hard time understanding the love of a husband.”
“John, I remembered something recently about the night of my attack.”
He interrupted. “Margaret, we aren’t talking about that.”
“Actually, this is something I want to remember,” she said.
“I can’t believe there is anything about that night to which you could refer.”
“I really believe I was saved that night from Captain Hartford by a very understanding and protective cabby. He went out of his way to avoid the coach we thought was following us. He let me off a street away from where I lived so I could sneak in the coal door. He did that without pay. He traveled the streets until he could find me again. I wanted to get to the train station. When thinking we were being followed he took extraordinary movements to ensure we were not. Being a cabby in the city, he knew he could out maneuver a coach. Had I not found him, I could have been returned to the clutches of the Captain. When we got to the station, he parked in the dark so I could exit and offered to wait with me until the train departed. I told him I would be all right, but I have a feeling he stayed close by, regardless. My question to you is, can we use a second driver? That would give Branson some time off. He never seems to have any time to himself unless he gives up sleeping. Did you know he’s thinking of taking a wife, but he doesn’t want to leave you and doesn’t see how it could work? Now, I come along and will eventually need his driving while you work. His duty will increase.”
“How long have you been practicing this story, Margaret,” John smiled.
“I wanted to know if Branson knew what a London cabby received as income, but never asked. Then we began talking about his lady friend. I bet you did not know that about Branson, did you?”
“Not that he was this close. I knew about his lady friend and thought the day would come when he wished to marry but hadn’t thought much past that.”
“If we don’t hire Bennington, I wondered if we could give him a reward or possibly you know of someone who needs a valued and experienced driver.” Margaret continued.
“This is a lot to think about. We will surely do something. I would like to meet and personally, thank him. I don’t think Nicholas has a particularly dedicated driver, like Branson. I would not hesitate to hire this Bennington as a second driver, but not at the expense of Branson’s pride. I don’t know if he’d let anyone else rein those horses. He stays with me only because of them, you know,” John grinned. “I believe he’s been offered more money by other masters because they know of his exceptional skills as a driver, discretion, and as a confidant. As for Branson having to choose between a bride and staying here, I will think on that and talk with him. I will, also, talk with Higgins.”
“John, how come you are so good to me?”
“I’ve said it before, I am unable to deny you anything.”
“I wish I was able to say that,” Margaret whimpered.
John rose from the table and helped Margaret stand for his light embrace. Looking into her eyes deeply, he said, “You will someday, my love. As I, you will not be able to help yourself. You are just not physically able to permit yourself full rein.” John leaned in and kissed her thoroughly and then walked her to the sofa.”