Frederick watched as Hartford fell in step with the workers entering Marlborough Mills. Hartford pulled his cap down over his eyes and his clean cut hair in the back. A whistle blew somewhere on the property, and hundreds of people exited the sheds, thus blurring Frederick’s view of his quarry. Finally, he knew he had lost him. He would have to stand and wait for the crowd to clear out before finding him again. Frederick inched over towards the house, so he’d know if Hartford tried to enter there.
Margaret, went to the kitchen to talk with Jane or Cook about purchases they would need for their bedchamber. John went down for his paper but did not notice Frederick around the corner. Returning to the parlour to read, Margaret and Greta entered the room, to say their goodbyes. Greta was ready to leave, so Margaret decided against the bath.
“Now, Mrs. Thornton, I think you are releasing me a couple days early, but that is your decision. You are making a remarkable recovery, but that does not mean that your rib is. Remember to hold steady on the stairs, no bumpy carriage rides, and don’t hesitate to take those pills if you need them. You were all right with the privy this morning?”
There was a low chuckle from John as he pretended to read.
“I had no troubles sitting and rising, Greta.” Margaret heard a stifled laugh across the room.
“Something has taken your husband’s fancy in that paper this morning.”
“I am sure that must be it. Thank you for all of your help even with the painful exercises. I know they helped me to move around more quickly. We have your address should we need to call you back. I believe our driver is waiting to take you back to your service.”
Margaret looked over at John with his smile as she walked Greta to the front door. Final pleasantries were exchanged, as John came down the steps and added his.
Margaret stayed on the porch while John escorted Greta to the coach.
This sighting was not missed by Hartford just inside a shed by the window. He had seen enough. He knew the back of the building but not what lay beyond. Grant stepped behind a few stragglers that were leaving their shift, and Frederick picked up his trail again.
Their meal was on the table when they returned.
“Margaret, have you any interest in becoming involved in the menus of the house?”
“Not at the moment, John. Cook is doing a fine job. I’m not sure how domesticated I will tend to be. I am not one to sit about. I would like to know your mill work before I give consideration elsewhere. I wouldn’t mind donating my time to a library; I hope you have in Milton?”
“Yes, we do have a large library and growing. We have several book stores. Would you like to own one of those?”
“Own? Do we have that much money?”
“Yes, love. Enough for whatever you desire.”
“How much do you cost?” She smiled.
John had to grab his napkin as his smile was going to allow his food to slip out.
“I think you read me like a book,” John said, returning to his meal. As you have no nurse now, I am completely at your service. I will stop over at the office to have a word with the foreman after I have read the paper. Want to come read the paper with me? I’ll bring your tea.”
John followed Margaret to ensure she could seat herself. Satisfied with that, he returned for the tea cups.
He set Margaret’s on the table next to her. “Can you reach it on your side like that?”
“Yes, I think so.” Margaret tried and succeeded not showing the slight discomfort that she felt.
John sat with his tea and picked up the paper. He decided to give Margaret the front page, and he went to the mill section. There was quiet in the room for a few moments.
“Oh, this is sad news,” Margaret said reading the article again.
“What is that?”
“Do you know someone named Tom Douglas?”
“Yes, has he died? He was getting up there in years.”
“It says here that he was strangled.”
“What!” John said in amazement.
“Can I see that?”
Margaret handed him the paper and saw concern draw over John’s face. He must have known the man for a long time.
“What is it, John?”
“I need to go see, Mason. The ladies are in the house. Will you be all right?”
“Yes, of course. Do you get involved in all police matters?”
John stood, pulling his coat from the back of the chair. “I do when it is murder as this appears to be. This is quite rare.”
“But you don’t have a coach.”
John started pacing the floor, his brows furrowed and he rubbed them. He was in deep thought. “Yes, I had forgotten about that. I’m going to see if Nicholas’ buggy is here. I’ll take that and him, too. Otherwise, I will come home and wait.”
John hurried down the steps and Margaret had to wonder why he hurried. Yes, it was possibly a murder but why did John need to be there this instant. The dead man wasn’t going anywhere. If it was in the paper, surely, the police were already working the case. Margaret, again, had that sinking feeling. When Branson returned, she was going to have a heart-to-heart talk with him while she could. She was making her own plans should Hartford be heading this way. John’s anxiousness to leave because of an old man being strangled heightened Margaret’s suspicions. She would take no chances with her husband’s life. If one of them had to shoot Hartford, it was going to be her. Both would want to die from heartbreak, but John had hundreds of people relying on his business skills. She would only be missed by John and Fred.
John and Nicholas arrived at the police station, only to find Captain Lenox already speaking with Boyle. Seeing John and Nicholas striding down the corridor, Boyle waved them into the investigation room.
“Have a seat, men. Where are the other two?”
“I just saw the paper,” replied John.
“As I did. I came straight here to ask a question,” spoke Maxwell.
“And what is your question, Captain?
“Were his clothes missing?”
“Yes, they were,” Boyle answered.
“He’s here, then,” continued Maxwell.
“Now?” asked John. “How do you know? Would he kill someone for their clothes to blend in?” John asked.
“Easily, if it were a war. As soon as I read ‘strangled,’ I knew it was him. That’s a very unique way to kill someone if you are a soldier. That is used when the situation calls for complete silence, or in rare cases when you don’t want blood on the clothing.”
John hung his head. “Have your men discovered anything since yesterday?” John turned his attention to Boyle.
“There was no horse found to be bought or wandering at the London end. No doubt, someone has a nice new horse in their pasture. I hate to say it, but I think he’s here, too. However, there was no horse bought for three stations either.”
“Is there anyone with a description of what old Tom was wearing,” asked Nicholas.
“We’re working on that now. I have men trying to locate anyone who may have seen this old man yesterday. From the tall grass where we found his body, it appeared there were steps leading towards town that tamped down the grass.”
“Captain, what is he doing right now?” asked the detective.
“When was the old man found?”
“I’d say it was about seven last night. The body was about an hour’s walk into town, at a normal pace.
“If he arrived in or near dark last night, he would have just found a place to eat and lay low. Today, he is looking for where Mrs. Thornton could be living, which should take no time, for anyone could tell him where John Thornton lives. He is looking for his ability to infiltrate or lure out people from the house. Grant will plan a silent attack because he has to escape. How long that will take him, I don’t know. I haven’t really seen around Mr. Thornton’s home and mill site. Then he will plan his escape route. He might buy provisions. We don’t know if he has a horse or not, but if he does not, he will have to buy or steal one. He will not rely on escaping by foot. That could put him in target range within thirty-six hours. But . . . he will wait, however, long it takes, for the right moment. He is patient; that is part of his tactical training. As long as no one startles him, he could wait weeks, even.” Maxwell paused and turned to John. “That is only my opinion, I am not certain of his exact timing or his ability to overcome obstacles in his path to complete his task.”
“Would he risk daylight hours,” asked John.
“Yes. It has to be silent, so if he can slip around unseen, daylight would be no hindrance to him. In fact, if he plans on entering your home, daylight would be to his advantage to see his way around. However, he will study the amount of people in the house, too. Night is probably better in that regard at your home.”
“Mr. Thornton,” piped up Mason, “men are moving into your yard as we speak.
John liked Mason, a lot, but he knew this one was over his head. Detective Boyle seemed laid back, but John saw hints of real intelligence that he apparently hid to ease the relatives of victims.
“That’s it, gentlemen. I will see you at four this afternoon.”
John walked over and extended his hand to the Captain. “I am most appreciative of your skill and insight into this man. Whatever comes to pass, all of your points are valid, and we would never have thought of them. I thank you.”
“No, thanks needed, Mr. Thornton.
“Please, call me John.”
“I will see you later, John.”
Both men went their own ways leaving the room. John waited on Higgins and Maxwell marched out like a proper soldier.
“Mrs. Thornton, I could never let you do that. The Master would kill me before dismissing me.”
“But you have to help me. You just have to. I’ll get someone else if you don’t. Do you own a pistol?”
“Yes, but it is too dangerous for you or me.”
“I don’t think it is dangerous for you and me. First, you must swear to me that you will not let John know about this, at least, not ahead of time – whether you choose to help me or I get someone else, like Nicholas.”
“Yes, I have two pistols, but you don’t know what you’re getting into. You could die facing that man.”
“That’s where you come in. He will listen to me if he has two pistols staring at him. He is going to agree with me. Please, Branson.” Margaret pleaded. “I know, and you must surely know that your master is seeking revenge. I have little to lose if the worst happens. He has hundreds of people that depend on him. But it’s not going to go that far. I just have to get to Hartford before he does. All he wants is money, and I can promise him that.”
“Is there nothing I can say that will change your mind.”
“You don’t know me very well, yet. That is a definite no. I will go with or without you, even if I have to go alone.”
“I really hate doing this, but I will not let you go alone. So, what’s this plan of yours?”
All Margaret had to do, now, was the impossible, such as finding out where to find him and leaving the house without John knowing. Slipping Hartford arsenic in a partial bottle of whisky would be easy.
Frederick had stayed well away from Hartford as he watched him go over the back grounds of Marlborough Mills. Hartford turned and walked his way. Frederick ducked behind some bushes, as Hartford passed him. It looked like the man was headed back to the inn to eat. Frederick was becoming hungry himself, but there wasn’t much he could do about it, yet. He was sure his sister was wondering where he was by now. If Hartford would ever settle, he had to get this information to the others.
Frederick waited outside the inn and expected Hartford to head to the bed place. He didn’t. Hartford began to walk away from town towards . . . he didn’t know where. Frederick anticipated it might be a trap being laid for him so Hartford could see if he was being followed. He lagged way behind to the point of barely being able to see him. When twilight started to fall, he could catch up.
It seemed about an hour’s walk when Hartford started into an area where there was a small village of abandoned cottages. No doubt when the mills came, people had to give up the land. At this point, Frederick was looking for wide trees to stand behind because Grant was checking over his shoulder on occasion. Hartford, finally, turned into one that looked almost like he’d picked it out before now. Frederick waited. Eventually, it looked like a candle was lit and after that, perhaps, an old lantern. Frederick moved in a very wide circle as night fell, to see if there was anyone else around or a horse being stored someplace. He saw nothing, only Hartford’s shadow moving past the window now and then. Frederick waited about two hours. Satisfied he was bunking there for the night, he headed back to town counting the cottages along the road. It was the fourth.
Being rested from his wait on Hartford, he was able to trot back to town, making it in about forty minutes. He headed for Marlborough Mills. It was two hours past dark when he arrived, and he was sure they had eaten. That didn’t matter, he would be given food.
Frederick knocked on the back door, and John let him in. The staff was gone, and John was just settling in for an evening alone with his wife.
“We missed you at the four o’clock meeting,” said John.
As Frederick came through the door, hearing John, he burst out as quietly as he could, but Margaret was heading towards the stairs and heard her brother say, “He’s here. I have followed him all day. I know where he is now.”
John put his fingers to his lips so Frederick would keep that to himself for a bit longer. John started to shake. The time was almost here.
“Oh Frederick, where have you been? We thought you would be with us for dinner. I know we didn’t ask you properly, though.”
“I’ve been busy today. Your husband talked with me about how I might be safe in Milton, so I started to look over the town, or I should say city. Sis, I haven’t eaten much today. Can you fix me a couple of sandwiches or anything left over from the day?”
“Of course, Fred. Sit down at the table.” Margaret didn’t want them out of hearing range just yet. She went to the larder and looked to see what was on platters under cloth covers. She brought some ham and bread to him.
“Do you want some tea?”
“Do you have any cider. I don’t feel like anything hot right now.”
John suggested that they go upstairs and he could give Frederick a real drink.
Frederick picked up the platter and followed his sister and John upstairs. They walked to the dining room table. John brought him a scotch.
“Thank you, John.”
John stared into Frederick’s eyes and asked, “Did you find what you were looking for?”
“I saw something that I think Lisa would like, but I have not made up my mind. It may be a year or more before I make that decision. I plan on marrying this woman, and that changes my risk factor. I would love to be among family, again. As far as risks go, could I talk with you after I eat about that? Privately?”
“Frederick, why can’t I hear?” Margaret whined. She had to put up the pretence of objecting so they wouldn’t think she would eavesdrop.
“Sis, you have enough to worry about right now. I just want to talk with John about things that might add to your worry. I would rather not do that just now. If I think I will move here, you will know all that will be involved. For now, it’s just man talk.”
“Don’t forget we have to plan a way to communicate before you leave,” Margaret added for good measure.
Small talk went on while he ate. Margaret was aware that Frederick was tapping his foot quietly on the carpet. That was a sign of urgency. When he was young, it meant he had to go pee, and he was being detained in some way.”
“Will you stay the night?” Margaret asked.
John was hoping he would, though it was his first night with his wife, alone. But what they were about to do was life and death, and he wished to discuss plans with Fredrick. John nodded almost imperceptibly to him.”
“I think I might, sis. Are you sure another person in the house isn’t an unwelcome guest for a newly married couple,” he smiled at her.
“Frederick, I have a broken rib. We’re not married as much as we could be one of these days.”
John and Frederick broke out laughing.
“Oh, excuse me, sis.” Frederick said, feigning offence” I didn’t mean to pry that far.” He thought again what a fine man John was because he knew what the man must be going through for her. He could see the love for his sister when John looked at her.
Margaret looked at her husband, and there he was holding his fist to his mouth, with a grin leaking out of either side.
“Well, if you promise not to make noises and keep me up, I’ll stay.”
“Just teasing, sis. We used to be able to talk about anything when we were younger. Remember?”
“No matter what I say next, will not be understood, so I will just let this pass. Do you want more to eat?”
Frederick leant back in the chair, rubbing his palms up and down his chest, feeling his full belly. “I think you have fed me well enough. Could I borrow your husband for a little while?”
“If you must. I’ll see to these dishes.” Margaret began to pick up the heavy platter and head towards the stairs. John caught her around the waist to stop her.”
“Leave those for the staff tomorrow. You are not carrying anything down the steps. Would you like me to fetch your book?”
“Yes, if you do not mind.”
John took the stairs two at a time and retrieved Margaret’s book from the bedside. She had read a bit when she laid down to nap. Coming back into the parlour John asked her where she would like to sit.
“I think I’ll sit at the dining room table. It’s a better light, and I don’t have to hold it. I might even pick at the ham.”
Margaret remained seated, and John handed her the book. He walked to the bar and refilled their glasses and asked Frederick to follow him into his study. He closed the door.
“She’s getting suspicious, Fred. Depending on what you tell me, we may have to meet in the office, as a group tomorrow.”
Margaret tiptoed towards the door. Frederick had launched immediately into the where of Grant. Margaret wanted to hear more, but the voices stopped, and she thought John was coming to check the door to ensure she wasn’t listening. She quickly stepped into the privy and made sounds of a struggle.
“John, you scared me. Don’t sneak up on me like that. What do you want?”
“I was wondering what you were doing?”
“I’m trying to figure out how to turn on the gaslight that is somewhere in this room. I’m feeling the walls, but I can’t find it.”
The light went on in a flash. John stood there smiling.
“Thank you. You came out to see what I was doing when you just left the room?” Margaret asked with puzzlement in her voice.
“I was afraid you would try to take the plates downstairs. You promise you will not attempt that.”
“I promise. I think I’ll read a little bit and then may go upstairs. Do you have any idea how long you will be?”
“No, but it shouldn’t be too long. Try to stay awake for me. I need to help you get out of that dress.”
“Frederick can have the guest room or the room off the kitchen since the nurse left. There are clean linens on the bed.”
“I tell him, sweet. I’ll see you in a little while,” John winked.
Margaret went back to the table and read a few pages. She decided to sneak out and talk with Branson.
Slipping outside, she saw he had a light burning. She chucked a few pebbles at his window, which hurt her side. Branson came to his door.
“M’am? Is that you?”
“Yes. Could you come down and talk to me for a few minutes?”
Branson bounded down the stairs, and Margaret shushed him. “Come over to the back porch steps.”
Branson sat next to Margaret, and she said, “Tomorrow is the day.”
“What? Are you still very sure about this?”
“Yes. Sometime tomorrow, late afternoon, I will tell John that I wish to visit my cousin for an hour or so. You will bring the coach to the front. Under your seat, you will have your two pistols and the arsenic from the stable. I know you have to have that around with the feed. And then . . .