John spent the night thinking and packing. He had been thinking so long, he had to unpack things he hadn’t meant to pack. He was going to get a marriage license first thing that morning, before his meeting. He had determined to marry Margaret and save her first. He had no idea what she would think of that, but Bell had given him the barest of hopes.
He was encouraged that Adam Bell had a post office number that could be watched until Frederick arrived at it. John felt sure that this Hartford man would know Bell, but his lads who might be watching for Frederick would not know him on site. John decided that the first part of the plan was for Bell to write Frederick and tell him of the situation. They would decide on a new city to meet in and finalize Frederick’s safe exit from France. Somewhere in there he would find Margaret and steel her away to marry her.
John was having his early breakfast when a weak knock was heard. He shouted to Jane, his housekeeper, that he would get it. No one was expected this early, but the others probably couldn’t sleep either.
He opened the door, and his breath left him as he saw a frail Margaret, bent in pain with a swollen face and the burgeoning colors of a black eye.
“Oh God, Margaret.” He didn’t ask her anything. He stepped out, picked her up in his arms, and shouted for one of the yard men to get a doctor.
His eyes filled with tears as he carried her upstairs. Looking into her face, he saw his little angel was broken. If he hadn’t needed to tend to her, he would go and end the man’s life. It would happen, but just not right now.
Margaret looked at John through exhaustion.
“Margaret, I have never stopped loving you. I would have done anything to have prevented this.”
“I know you love me. I know I have loved you since first, we met. John, I killed him. I have killed my brother.” Margaret said as she collapsed.
John held her in his arms until Donaldson arrived. After her statement, she closed her eyes, and they had not opened since.
Donaldson opened the outside door and shouted up.
“Up here,” John said, as he carried her to his guest room.
Donaldson took one look at her and wanted to take her to his clinic immediately. “John, get one of your nightshirts, will you?”
“I want you to examine her here, first. I want to know what we are dealing with. Disturbing news, of her being coerced into a marriage, came to me late last night. I am to have a meeting in about an hour and want to know what’s happened to her, and I mean everything.” John looked at Donaldson sternly.
“John, I will be a while. Get the tea brewing.”
John first ran across to the office as he’d heard Nicholas’s coach. He asked him if he would go find Bell at the hotel and bring him here. They had an emergency on their hands, now. He went for Branson, himself, returning as quickly as he could.
He had Cook prepare a tea pot and told her to keep them coming for the next several hours. John, also, mentioned that Margaret was here, in the guestroom.
Cook smiled but saw that her Master was completely overcome with worry.
As the men gathered, they all began telling John that she was out of danger now. He needed to calm down, but John knew they hadn’t seen her.
Donaldson called John into Margaret’s room. John walked in, closing the door behind him. Donaldson didn’t like what he was about to tell him.
“John, she’s alive. She will live, but she’s been badly and repeatedly beaten. It appears it’s been going on for some time. She has a newly fractured rib, and I will have to look closer at her cheek. I think she has internal bleeding. There are signs that this man forced her to perform fellatio. Do you understand that word?”
“Yes.” John began to let the tears fall as he folded himself onto the foot of her bed. He looked at her unconscious body.
“She has not been raped.” Donaldson continued. “She appears to have about six large areas of bruising from, I would think, a fist, in various stages of mending. There are some small signs that there have been more, but they are healing. Whoever this was, took great care to beat her where it would not show. Tell me the story on the way to the clinic.”
The men heard the door open and stood.
“Branson, get the coach.”
“It’s ready out front, sir.”
All the men witnessed John’s tears dropping onto the lifeless form he was carrying in his arms.
Branson rushed ahead, while the other two walked to John.
“Is she . . . ?” Nicholas started to ask.
“You two talk and I’ll send Branson back. I’ll be awhile.”
“John, take care of her.”
Mr. Bell was quite near tears himself. Beside her swollen face, he noticed a bit of blood oozing from her mouth and saw John lick that from her face. He broke down at the sight.
“I should have known,” Bell berated himself. “She never told me she was being mistreated only that she was being forced to marry in order to secure her brother’s safety.”
Bell felt a nudge on his shoulder, and looking up, saw a glass of scotch. He was glad to see it. “This is better than tea after what I just saw.”
“What did you see that I didn’t? I saw John’s face. I’ve never seen that face in all my years. I saw glassy eyes when his mother passed, but nothing like just now,” said Nicholas.
“Nicholas, Margaret had blood running from the corner of her mouth, and John licked it off of her face. That’s when I broke down.”
“I am sure I would have too, had I seen that.
“As bad as this situation is, it just got worse,” said Nicholas. “John will not be denied his revenge, but that still doesn’t mean that Frederick is out of the woods. Have you given this, much thought?”
“Much thought? That seems that’s all I’ve done for weeks. I finally sought out John for help. Margaret did not know I was coming here, but she found her way here under some horrific circumstances. I think we know she has finally figured out where her love lies. You know, Nicholas, it was the love of her brother and the love of John that kept them apart all this time. She felt she couldn’t tell John and break her promise to the family. John felt she was hiding something from him. He’d seen them embrace at the station as Frederick left after his mother passed away. John, I believe, was devastated seeing that. He lost hope. What a mess this has been keeping this secret for her, but I had promised. I watched both of their hearts break.”
“Adam, you need another scotch. I need another whiskey. This tale is one for the books. It seems that literature is writing its story in front of us. All the elements are here, and I know we have not seen nearly the end of this. John is going to be a handful, and I am not so sure I want to talk him out of it. I think it’s one of those rare times in a man’s life when nothing matters but revenge. He can’t be the man he is and let this pass no matter how much you, I or Margaret try to reason with him. He has seen the devil’s work today.”
“I hope he can keep his head enough and not destroy what he and Margaret have waited a long time to begin. If he destroys himself, he destroys her.”
Branson came up the stairs, shaking his head. “The Guv is in a bad way. I waited for a while with him until he felt embarrassed and sent me home. He went from kneeling on the floor trying not to weep to pacing the room like a bull. I don’t know how bad Miss Hale is, but it must be bad for him to show those emotions to me. I’m to pick him up in an hour and if he isn’t there, they’ll be at the hospital.
Edith finally decided to inquire why Margaret was sleeping so late and went to her door. Knocking she received no answer. “Margaret!” Still no answer. “I’m coming in.” She looked about the room to find Margaret missing; the bed hadn’t been slept in, and a few drawers were left open. Edith cheerfully skipped down the stairs to her mother.
“Mother, I think Margaret and Grant have eloped. It looks like she left last night and took a few clothes with her. I wouldn’t have thought Margaret would have done such a thing, but if she’s happy . . .” Edith began to remember how unhappy Margaret had seemed of late.
“I see that look on your face, Edith. My thoughts, too. She hasn’t been the example of a bride-to-be as we would have expected. I don’t like this. Can you get a hold of Maxwell? I think we need to contact Captain Hartford.
“Yes, Mother. I’ll take the buggy to the fort.”
Captain Grant Hartford didn’t know which hurt more: his loss of Margaret or the loss of skin. “Bloody hell,” he shouted from the confines of his leather chair, unable to walk around easily. He and his driver had waited several hours for Margaret to appear at her home. She had no money as her reticule lay on the couch and she wouldn’t have brought money in any case. If she walked home, it could have taken over an hour in good daylight. He didn’t know what to think she could be doing. Was she at the authorities, calling his bluff or had she come to her senses in regards to her brother’s life. Either way, she would marry him, but he just may not see her until the wedding. He did have the one ace up his sleeve. He did know where her brother was. He was in Paris.
“Sir, a Captain Lenox, and his fiancé are here to see you.”
“Did you tell them I was indisposed?” Grant asked, relieved to hear it wasn’t his Commander.
“Yes, Captain, but they said it was urgent.”
“Give me a moment and let them in.” Grant grabbed a small blanket and threw it over his lap. Just as they were being let into his study, he noticed Margaret’s reticule on the sofa, but not very prominently displayed. He wouldn’t ask them to sit down. Due to women’s large full frocks, they usually sought the sofa.
“Do excuse me for not rising. I am a bit ill. Maxwell, to what do I owe the honor of your presence?”
“I’m sorry to interrupt your morning. I am sorry you are feeling unwell.”
“It’s nothing that a few days rest will not cure. How can I help you?”
“We have a concern for Miss Hale. It seems she did not sleep in her bed last night, and she is missing this morning.”
“Missing?” Grant said with great surprise.
“I was wondering if you could remember the circumstances of taking her home last evening.”
“Why, yes. Missing you say? Let me think. We had dinner here. After, we talked about our wedding and other things for about an hour, when she asked to go home. She seemed to have something on her mind, but would not permit me to help. I believe I left her at her door around 10:00 p.m. What is being done to locate her, Maxwell? I am quite disturbed by this as you can well imagine.”
“It has just come to our attention when she did not come down to breakfast only a short time ago. We were hoping that she may have said something to you of plans she might have had at the last minute. Could I ask if you two had any kind of quarrel?”
“It seems I have been caught out. I was hoping to convince her to move the wedding up, and we may have had a few unpleasant words, but nothing that I could ever feel would cause her to flee. Leaving it, as it had been planned, was the final word, and she seemed relieved that I had given up for an earlier nuptial.” Grant saw Miss Shaw’s eyes start to wander around the room.
“Miss Shaw, she gave you nothing to concern yourself about?”
“No, but we have all been in agreement lately that she has seemed quiet and reserved; not the spirited, independent Margaret we love. I guess it is just pre-marital nerves. Those are always common, never really any worry in them.”
“If that were the case, my conversation last night could have brought more pressure to bear than I had thought it would. I hope she’s not gone somewhere to think about changing her mind. It would not have seemed so last night. My cook made a special meal for her. She seemed to enjoy that. Maxwell, keep me informed. Let me know immediately of any new developments.”
“I will, Grant. Sorry for interrupting so early in the morning. I hope you are fit in a day or two. We will see ourselves out. You shall be kept informed. Good day.”
“Good day to you both and I certainly hope it is a good day. I will worry now.”
Edith and Maxwell turned to leave the room. Out of the corner of her eye, Edith noticed Margaret’s reticule. She almost stopped to say something, however, refrained, wanting to tell Maxwell first.
As soon as they were out of the house, Grant hobbled over and collected Margaret’s small bag and threw it in his desk drawer.
As the carriage pulled away, Edith told Maxwell what she had seen.
“Are you sure? Are you positive it was Margaret’s?”
“I’ve borrowed it enough times to be sure. Maxwell, she would never leave without that. Wherever she is right now, she doesn’t have it with her. Do you think he acted overly friendly?”
“Yes, I do. Margaret’s bag was left on his couch. He was sitting with a blanket over part of his lap. Hmm …”
“Maxwell, what are you thinking?”
“I know I would have been out of that chair if someone had brought the same news to me about you. His less than enthusiastic concern bothers me. I don’t like what I am thinking, and I’d rather not say at the moment.”
“But you can’t hide things now. Could he have harmed her? He could not have her hidden away, could he?”
“No. If he had her, you would not see signs at the house that she left. My guess is he was too forward with her, and she ran if you must know.”
“In what way? He’s an officer.” Edith thought about Maxwell noting the small lap blanket. She couldn’t believe such a thing could have happened. “Even if he was that vulgar, why would Margaret run away?” Edith asked, letting Maxwell know she knew what he was thinking. She would have come home, even if she walked.
“I find it hard to believe what we are supposing, but still, Margaret is missing, whether voluntary or not, I don’t know.”
“Maybe we should contact Mr. Bell. They are close friends. She could be hiding over there until she can sort things through in her mind.”