Three thirty arrived, and John escorted Margaret down their steps. He lifted her into the carriage. He pitched his top hat on the opposite seat and gently lifted Margaret onto his lap.
“You know I’m going to hate it when you don’t have to sit like this anymore.”
“I know. I feel the same way.”
John reached for her head to kiss her.
“I am carrying you into the courthouse. You will exhaust yourself walking that far.
“All right. I love being in your arms.”
“Margaret, before you go in there, I should tell you something.”
“Do you mean about you and three others going after Hartford last night? By the paper today, I would say you had a successful evening.”
“Where do you come up with this? Is that your intellect working or did you know.”
“I’m not ready to tell you how, just yet.”
“So, how do you feel about what we did?”
“Proud, since you came home alive.”
John kissed her again. He never thought she’d understand.
“I know the man I married. I know your pride. You would never let that go unanswered. I should have remembered that before I made my way back. These past days have made me sick with worry. After yesterday, and talking with Frederick after you walked out, I think I understand your intensity in this matter more.”
“Should I have told you at the beginning?”
“No. I needed the hope that you would be convinced to change your mind, to get through it all. I didn’t do any good in changing your mind.”
“There never was that chance. I had to do it. It’s done. Behind us. I love you too much to ever let you be harmed.”
“You won’t go to jail, will you?”
“Are you sure of that?”
“Relatively, sure. I think the worst that could happen is, it goes to court. But I doubt even that. I think Boyle is going to resolve all of it at this meeting.”
“I hope we can leave there with good news for everyone,” Margaret added.
Everyone was on the outside steps when Branson pulled the carriage around to the back. Since he was requested, he had to tie off the team. He let his owners out first. John held Margaret in his arms.
“Sis, I heard what you did. Still the clumsy little girl, I see. I’ve spent the day looking around Milton. I am seriously thinking of taking John up on his offer to work for him. I’ve been walking freely in this town all week, and it felt good.”
“Oh, Frederick, I hope that will come to be. I shall want to know the woman you love.”
When Branson arrived at the crowd, John proceeded to courtroom C. John, Margaret, Branson, Adam, Frederick, and the Captain, all walked the halls in silence. No one looked worried. Margaret thought they looked like men arriving home from a war with their heads held high.
The room was empty when they arrived. John led them to the front row on the left side pew. The people filed in order, with Maxwell, Adam, John, Margaret, Frederick, and Branson on the end nearest the main aisle.
Within a few minutes, Mason entered carrying a file, but instead of standing before everyone, he sat next to Branson. Margaret thought he looked too serious.
“Detective Boyle will be here in a few minutes. He had a telegram to send.”
Detective Boyle finally made his late entrance and walked to the front the small gathering.
“I thank all of you for coming today, to what I hope will answer all the questions about the . . . I’d say death, but it was more like a massacre if you can massacre one person. We’re here to close the book on Captain Grant Hartford.
“I will start by saying this is the most bizarre case I have ever worked, in fact, I think ever in the Met history. I was privileged to be the Detective in charge. Nothing would have been possible without Inspector Mason and his great force. They all worked hard. Much harder than any of you ever saw. I am curious. How many of you knew you were being followed for the last three days?”
Maxwell raised his hand.
“Just the Captain here? I thought Frederick would have possibly spotted our men since he’s been looking over his shoulder for a long time. How did you know about being followed, Captain?”
“It’s my training. I spotted the same officer several times in places I was at. Detective, you should rotate your men.”
Boyle laughed. “I should indeed. Why did you not say anything to the others?”
“Because I knew you were on our side.”
“You knew this? Did you,” asked Boyle.
“Yes. I did. You were overtly too courteous and forthcoming with all your information.”
“Agreed,” said John.
Maxwell continued. “That’s why I was willing to give you all of my knowledge. Sir, if I may say something. Don’t join the army. Stay where you are.”
Everyone had a quiet chuckle at Boyle’s expense.
John reached for Margaret’s hand and squeezed it.
“Thank you, Captain, for your indulgence of my methods.” Boyle laughed as hard as the others.
Boyle got serious for a moment. “I want to say this to all of you and only you. The seriousness of this case and the overpowering love that you all have shown this woman here pushed me across a line, I hope I never cross again in my career. We could have taken Hartford nearly anytime we wanted after he left London. As a man, I could feel the primitive need for revenge. I wasn’t going to let you have your way until the old man was strangled. That’s when we gave you your head. That’s why we followed you. We had to ensure the safety of everyone in this room. Now, if you say that outside this room, I will deny it. Mason and I made that decision. He convinced me of the type of man that you were, John, and I knew of you before I got here.”
John stood, “Before you go further, I want to tell you that I killed him. I would not be a man that I could live with if I let that pass. I don’t want there to be any doubt should this all be a trick.”
Frederick stood next, “I killed him, not John. My sister was brutalized because of me. I did it.”
Adam couldn’t sit and let that happen. “Sir, I killed him. Margaret’s father was my best friend. I promised him that I would watch out for her.”
Captain Lenox stood next. “Sir, with respect to my new friends here and my regiment, I killed him because of his embarrassment to the men that served him.”
Margaret looked at Branson and smiled.
Branson rose. “Sir, I killed him. I cannot let my master take the blame for something I did. It was me.”
Margaret struggled to her feet, and Branson helped her. “Sir, if you followed everyone, you know that I killed him.”
“Margaret, sit down! You did no such thing.”
“Sir, I cannot let my husband take the blame for my own revenge on Captain Hartford. I would do it again and again. I killed him.”
“Margaret!” John said, his temper flaring. “You could not have killed him. Now sit. John lowered her to a sitting position.
“Did to,” Margaret said on her way down to the seat.
Detective Boyle smiled and waved his arms for everyone to be seated. John snapped a frown at his wife for her foolishness.
“This has all been quite heartwarming, I must admit. I felt sure that’s how you all felt, which led Mason and me to cross the line. Mason, would you bring in the coroner?”
“Let me say this. Not one of you should have any regrets about what you did. There is no guilt here. I will say, that in all good conscience, I could not let him go unclaimed. I have written to his commanding officer telling him that he was killed in a shootout with police for the murder of Tom Douglas. I went on to say that we also had evidence of another murder he committed. Nothing was mentioned about you, Lenox, that will be up to you. I also did not mention anything about our real reason for being here, and that is the attack on the then Miss Hale. I feel certain he will not be buried with any honors and if he has family, they can claim him.”
Mason escorted the coroner to the front with a box in his hand.
“Would you all like to know what killed this man.?”
“Detective, with respect I think the men here know that I fired first. John insisted”
“So you are saying you are the one who ended his life?”
Boyle turned to the coroner. “Doctor, would you tell us your findings? Tell us where the shot balls were found.”
“The first one I pulled from the body was from the groin or what was left of it.”
“That would have been John Thornton’s shot” replied Boyle. “Continue.”
“The second shot I pulled out was from the heart. The pistol had been placed against the shirt as there were powder burns there.”
“That would have been Frederick Hale’s shot.”
The men started taking great interest now, wondering how they or Boyle knew who placed the shot.
“The third ball was removed from the very center of his forehead, a particularly good shot.”
“That would have been the Captain’s shot.”
“The next one was from his left side. It didn’t appear to be aimed at any special part of the man.”
That would have been Mr. Bell’s shot,” continued Boyle.
Boyle looked into the box. “Coroner, you have more shot here.”
The four men started looking at one another trying to remember if anyone fired twice.
“Yes, sir. I couldn’t find the bullet in the body, but his toes had been shot off. At least three of them. The bullet was lodged in the floor.”
The men were taken aback.
“The last one I found was taken from the lower spin.”
“I suggest that was inflicted from our young driver Branson.”
John interrupted. Are you saying there were six shots to his body?”
“I am,” said the coroner.
Boyle was ready for the grand finale~.
“Coroner, all these men would like to know which bullet killed this man.”
“Sir, Lady, and gentlemen,” the coroner said, looking down the line of men,” None of them.”
“Four men jumped up, protesting the coroner’s findings.”
“Gentlemen, gentlemen, please take your seats. All will be revealed.
The men were talking amongst themselves, grumbling.
“Coroner, if none of these bullets killed this man, what did kill him first?”
There was dead silence in the room.
“Sir, of all those bullets in him, there was no blood spilt from the body, except his toes. He was already dead when all of you thought you had killed him.”
“So how did he die?”
“Someone administered arsenic to him in a very large dosage.”
“You mean we shot a dead man?” asked John of Boyle.
“That is right, Mr. Thornton.”
“Then who killed him.”
“Poison is a woman’s weapon. Your killer sits among you.”
John looked down at Margaret.
“Told you,” she remarked with a smarmy smile.
John ran his fingers through his hair and leaned over putting his elbows on his knees. He could not believe that.
Margaret wanted to laugh at John.
Frederick turned towards her and kneeled. “Sis, I knew you were crazy, but I didn’t know you were brave. My God, what a sister, I have.”
“Let me have a final word on this.” Spoke Boyle above the din in the room. “Although slightly delayed, Miss Hale dispatched Captain Hartford in self-defense. She has no guilt at all.”
Branson turned and hugged her.
Captain Lenox came over to her and shook her hand. “Thank you, Margaret, for doing our job. I salute you. Should I tell Edith?”
“I’d rather tell her when I feel the time is good. Thank you, Maxwell, for all you did to aid this investigation.”
Next came Adam Bell. “Margaret, I always knew you were a woman of many talents, but I have been forever underestimating your cunning and bravery. I will leave for London early tomorrow with the Captain and Miss Shaw. I will see you soon.” Adam took her hand, and Margaret closed both of hers over his.
“Please don’t stay away. I am going to miss you soon enough.”
“I’ll be around, dear girl. Bravo to you. Good day.”
Branson had left the room after hugging her, to ready the coach.
Frederick slapped John on the back, trying to bring him back to reality. “If I had met you sooner, I could have told you the type of woman you were marrying. She would never lose you. She didn’t kill him for herself; she killed him for you. It’s been a pleasure, hunting, plotting and planning with you, John. We must do this again soon,” Frederick laughed, kissing his sister on the way out.
Boyle extended his hand to John. Seeing it, John sat back up. “You have some woman there, sir. Goodbye.” Boyle shook Margaret’s hand, too, on his way out. That left John and Margaret alone.
John slid a bit further away from Margaret and turned to stare at her. She had fallen on her sword for him.
Margaret’s smile disappeared. What was John thinking of her, she wondered.
“Is this your version of the silent treatment? How long will this last? Must you stare? You are unnerving me?”
“To unnerve you. You have nerves of cast iron.”
Margaret felt adrift. Did she just cut John out of her life with what she did, she worried. The tears began to flow. She couldn’t take his staring at her anymore. She slid to the pew end and started to pull herself up to a standing position.
Suddenly, she was swept into John’s arms. Before she could groan from the ache in her side, he kissed her hard. He kept his lips on hers all the way through the courthouse and to their waiting carriage. Margaret couldn’t breathe with her tears and running nose, she finally had to pull away.
“You still love me, then?”
“Of course, I do. I am so amazed at you. When I realized what you had done, and I knew it was for me, I felt you squeeze more love into my heart, and I think it burst this time.”
John saw Branson’s big smile and stepped into the carriage.
“Do you want to hear all about it,” she asked.
“Later. I just want to kiss your fool head off. If I had known what you were up to . . .”
John began a series of very passionate, love making kisses on their ride home.
Feeling the rock forming under her, Margaret said, “Our friend is back. Is he looking for his home?”
John smiled, “He’s looking for his ooh-ooh.”