John took the hospital steps two at a time and used his long legged gait to reach Margaret’s room quickly. Arriving there, he was not permitted entrance. He stood by the door pacing until he knew the reason why. In what seemed like half an hour, Dr. Donaldson emerged from the room.
“Why may I not enter?” John asked Donaldson
“John, she is waking. The doctor is performing some initial tests before she tires. For what she’s been through, I think she looks good. She remembers little right now but knows she is here in Milton. I am afraid that the shock she experienced has been blocked from her memory, but that is likely to be only of short duration. Very soon they shall be completed this first exam and will bring her food. You, and only you, may see her for a short time before she is sedated once more. After this next sedation, she will be put on that new drug and sleep when she wants except for the nights. We shall medicate her heavily for the nights. She’s liable to have nightmares. In fact, the night nurse told me how she had screamed in the night, but never came awake to pull her out of her nightmare. That is going to be the unfortunate side of her ailments going forward.”
“Thank you, Donaldson.”
Donaldson hurried down the hall to wherever he was going while John turned and began his pacing once more. He thought about how much he wanted to ease her mind about this Hartford man, when her memory returned, but he couldn’t leave her side until she was stable. He had never been torn between two such important elements in his life. But really, there was no choice. Margaret would always come first.
The doctor opened the door and walked out. Seeing Mr. Thornton there, he said, “You may go in. She’s unfamiliar with her recent events. Someone should be by soon to give her soup. Don’t expect miracles right away.”
The doctor left and John could see Margaret moving slightly from where he stood. He was shaking inside. He almost feared showing himself. What if her mind was flung back before all of the abuse and he wasn’t part of her life. He cursed himself for forgetting the flowers. Slowly he stepped through the door.
John spoke her name, not wanting just to appear and startle her.
“Margaret. It is I, John.”
She turned her head and saw him standing there like a god. She was swamped with the feeling of love and protection and she didn’t understand why now. Before she could say a word, tears rolled from the corner of her eyes.
John broke down himself then and let his own tears fall with hers.
“You are glad to see me,” John said more in a statement than a question.
“John,” she whispered, seeing his tears for her. Margaret started to lift her hand to him, but his was there to take hers first.
He could not help himself but pulled her hand to his lips. Curling her fingers within his, he asked, “How are you feeling, my love.”
The endearment of his words and his kiss caused Margaret to weep more tears. John pulled his handkerchief and dabbed lightly around her eyes, allowing her better vision. Then he wiped his own.
“John, you’re here. I am in Milton?”
“Yes, my love. You came to find me. I cannot tell you how happy you have made me.”
“I was helpless I remember, and it appears I’ve had some injuries. John, I’ve missed you something terrible since I left. I love you.”
John wept again. The greatest words he could ever hear were just spoken to him.
“And I love you, Margaret. I have never stopped loving you from the first day I met you. I remember you walking into the milling shed and had the nerve to chastise me. Do you remember that day?”
“I do, John. But I try to forget it. I’m afraid I left with a very low regard for you. Do you know why I am here?”
“Because you have some injuries,” were the only words he said.
“I can feel those. But why? Do you know why?”
“I believe so, but the doctor would rather you remember why when you are ready. Your injuries are an assumption, only. Adam Bell, Nicholas Higgins, and even Branson send you their regards. They will not be permitted to see you for another day or two.”
“But they let you in?”
“Yes, I told them you were to be my wife as soon as you woke.”
“I am? Is that a proposal? I’m awake.”
John let out the biggest grin at her apparent eagerness to belong to him as he placed the back of his hand on her cheek.
Before John could officially offer her a real proposal, a nurse came in to feed her.
“Blast!” he cursed under his breath.
“Sir, would you mind pulling your chair back while I feed Miss Hale. Sir, do you have permission to be in here?”
“Yes,” he heard Margaret say.
John pulled his chair back as requested, reeling from their first words spoken. She had repeated the words that she loved him. That was all he had ever wanted in his life. Today was the pinnacle of his being . . . those spoken coveted words from Margaret.
Dr. Donaldson came into the room while John watched the nurse spoon soup down her. Noticing him, John walked over to Donaldson for a private word.
“Margaret is asking me what happened to her. I’ve told her that it is best for her to remember on her own, but I don’t know if I have spoken out of turn. She seems to be anxious to know. As I’ve been sitting here watching her, I had promised, that if she would have me, I would marry her when she woke. I still want that, but I feel a bit guilty if she makes a decision without all the facts. I cannot believe she had any regard for this man, but I do not know how to be completely sure.”
“John, it will do her more harm than good to keep all we know from her, but I’d like to give her through tomorrow to come to it on her own.”
“If she doesn’t remember by tomorrow, who will be the one to tell her?” asked John.
“If he is up to it, I think Mr. Bell should be the one. He is more familiar with her situation in London than anyone. If he cannot do it, I will talk with her.”
“I’d like to be there.”
“I think you may need to be there, but let’s see how her condition is by then. I hope she can find strength by your reaction to her abuse. I expect her to reject you because she will be too ashamed. Margaret will feel dirty to you in her mind. You have no hesitation there, do you?” Donaldson asked, looking directly at John’s expression when he answered. Donaldson knew only a good man would be able to put something like that behind him.
“None. I want her in my life. There are no exceptions.”
“I was sure you felt that way. I think they will make her sleep again after her feeding. Margaret should wake about 4:00 or 5:00 this afternoon.”
“Are you sending me away, Donaldson?”
“No, you may stay as long as you want. I’ll see about getting a more comfortable chair in here.”
Margaret had finally finished her thin soup when John heard her call his name. As he reached her side, a nurse was spooning the laudanum into her mouth.
“Yes, Margaret. I am here, my love.” John reached for her hand but Margaret pulled his to her lips, kissing the back of it.
John remained as calm as he good, as Margaret did that but he was exploding inside. He was becoming breathless and overwhelmed. This all felt more than wonderful and more than easy. In all good conscience, he understood this may be taking advantage of her.
“John, I think you were talking about marrying me, before the nurse came in. Is there something you wanted to ask me,” Margaret said with a weak smile.
“There is something that I desperately want to ask you but to be fair to you I will wait until the memory of your injuries has returned. I do not want you to have any doubts when you answer me. We have not seen each other for two years and there could be another man in your life. I will wait until you are clear about your past.”
“You won’t leave me will you, John?” Margaret was becoming unfocused. Her words were starting to slur.
“Margaret, I will never leave you. You will have to tell me to go away. Never ever think I am not by your side.”
Margaret had closed her eyes before John had finished his words, but she was still holding his hand.
The Shaw’s and Captain Lenox arrived at the local constabulary. Reciting why they were there, an officer escorted them into a quiet room.
“Maxwell, will you begin the story. Mother and I are a fright.”
A constable entered the room with paper and pencil. He offered the trio some tea, whereupon Edit and Mrs. Shaw accepted. They sat and Maxwell paced.
“Captain, would you care to sit down?” asked Constable Leyland.
“Thank you, sir. I’ll stand for the moment.” Maxwell introduced the women and his association with them. He began with yesterday morning, but Edith interrupted, being more familiar with their exact movements. When she came to the part of calling her fiancé Captain Lenox, he continued with the story. He had related all that he knew from speaking with Captain Hartford but encouraged them to speak with him. He would have to find the constable alone and give him his own theories. He mentioned Adam Bell, but said he seemed to be out of town.
The Constable took a description of Margaret and asked many questions from running away to being abducted. They had no opinion on any reasoning for her actions, but Mrs. Shaw brought up the fact that she had seemed worried or unhappy lately. The three agreed that since Captain Hartford had come into her life was when Margaret’s demeanor started to change.
“Captain Lenox, are you familiar with Captain Hartford?”
“Only several months. We are in different regiments, and we met quite by chance. Sir, could we excuse the women so that I may speak with you alone. I only have suppositions and wish to speak them privately.”
Edith and her mother seemed surprised, although Edith remembered Margaret’s reticule on the sofa and assumed that’s what they would talk about.
“Ladies, I have your address and we will be in contact with you. I believe this may be moved up to the Metropolitan station since it has been over forty eight hours. If you will excuse us, you may wait in the visitor’s area. Thank you. You have been very helpful.”
Edith and her mother rose and left the room. Maxwell held the door for them, telling them he would not be long. Once they were gone, Maxwell sat at the table across from the Constable and told him the rest of the story and Captain Hartford’s ailment. He explained how he had checked with the infirmary on post and Captain Hartford had never been there for medical treatment. He concluded that he could have seen a personal physician. He also explained how it would not be like Miss Hale to run from him unless he had some hold over her, and they were just grasping for anything with that thinking.
The constable wrote everything down and went over it one last time to be clear. “And you or the Shaw’s have no idea where Miss Hale could be. Does she not have any friends in London?”
“Only the gentleman, Mr. Bell, who has seemed to be her guardian since he and her father were college mates. I believe he was soon leaving her a rather substantial endowment to Miss Hale. Whether Captain Hartford knew of that, I do not know. Besides her childhood home in Helstone and her two years in Milton, while her parents lived, I do not know of anyone she may know. Come to think of it, this Mr. Bell has attachments to Milton. I believe he is a landowner there. He could be there, but he is not at his college rooms at the university where he has life rights to two rooms.”
The constable stood extending his hand to Maxwell. “You have given us some very good information and several places to start. I will discuss this with my Chief Inspector and see how he wants to proceed.”
“If I could offer one caution.”
“Please, I will listen to everything thing you have to say.”
“Should Miss Hale be held by this Hartford, he may spook easily and do her harm. In my bones, I do not think he knows where she is, but I think he knows why she left. I believe he tried to force himself on her, therefore the lap blanket. I am finding it hard to believe this of another officer and I am ashamed to think what I do, but I cannot stand by and allow him to mistreat my fiancé’s family or embarrass the army. I think I have told you everything.”
One last handshake and the two men parted. Maxwell ushered the two women out to their carriage. They held their questions until they were inside.
“Maxwell, what could you say to him that you could not say to us?” asked Edith.
“I have heard some rumors that I wanted to pass along. I would rather not say as they could ruin an officer’s career. I have had no time to verify any of this, so I wish to keep it to myself. I mentioned that I wanted to see justice done for Miss Hale’s sake in spite of his rank. The military will not tolerate any embarrassment, should there be merit to these rumors.
Maxwell was glad that Edith and her mother seemed placated with that. He mentioned to them that he reported about her former homes in Helstone and Milton as places she may have gone to.
“It is most unlike Margaret, and I can understand if she were desperate, but I did find that my spare money is now missing. I believe she has taken it, which gives rise that she could have traveled far away. Edith, do you remember the name of the man she found an interest with in Milton?”
“Let me think, Mother. He was a Mill Owner. I believe she called him John, but I would have to think on his last name.”
“I shall get that information to the constable later today. I did not know there was anyone else of interest besides my brother Henry at any time in her life.”
Later that day, Constable Jerome, realizing that the Shaw’s were part of upper society, the matter of the missing Miss Hale would be kicked up to the Met.
While Margaret slept, John decided it was time to inform Chief Inspector Mason of the events as he knew them. The one thing he would not reveal was his plan of revenge, although he knew Mason would assume it, knowing him too well.
Mason saw Thornton coming into the station and motioned him into his office.
“Good day, Mason. I came to make you aware . . .” John closed the door and sat in front of the Chief’s desk. An hour and half later, John exited. Mason was powerless to proceed outside of his own district, but he would inform the London authorities of what he had been told. He would alert his men to look for military bearing men asking questions. He also admonished John on taking this situation into his own hands. He had much to lose, if a life was taken. He watched John Thornton silently acquiesce with a nod but had no faith in it. He’d known John a long time, and could only begin to realize what he must be going through. He’d do the same thing he felt John was capable of planning and executing.