Captain Grant Hartford was attempting to move about his study in an upright position. Having his trousers fully closed compelled him to walk stooped over so that the fabric didn’t chafe against his injured manhood. If marrying Margaret Hale was now definitely out of the question, he felt like killing her. Tomorrow he would return to his barracks and resume his duties. His manservant knocked on his door and entered.
“A Detective Boyle to see you, sir.”
“Yes, sir. Shall I show him in?”
“Yes, by all means.” Hartford didn’t like the sound of this, but of course, it would be questions about Miss Hale’s disappearance.
The detective was shown into his study and Grant stood in near military bearing as he sucked in wind through his clenched teeth.
“Good afternoon, Captain Hartford. I am Detective Boyle.”
“Have a seat Detective Boyle. I hope you are here with some word about Miss Hale.”
“Captain, I have no word, but I am here in her regard, yes,” Boyle said, taking a seat in front of Hartford’s desk.
“How can I help you, Detective?”
“I am investigating the disappearance of Miss Margaret Hale at the behest of her family. I understand that you were the last to see her Tuesday evening. What can you tell me about it?” Boyle began.
“I picked up Miss Hale that evening around 7:00pm for dinner at my home, here. We had a wine and light conversation before our meal. Afterwards, we adjourned to the parlor, where I regret to say I had a few words that were unpleasant to her. You see, detective, we are engaged. I had been trying to convince her to move the wedding forward. My words were not heated, in any way. I bowed to the lady’s request that they remain unchanged, and that was the end of that. To my knowledge, that was the only unpleasantry of the evening. It was shortly thereafter, Miss Hale asked to be taken home?”
“And you took her straight home, Captain?”
Grant didn’t care for the way this session was going. He had interrogated people enough to know what the detective was getting at.
“Did you escort her to her door?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Did you enter the house?”
“No. Now, see here, Detective, I don’t care for your inference.”
“Captain, I am not inferring anything. I am trying to understand all of Miss Hale’s movements since you were the last to see her. Is there anything else you can remember about that night?”
Settling down before he drew too much attention, Hartford continued. “As I said, Miss Hale and I had a few brief words that she did not care to hear. Aside from that, since that was settled to her satisfaction, I sensed that she was distracted for reasons not known to me. She seemed quiet and appeared inwardly nervous. I attributed that to her being alone with me and my staff.”
“Speaking of your staff, who was in residence that night?”
“As you may not know, I do not come here very often. I do own this small Manor, but I live on post in private quarters. I had a short staff on duty that night. Let’s see . . . there was my cook, my manservant, who served us, I believe a scullery maid and my driver.”
“I may wish to question them at a later time.” The detective noted offhandedly.
“Detective, are you accusing me of improper behavior?”
“Was there any?” Boyle asked.
“You are impertinent, Sir. I am a gentleman and officer.”
“You still have not answered my question.” Boyle insisted.
Grant was becoming blustery with indignation. “Certainly not!”
“Is there anything I have not asked you that you believe I should know?” Boyle asked as his final question.
Grant was beginning to believe the detective knew more than he was letting on. He wondered for a moment if Miss Hale’s reticule had been spotted by the Captain’s fiancé. He decided that would make things worse if he brought it to light and there was no previous knowledge of it.
“No, Detective. I believe you have all the information that I have. I wait patiently for any word you have on the young lady I am to marry. You will find me at the post. Are we done?”
“Yes, for now, Captain. Thank you for your time. I’ll see myself out. Good day.”
Grant watched as the detective left, feeling like he was losing his footing on crumbling ground. Miss Hale was missing, that was all. She would never force his hand in giving up her brother, he was sure of that. She had endured much, maybe too much, to keep him safe. Eventually, she would return at some point before the wedding, accepting one fate or the other.
Boyle walked to his coach with an uneasy feeling as Captain Maxwell Lenox must have had, according to the report. This Hartford man was holding his arrogance at bay. The report, which had reached the Met a short time ago, had some questionable assumptions by Captain Lenox. He decided to put a man on investigating the past of Captain Grant Hartford. Next, he would interview the family and gave his driver instructions.
Margaret thrashed in her dream state. She could see Frederick, and she was afraid. He was strolling up ahead, and men in uniform were gathering behind. She started to run because she knew he couldn’t hear her. Maybe if she ran to the men in uniform and created a scene – would it draw their attention away from her brother? There were too many of them, so she continued to run. As she passed the uniformed men, she saw one carrying a hangman’s rope. Could she get near enough for him to hear her? Frederick rounded a corner, and she was thankful to see him out of sight. She did not know this town. Looking back, the men were picking up speed. The sweat was pouring. She had lost her shoes long ago, and the sharp earth raked the soles of her feet. Her full frock kept gathering between her legs as she lengthened her stride for all she was worth. Finally, she was gaining on her brother, but the others were gaining on her. “Fred! Frederick, run!” Margaret rang out with a startled cry which brought John to his feet.
Margaret tried to sit up but fell back, wincing in pain. Beads of perspiration were dotting her forehead.
“John. John, you’re here. Did Frederick get away?” Margaret asked clutching his arm that was extending towards her.
“Shh . . . Margaret, you have had a bad dream. Margaret, can you understand me. All is fine.” John wanted to pull her into his arms, but there was no way to hold her yet. He placed his head next to hers and whispered into her ear while fondling her fingers. Margaret grabbed his one hand with both of hers.
“John, I’ve never been so afraid for my brother.”
“I know, love. I know. Your brother is safe.” John wasn’t sure of that but hoped. Worrying Margaret now would do no good.
“You are safe, too, my love. You will be forever safe and unharmed.” John soothed.
Margaret looked into John eyes, trying to slow her heart beat. She remembered running faster than she ever had. She tightened her grasp on John’s hand.
He leaned over and kissed her.
“John, that’s the first time you have kissed me,” Margaret admitted as wonderment spread across her face replacing the frown.
John smiled into her eyes. “Oh, I would not say quite the first. Perhaps, the first that you are aware of.”
“When did you last kiss me? Was it two years ago . . . why would I not remember that?” she muttered.
“Actually, Margaret, it was only moments ago. I have been collecting kisses from your lips, your hands, and your face that are long overdue.”
Nurse Pickering entered the room, surprised to see Miss Hale awake. She should have slept another hour. John saw the look of bewilderment on her face.
“Miss Hale has had a nightmare that has awakened her only moments ago,” informed John.
“Good evening, Mr. Thornton,” she said, walking towards Margaret. “Miss Hale, can you tell me about your dream?”
John was surprised that should be a medical approach but did not interfere.
“I can hardly remember it now. I was running towards my brother. I think he was in danger. That’s all there is left. They fade so fast. I am sure I am glad that they do.”
“I will get the doctor. He will want to begin his final exams on your eye sight and memory. Mr. Thornton, will you excuse us.”
“No, you may not excuse me. With the permission of Dr. Donaldson, I wish to and have been granted permission to be with her as she remembers her past.”
“Very well. I am sure the hospital doctor will have that in his orders. We shall return directly.” Miss Pickering left the room.
“Margaret, I want you to know that I am here, whatever happens, whatever you remember. Whether your past, that you’ve have blocked, is good news or not, I will never leave your side. I love you, too much. Nothing, and I mean nothing, will drive me away.”
Tears formed once again in the corners of Margaret’s eyes. It broke John’s heart. He girded himself with an expectation of losing her again, but to herself this time, before she would believe him.
“It’s bad, isn’t it, John? I can see it on your face. What have I done, John?”
“As I have said, we only have assumptions. But no matter what those assumptions are, you are innocent of any wrong doing. You see for yourself, what you have suffered at the hands of someone. We don’t know why.”
“What has happened to me, John? No one has said. They won’t let me stay awake.”
“Your doctor will be here any moment. I think it is best for him to tell you exactly the wounds on your body. You are in a delicate condition, and I would assume they will dispense information as you can handle it.” John skirted the words as best he could.
“You know what has happened to me . . . I mean the wounds, John?”
“I have done nothing to embarrass you?”
“No, love. You could never embarrass me. Even if you were kicked out of a brothel, I would still love you.”
“How do you know about my brother?”
“What do you mean?” John asked, confused.
“You told me as I woke, ‘your brother is safe.’ How do you know about him?”
Dr. Wagner walked into the room and nodded towards Mr. Thornton.
“Miss Hale, good evening. I am Dr. Wagner. I introduced myself once before but doubted you understood me then. I am the doctor in charge of your case, but I am assisted by your own doctor, Dr. Donaldson. How are you feeling right now?”
John stepped to the side but made sure that Margaret knew he was there.
“Doctor, I am sore, especially around my lower chest. I want to know what is wrong with me.”
“Before we get to that, I would like your permission or denial of Mr. Thornton’s presence.”
“He has non-restrictive rights to any information or decisions regarding my person.” Margaret looked for him in the room and saw that he had turned his back with a bent head.
“Fine. I will note that on your chart. We will first test your eye sight, and then we will talk. Nurse, would you bring the chart? Miss Hale, previously, do you remember wearing any type of spectacles to enhance your ability to see or read?”
“I remember that I did not need any such instruments.”
“We have found no evidence of a head injury, or bleeding from the ears or nose, but we want to check your eye sight.”
“I’m ready.” Margaret agreed.
“You may wish you hadn’t,” the doctor smiled, “because we need to get you into a sitting position. To do that will be uncomfortable while we move you. If at any time you feel trouble breathing we will rest you back down, so please speak out.”
John stood at the foot of the bed watching as the doctor and nurse each took Margaret carefully and pulled her forward. One pushed her shoulders slightly, while the other pulled her arms. John anguished as he saw the pain and frowns flow over her face, but she was quiet about it.
Margaret bared the pain until she saw John standing at her feet. The pain subsided as he was taking her pain for her. She saw him wince in her stead.
They immediately propped some pillows behind her and rested her back onto them.
“Doctor, I am breathless,” said Margaret.
“You cannot breath, Miss Hale?” surprising the doctor.
“Not while he’s standing over me,” she nodded towards John with a meek smile.
John was shocked that he had impacted Margaret so and moved out of her sight. Then John heard the doctor.
“I see, Miss Hale, that there has been no injury to your sense of humor. Should we move Mr. Thornton out of your sight,” Wagner laughed?
“Not unless you want me to relapse,” she retorted.
John closed his eyes in grateful euphoria. Where did her spirit come from to say something like that and at such a difficult time? She still marveled him. He returned to the foot of the bed, smiling.
“Unfortunately, I will have to move the gentleman out of the way while I perform my test. Have you ever read eye charts before, Miss Hale?”
“No. I’ve heard about them but have never seen them.”
Dr. Wagner walked to the end of the bed, and John stepped aside with his arms folded, intent on keeping his eye on his bride. He was becoming uplifted with her gaiety during this matter. At one time, he almost felt compelled to laugh at her black eye, that he was sure she didn’t know she had, but soon remembered the cost she paid.
“Miss Hale, there seems to be no problem with your vision. I believe that concludes our overall assessment of your injuries. We will keep watch for a couple more days and then release you if you have a place to go which can provide nursing care.”
Before Margaret could speak, John said, “She does. She will be at our home, and a nurse will be hired.”
“Our home? Inquired the doctor.
“Soon to be our home, doctor. She will be Margaret Thornton before she leaves your hospital.” John quickly looked to Margaret for her expression. He still hadn’t asked for her hand in an official capacity, but he saw the answer on her face.
“I see. My congratulations,” Wagner responded in surprise.
The doctor pulled up a straight chair that had been John’s before a comfortable one had been brought to him.
“Miss Hale. Do you feel up to talking?”
“Yes, I want to know what are my injuries.”
John crossed his legs and clasped his hands while peering directly at Margaret’s profile.
Margaret reached for his hand to give her strength and John lovingly obliged. He also stood beside her so she would not see his mournful expression as her chart was read.
“Miss Hale, you have a significant amount of injuries. Do you not remember any of them?”
“No, I don’t think so. I haven’t had time to dwell on it, yet. I only know that my ribs hurt.”
“Whatever had happened to you, and I must say it’s been over some period of time, you may begin to remember, and that could be very unpleasant for you. I hadn’t prepared to speak with you about this until tomorrow, but I understand you are asking questions.
“Yes. I believe I have slept enough. I’m not sure why I’m in Milton,” she said, and John squeezed her hand, “but I think I was seeking to gain protection from this man that I have loved for two years.” John held her hand firmly.
“I will tell you of your injuries, and then we will talk again.”
“Please, let’s get on with it.” Margaret pleaded.
“You do have a cracked rib, not entirely broken. It hurts the same as a broken rib and can labor your breathing in some motions or positions. It will heal within four weeks. A broken rib would be another two weeks. Whatever caused your rib to crack also caused internal bleeding. How you arrived from London with that is nothing short of a miracle. You had great determination to get here. That bleeding has stopped.”
John pulled the chair beside the bed and once again took Margaret’s hand. He knees were weakening.
“You have been slapped or backhanded with considerable force as to cause your back teeth to loosen. They will stabilize quickly but with that came a nice black eye. It’s perfectly black at this point. The swelling is down, and there may be some soreness, but that will take a good week to return to its normal color.”
Everyone saw Margaret reach for her eye and cheek. “It’s really black? Can I see?”
The nurse opened the small cabinet beside her, usually stocked with shaving supplies, and handed Margaret the mirror.
“Both of those injuries, your rib, and your face, seemed to have come at the same time which would have been within twenty four hours of your admittance here.”
The room was quiet as Margaret looked at her face and then seemed to look beyond the mirror.
John prepared for the worst as it looked like Margaret was trying to remember what caused that. She did not succeed.
“There must be something more since you said ‘over a long period,’ isn’t there?” Margaret broke the silence and John exhaled.
Margaret saw their faces and began to think that the worst that had happened to her was not addressed. She held onto John’s one hand with both of hers and asked, “Have I been violated?” She felt him cover her hands with both of his.
“Miss Hale, you have not been raped, if that is what you are asking.”
“Yes, that is what I was asking.” Margaret felt a strange sense in the room. Something was being left unsaid. She would wait until she was alone with the doctor.
“To continue,” began Dr. Wagner, again, “you show signs of nine or possibly ten fist impacts to your body. Two were to the kidney area, but we are satisfied there is no permanent damage. All of these hits to your body have been designed, I tend to think, to be hidden from view. I am not a policeman or a pathologist, but the treatment to you has been nothing short of torturous over several months. We have no way of telling if there had been more that are completely healed. Still no recollection, Miss Hale? We certainly want to find out who did this to you. Was it one or more than one man?”
“I cannot see things clearly, but I remember being knocked to the floor many times. Oh God, it was one man, I think.”
John wanted this to stop but knew that she would have to face this one day. Let it come so she can begin to heal, and their life could start, he thought. He was going to crush her hand if he held her any tighter. He took one hand away and slipped his arm behind her head and neck, holding her other shoulder tight to him.
“Miss Hale, just before you awoke, this time, you were heard to shout, ‘Fred. Frederick, run!’” Does that . . .”
Dr. Wagner saw the break in her face as some or all realization began to sweep over her.
Margaret turned her face into John’s chest and wept loudly. John kissed her softly on her hair.
“Can we have time alone,” he asked. “I want to get her through this part, myself.”