“Margaret, how did you sleep my love? Was the bed comfortable?”
“It was comfortable but a bit lonely.”
John kissed her. “There are two people downstairs waiting to see you. One is your nurse. I think her name is Greta. The other person is a surprise.”
“Now, you know Mr. Bell isn’t going to be a surprise. Has the detective left?” Margaret asked?
“Yes, everyone has left except your guest. Should I carry you or would you like to try the steps.”
“I’m feeling good after my sleep. With your help, I’d like to try a few steps; if you’ll just help me out of this massive bed, please. Are you sure you will find me in the middle of the night?” Margaret smiled. “I feel like a child who’s crawled into her parent’s bed because of a nightmare.
“You will be in arms, so I’ll know where you are. Now, don’t get used to this?”
“What, your help?”
“My help getting you out of this bed.” John smiled.
“Does the nurse look mean?” Margaret asked.
“Quite honestly, I only met her at the service building. I didn’t speak with her much. I wouldn’t say she looks mean.”
“I would rather not start using that chair over there, like in the hospital. If I can make it down the stairs, I’ll use that room.”
“Whatever you wish, love. Just don’t overdo. I think you should be having your second pill soon. There is some food left on the table from when everyone was here while you slept. Are you hungry?”
“Does the list say anything about what I should eat?” Margaret asked.
“Let us go ask your nurse, shall we?”
After getting to her feet from the big bed, Margaret easily walked to the steps. John went in front of her and stepped down backward, watching her the whole time. “Hold onto the banister with your one hand and if need be, my shoulder with the other. Tell me immediately if you feel weak in the legs.
Margaret began the descent slowly.
Frederick could hear the conversation and wanted to run to her but stayed where he was. It sounded like an important task for her to accomplish.
“I made it,” she said as she stepped onto the landing. Where’s my visitor?”
Frederick smartly had moved out of her line of sight until she could be seated. Remembering his sister, she tended to swoon easily.
“Where is Adam,” Margaret asked as John helped her down onto the couch.
“Will I do, sis? Margaret heard from the dining room?
Margaret couldn’t turn to look, but Frederick was at her side in a second.
“Frederick! Oh, Frederick!”
“Sis!” Tears welled in both of their eyes.
John was overjoyed to see his wife so happy. He walked into his study to give them a few moments of private time, but he would leave his door slightly ajar, so he could listen. Her brother would have to hear the story for himself, and she would struggle to tell it without letting him know how involved his life was in it. Finally, he decided he would not imagine her torture once again, so soon. He decided to go to his office and talk with the foreman in charge. Except for meeting Margaret’s brother there today, he hadn’t been in the office for five days . . . or was it six.
No one was in the office section when he arrived. It appeared his foreman was most likely walking the sheds for second shift. John was glad for the silence. He needed time to think about all he had heard. He was becoming more helpless in his cause to champion his wife, it seemed. A distinct impression had arisen that no one would be held accountable if this murderer was found dead, whether murdered by himself or not. The detective would not have been so casual in telling all of them the entire circumstances with Hartford’s past as he had. Although, John had found some relief in that, in fact, a lot of relief, as it would mean he and Margaret would still have a life. However, he still had to contend with the other men who wanted to escort this man to hell.
Never in his life had he contemplated so heinous a crime. He was a Magistrate, for God’s sake, but neither had he been in a situation, whereas a man, he faced the raw, primitive pride of protecting what was his and slaying anyone who had worked against that.
If he were honest, he knew Margaret’s brother had the same deep instinct. They had grown together. As an older brother he had protected her as she grew. Perhaps at their young ages, he never realized it, but it was ingrained from his birth. They had to be very close for Margaret to go to such lengths as she did.
Adam Bell, although an older man, was known to have wanted more than to protect Margaret as she achieved adulthood, but soon saw the ridiculousness of their age difference. Still in his ailing months, before death would take him, he may feel he had one final redeeming heroic task to offer her, in place of the love he would leave behind. He could give her his legacy, worth more of a gift to her than his fortune.
Lenox, on the other hand, had slightly different motives. He was a man, a gallant man, with pride in his duty as a soldier plus the fact that Margaret would be a relation of his. Being a trained warrior, he most likely would feel he could offer his skills, as he had already appeared to have done.
Branson was really the odd man out. John knew his interest really sprung from his devotion to his master, he, himself. If he were involved, Branson would insist himself in there somewhere, even if he was not included in any plan.
The longer John thought about all of the male egos around that table, if they didn’t make a joint pact, surely one would steal the satisfaction from all of the others. As much as this meant everything to him, he could not cheat the other men out of something so important in all their lives.
A plan would have to be devised outside of the confines of police procedures. Frederick, Maxwell, Adam, Branson and mostly himself, were ready to step past the line of no return and live with what they would do.
He thought of Margaret and the deep impact she had made on so many lives. Aside from Branson, four men were ready to sacrifice all for her. She had once asked how she was so lucky to have been selected to be his wife. John knew it was definitely the other way around.
Grant Hartford had donned his civilian clothes and walked his horse outside the rear of the fort. There were pastures behind the stables for all of the mounted infantry. He easily threaded the compound, pastures, and the horse gate in leaving the fort unseen. He could dispatch Miss Hale and even return without much notice by his commander – but he would have reasons, just in case. He would ride his horse north for three train stations and catch a train for most of the ride to Milton, exiting several stations before. However, if he felt his plan would prove impossible, he was prepared to move on and leave his commission behind. In case all went right for him, he had told Lt. Gathers that he had received an urgent telegram from his father, in regards to his mother meeting the critical part of her illness. That should gain him a week or two without suspicion.
No one had approached him about his actions against Miss Hale. He was certain she was getting on with her life and keeping silent because she thought her brother was still under watch. It had been almost a full week, with no interest in him other than her disappearance and there he did have no connection.
During John’s absence of an hour from his wife and her brother, he worked on developing a strategy that all men could participate as a group, a hanging party as Boyle had called it. Maxwell would be the one to tell him how workable it could be. None of the five men would be excluded, and all would stand or fall together.
Returning to his home, John found Frederick alone in the parlor.
“Margaret?” he immediately asked.
“She’s with the nurse in a room down the hall, I believe.”
“How was she with your visit?” John asked.
“Needless to say, there were a lot of tears. I wanted to hug her and couldn’t and I wanted to shout at her for being so foolhardy but couldn’t do that either. Do you have any sisters, John?”
“Then you probably know how they are,” Frederick replied.
“My sister is nothing at all like I feel Margaret is to you. If I walked off this planet, she might wonder where I went around next year. She’s silly and self-centered. Everything in her life is a drama. I’ve been with Margaret for six days. I’ve been married to her for two of those days. I haven’t even bothered to tell my sister, and she lives in the same town. I’m sure she read about my marrying Margaret in the paper, and I have not heard a word from her.”
“I’m not leaving town, but I’m going to leave when Margaret returns. I’ll be back to see her many times before I leave but tonight, I want to be out of this house so the two of you can have some time together. She really does love you quite a lot, and that’s good enough for me. I don’t know how to thank you for marrying her so quickly and removing half of her problem.”
“Frederick, I’ve wanted to marry her for two years. She never could tell me about you. I didn’t know you existed until a few days ago. I remember seeing her in your arms at the station late that night and began to lose all hope. If we had only trusted one another, we wouldn’t be where we are now. She didn’t know she could trust me and tell me about you. I didn’t trust her when I questioned her behavior that night, and she refused to tell me anything. If your father hadn’t have died when he did, and he was a good friend to me, Margaret and I may have seen our way back to one another.”
Both men were aware of female voices heading their way.
“Frederick, you are welcome to stay.”
“Not tonight, but soon.”
“I have a plan to discuss with everyone, so don’t go hunting anyone tonight. I think we can satisfy all of us who have the same desire.”
“Hello Mr. Thornton,” said Greta. “Your wife is doing very well with that rib. She will be used to her own movements in the next day or two.”
Greta went below stairs until she was needed. The service had brought small bells for the main rooms where Margaret would reside, such as the bedchamber, bathing area, and parlor.
Margaret walked to the couch, anxious to the see the two men in her life finding interest in each other. “Frederick, I am so happy you can stay for a few days.” Margaret extolled, clearly oblivious of all the plans going on around her.”
“I’m going to be leaving in a few moments, though,” Frederick replied.
“Why? Where are you going? Where will you sleep? Please, promise me you will not go to London.”
“Don’t worry, sis. I’m staying in Milton. I already have a room for tonight over in the poor district. I’ll be here, in and out, visiting with you and John, for a few days yet.”
“Well, what takes you away from us?”
“Sis, this is your first night with your new husband in your new home. I think you need some time alone. I bet you haven’t had that since you arrived here. This has been a busy day for you. I want you to rest. Besides, I want to visit with Adam Bell this evening. I am waiting for word on Lisa, and he may have heard something.”
“I am sure I can understand that. All right. I hope you and John become better acquainted before you return to wherever you are living. You know Mr. Bell is ill. We will eventually have to determine a new way to communicate.”
“Yes, I’m thinking about that. I am leaving now and will see you tomorrow. I promise.” Frederick came over to his sister and kissed her on the forehead. He whispered he loved her in her ear and turned to John. Frederick extended his hand, as in thanks, and shook it. “I will see you, tomorrow, as well, John. Good evening to you both. I believe I will leave through the back door.”
“Can Branson take you anywhere?”
“Yes, if you don’t mind. I could use him to get into town. Thank you.”
“He will be in the stables or up in his loft, out back.”
“Thank you, John. Goodbye, sis.”
“I cannot believe we are alone, essentially,” John said as he came over to sit next to Margaret. “I think I will put a sign on the door. It will say, “Quarantine: Love Sickness, Do Not Enter.”
Margaret started laughing at that and held her rib. “The laughing is becoming easier if I can hold my rib at the same time.”
“So, how are you and Greta getting along?” John asked. “How did you manage in the water closet?”
“Honestly, it was more fun with you,” she smiled. “I think we’ll do fine. She wants me to do a bit of exercising with my arms since they will be used more to help me sit and rise. I cannot use my stomach muscles easily. She will bath and wash my hair tonight.”
“And I had been looking forward to that duty, myself.”
“You would be too randy!”
“Margaret Thornton! Where did you learn that word? That isn’t a gentleman’s word.”
“Do you mean gentleman are never randy or never say the word randy?” Margaret quizzed.
“Margaret, stop saying that. It’s crude. It borders on vulgar. You imp. Who taught you such a word?”
“So, you will never be randy with me?” Margaret continued to tease him.
John let out an exasperated sound, throwing his hands in the air. “How do I explain this?” John thought for a moment. “It . . . it means sexually eager or lustful by a man. It’s bawdy talk.”
“Oh, so you are saying since you are a gentleman, you are never randy?”
John finally realized he was being played. He still wanted to know how she learned that word. “I will ask you again, where did you learn that word? It wasn’t your brother, was it?”
“No, of course not. He is a gentleman. It’s in the book I am reading that Edith gave to me.”
“And that book talks about randy men?”
“How else am I to learn?” Margaret immediately hugged her rib because the laugh was about to surge forward.
John’s lips thinned with a mocking hurtful pride look.
“Mrs. Thornton, there is someone here to teach you. You need not read such vulgarities from a book?”
“Sexually eager is vulgar? Being lustful is vulgar? What kind of man did I marry?” She held her ribs again.
“One more word like that, Margaret, and you shall have two cracked ribs by morning.” Now it was John’s turn to laugh. He sat back and watched her humorous expression. Hopefully, the worst for her was passing by right now. In her mind, all of her fears were gone. She was away from the wickedness, and her brother was safe.
“I demand to dry your hair, though,” John insisted. “After you bathe, the nurse can be excused for the night. I want to assist you for the rest of the evening.