Chapter Twenty Seven
John and Frederick talked into the night, finalizing plans. Both agreed the pressure and anxiety were reaching an alarming pace, but nothing would stop them now, except death – for someone. They would have a meeting early the next day with the others; tell them all they knew and set the last plans of participation. Everyone would meet at the office around ten in the morning, including Branson.
As the plan seemed laid out, all the men would meet in the morning. Afterwards, Frederick would continue to scout Hartford. At four in the afternoon, everyone would meet with Boyle for any last minute information. Ten at night seemed to be the selected hour to put this man behind them all and Margaret. If Frederick found Hartford was not moving as predicted, the plans would have to change at the last minute.
Frederick saw John open a lower drawer in his desk and lift out a pistol.
“Do you have one of these, Fred?”
“I do, but I have no powder and ball.”
“Here.” John slid what Frederick needed across the desk. “Where do you keep it?”
Frederick reached down his trouser front and pulled out a small but powerful blunt pistol.
“I’ve carried this for three years. I’ve never used it on a person, but it has given me consolation knowing it has been there. On my trip here, I had to shoot for food. I must say, rabbits are fast. I used up all my munitions, I’m afraid.”
Both men laughed.
Each man took the time to clean and load their weapons.
John couldn’t remember the last time he had fired it. Many years ago, he had bought a set, feeling one should be in the house. Days after his purchase, he rode into a wooded area and fired for about an hour. He thought it felt strange to hold as it held a great impact in his life, one way, or another. John placed the loaded pistol into his top center drawer.
“I have a second pistol,” John told Fred.
“I’m not planning on missing, thank you. You being a magistrate, what are our chances of getting away with this?”
“None, really. There’s no doubt that Boyle will know. He’ll call us in and hassle us, but there won’t be any arrests. There is no way he can prove anything. It’s all circumstantial. I’m sure he knows what we’re doing in any regard. He has given us too much information for who we are. I may have been privileged to know it, but I do not think its usual practice to disclose what he has to our group.”
“Do you have regrets about taking a life?” Frederick asked.
“Of course, there is regret but I have no doubts. It is something I must do. My conscience will not be bothered with expediting this man to the next life. He’s headed there if the police get to him before we do. I just want the satisfaction of revenge. As a man, I have come face to face with the primitive man that still resides deep within, The Protector. It’s a rather unique feeling of learning more about the man that you really are and what you are capable of doing in extreme circumstances, don’t you think?”
“I’ve been there once before if you know my whole story. Yes, it’s like standing outside of yourself, unbelieving that you are confident in such actions. But when it comes down to it, nothing feels better than doing what is right, rather than what is just.”
“That’s the way I see it, Fred. I know I’ve ruled in my court, on occasions, for the side of right rather than justice. I’ve never been called into question about it. It’s very late,” John said, snapping his watch closed. I would imagine your sister went to bed a long time ago.”
“John, let me just say, ‘thank you’ for being the man to love her. I do not think she could have found another man with the deep feelings for her that I see in you.”
John’s thin smile appeared. “Thank you for saying that. Your confidence in me is well-placed. I would give up my life for her.”
“I think I know that. So . . . where do I sleep?”
As John entered their bedchamber, his heart sank. Margaret was lying across the bed, with her head near the light, book fallen to the floor, still in her day clothes. He didn’t know how far he would get and not wake her, but he would try to undress her.
He thought about which side the break was and then rolled her over onto her stomach. She made a sound but did not come awake. Slowly, button by button, he undid the back. He stood back, looking down at her, trying to use his intellect, on the next moves. Surely he had to pull off that wide skirt, whatever she called it, he couldn’t remember. Next came her bloomers. John gently reached under her stomach and pulled a long end of the bow that tied them on. Slowly, he shimmied them down and then off. Once again, he stood back with is arms crossed and figured the rest was going to be tricky. Should he wake her, he wondered. No, there was the off chance that she would sleep through his fumbling. Considering there were now, two long pieces – one, usually slipped off her shoulders, the other over her head – he thought he would try both over her head, at the same time. That would leave just the rib corset when he was done. He debated with himself over keeping her modesty or not. He opted to turn out the light, as she may have wished.
John took a deep breath and began the slow bunching of the fabrics upward. He had to roll her over once, but the darkness hid her beautiful form from him. Finally, the fabric came away from her, and he pulled it down her arms. He could reach the hooks on her side with no trouble. Completing that, he knew she was naked on the bed. He wanted badly to feel her skin, her curves, her everything, but instead, he gently lifted her to her side of the bed and pillow.
He disrobed himself, completely and slid next to her, pulling the covers over them. Little by little he slipped his arm under her neck and moved so their bodies were touching. Instinctively, he laid one leg over her and placed his hand on her stomach. He closed his eyes and let his fantasies soar.
“You are true gentlemen,” he heard whispered in the dark.
“When did you wake up?” John asked.
“I woke up missing you about a half hour ago.”
“So you were awake during all my strategic planning, doing it as I thought you would want, mind you – not what I wanted?”
“I was. I must admit it was difficult.” Margaret replied.
“It was much more enjoyable than difficult.”
“I didn’t mean that for you; I meant it for me.”
“Did I worry you, Margaret?” John asked as he leant in and kissed her sensually.
“How could I ever worry about myself in your care? I just didn’t want you to know I was awake. You might have stopped. I had to keep the smile hidden.”
“Everyday, I know I cannot possibly love you more than I do. There is no room left in my heart, but somehow you manage to squeeze just a bit more in, unexpectedly. My heart is about to burst, I love you, Margaret, with everything I am.”
“I feel that. Our visitor is back,” she giggled.
“He’s back looking for his home,” said a romantic John.
“Oh God,” John moaned, as Margaret reached for him. He buried his face in her neck. “I didn’t expect that. Oh, dear God, how I’ve waited for your touch.” John kissed her fervently.
Margaret surprised herself but the moment moved her, and she reacted. Hearing his words inspired her to continue. She wasn’t sure what to do with it, but she just reacted as he reacted. It soon became all too apparent and all too easy what he liked.
“It’s so hard,” she expressed in wonder. “How . . . John, I love how you react to my touch. I feel very womanly, suddenly. I think I’ve brought you to your knees.”
John reluctantly pulled her hand away. “You’re going to bring more than you expected, so you need to stop stroking me.”
“It that what it’s called, what I was doing?”
“Among many other terms. I think we need to sleep. Your brother is here, too.”
“Does it always get that big?” Margaret seemed to have many questions, now that her naiveté had been breached.
“Margaret, you are making me laugh. Please, let’s do this in the daylight so I can see that innocent look of yours.”
“All right, but I have a lot of questions. I am new at this, you know.”
Smiling broadly in the dark, John responded, “Yes, I know, my love. They will all be answered, no matter what you want to know.”
Margaret rolled towards him, ready to settle in for the night. She permitted his leg over her, his hand on her hip and he permitted her to hold him, but not stroke. John lay awake for a long time until her hand fell away.
Margaret woke, hearing the clock somewhere, striking eight in the morning. John was missing from their bed. She had to wonder what type of inner clock he had. It must come from years of working and having to be somewhere at a certain time.
She pulled back the covers and rolled out of bed. Seeing that a second bowl and pitcher had been installed, she went to it. She must have them buy a privacy screen, at least for her. What if John walked in and saw her washing her ooh-ooh.
Finished with her morning freshening, she thought about dressing herself. She would leave off the rib corset today and see how she made out. Finding clean bloomers, she sat on the bed and got that far. She saw the long slip that John had discarded in the night with her dressed all bunched together. She put them on with a modest amount of discomfort when she raised her arms. Later today, she would bath and find a clean dress. She looked for her soft shoes and couldn’t see them; they must be under the dining table, she assumed.
She started down the stairs and could hear her brother talking with John. Stopping to listen before she was discovered, they were not talking about anything secret.
Margaret strolled into the parlor, surprising John.
“Good morning, love. Again, I am being a bad husband. I should have checked on you.”
“Good morning, husband, and brother,” she said taking her place at the chair John had pulled out for her. “I have to try and do for myself. I’m getting there.” Margaret knew their whole day. John must not know that voice carries from his study to their bedchamber through the heat vents in the floor. She suspected they were never closed off. Her big day was before her as theirs was, too, and everyone was trying to act natural.
“I have plans today, John. I did not think you would mind if I travel over to the hotel to see my cousin. She and I want some woman-talk before she leaves.”
John set his fork down, “Are you sure you feel up to such a trip? I could go with you, although I have a couple of meetings today.”
“John, if I find the ride too uncomfortable, I will have Branson turn around. Do you need him today?”
Frederick looked at John for his answer, knowing the use of the carriage and Branson were in their plans.
“I think I can do without it, Margaret.” For Frederick’s benefit, he added, “I have Nicholas’s buggy or either one of my horses.”
Margaret noticed Frederick’s marginal relaxing posture.
“I think I will take the carriage this morning. Frederick and I want to talk with Boyle and see if there anything new to be told.”
“How long do you think this will go on,” Margaret asked.
“The last we heard yesterday, they thought they knew where he was.”
Margaret didn’t particularly care about acting dumb through this strain they were all under.
“Do you think he killed that old man?”
John kept his composure, and Frederick fidgeted.
“What makes you ask that, Margaret?”
Frederick looked on with interest at his ever-surprising sister.
“You left here in a hurry yesterday. I gave that a lot of thought of why, a hurry. I came to only one conclusion, and by the look on your face I would say I am correct.”
Frederick looked over at John.
“Margaret, I can honestly say, we do not know for sure, who strangled old Tom. I think Boyle and the ones that love you, think it’s a possibility. You would not have noticed, but there are a lot of policemen in work clothes around the mill yard. We are not taking any chances. I told you I would protect you at any cost.”
“John, I think the at any cost is new.”
John had no rebuttal, so Frederick took the opportunity to intercede.
“Sis, you need to stop haranguing your husband. He’s worried sick for you, can’t you see that?”
“That works both ways, you know?” Margaret spat back, now showing her temper.
“Margaret, Hartford is not after the men in your life, at least, not me anymore. If it does prove to be that he strangled the old man, and I don’t know how they can prove that, it means he’s here in Milton.”
John was afraid Frederick was going too far, but he knew Frederick’s love for his sister would find the line that was drawn in letting Margaret know their plans.
“So Frederick, you are saying that if he is in Milton, then he must be seeking me, is that right?”
“But why? Why now?”
“Sis, how can you be so smart about some things and dumb when it comes to this?”
John sat back and folded his arms.
“I guess you’ll have to tell me, brother.”
“Bloody hell! He does not want your money any longer, he wants your silence.” Frederick replied as he pounded his fist on the table, causing Margaret to jump.
“So, he wants to kill me? Is that what you both have been trying not to tell me? Is that the reason for all these secret meetings, and private talks in the study and trips to the police station?
“Yes, sister. We have been scurrying around to ensure you are protected and to alert Boyle should we see Hartford. That’s why we have been updated daily on how the police have been tracking him.” Frederick looked at John and saw relief.
“Look, it’s simple. Give me a pistol. Show me how to use it and let him come for me.” Margaret said in a serious tone.
Frederick laughed out loud. “Margaret, you are a woman and are naive in the ways of men and warfare and pride, for that matter.
Margaret looked at John. “Is my husband not coming to my defence in this argument?”
“Actually, you are holding your own pretty fair. Besides, I’m on your brother’s side. We are ALL coming to your defence, don’t you see that yet?”
Trying to soothe her own feathers, Margaret responded, “I guess we just don’t see this the same way.”
“No, we don’t,” admitted John. “You take it too damn lightly.” John threw his napkin on the table and walked out of the house.
“Sis, you don’t know what you’re doing to the man.”
“I guess I do, now.”
“You can’t see how obsessed he is with you, can you? He’s way past loving you. That walking out just now is costing him emotional pain.
“Oh, Fred. What have I done?”
“You’ve slapped him in his face, essentially. In effect, you are taking his whole world and telling him he’s an idiot to care that much.”
“I’ll fix it. I have to.”
Frederick walked away from the table to follow John.
The room was silent. Margaret picked up her fork and went back to eating. “Yes, bring on the day,” she said to herself. “This has to be over, now.”
Margaret went to the window when she heard the carriage rolling out. No doubt, John and Frederick were on their way to the police station. Margaret went upstairs and lay on the bed, crying for what she did to John. She was really doing it for his own good so he wouldn’t suspect what she was up to, but it went all wrong. She had taken it too far. Today, she would redeem herself and save him because she loved him as much as he loved her. She would lay down her life, to save his.
John dropped Frederick off near the Princeton area. He would start his scouting then and meet up with the rest, if he could, at four. Otherwise, they would all meet at John’s office at eight that night.
John continued on to the hotel. He would find the Captain and Adam somewhere there at this time of the morning. The three would sit in the dining room, and John would let them know the final plans and times. The three would then go to the police station for any final words from overnight. All they wanted to know was that Hartford had not been discovered and captured. If the day held true to yesterday, their plan would not have to change with the exception of Branson driving the coach.
John rearranged the travel. Adam and Frederick would take Nicholas’ small two-man cab, and John and the Captain would ride the other two horses that were not pulling John’s coach. It could also work out that Branson would have returned Margaret from the hotel before dark. Either way, Branson would not need to be in on the final end, but just drive.
Branson sat in on the meetings in the hotel and heard their plans; he made his own. Somehow, he would have to make Hartford look like he was drunk and passed out rather than dead. The group had to think they were the first there; otherwise, he and the Ma’am might both be dismissed. He knew what this meant to his master, but his duty was to save his master, and that was the only reason he conceded to Mrs. Thornton’s demands on his protection for her. He felt like a savior and a traitor to his Guv. Down deep, his master would have wanted him to protect Mrs. Thornton, if he could not persuade her otherwise. And that’s what he was preparing to do.
Pulling herself out of her depression, Margaret asked for the tub to be filled with warm water. She had to ask Jane to wash her hair. She dressed in the dress she arrived in. Hartford might remember it. The dress had been cleaned and repaired. She put on a lot of powder and creams to cover her yellowing black eye.
Midday meal rolled around, and John had returned to his office, alone, but never came to the house for anything to eat. Margaret could not stand this separation. She had a plate fixed for him and carried it across to the office.
When she walked in John and Nicholas were talking about some work detail.
“I’m sorry, Nicholas, I didn’t know you were here. I was just bringing John something to eat. Can I get you anything?”
“No, thank you, Margaret. I was just on my way to have lunch with my daughter.”
“I will be glad to meet her soon.”
“I’m sure that will happen. I’ll leave you two to your meal.” Higgins could feel the rift between them by John’s earlier attitude. They were married now. Nicholas knew he could not intrude with questions like he once did.
“Good day, Nicholas,” John said. He went back to the papers on his desk.
Margaret walked over and sat the plate in front of him. He politely set it off to the side, seemingly uninterested. “Thank you,” he said.
“John, I’m sorry.”
“We weren’t supposed to say that anymore, remember?”
“Yes, you’re right. You’re always right. I was wrong. I’m doing a horrible job of trying to save you while you save me. I am half crazed with fear more for you than myself. I promise to make it up to you.”
“If you will excuse me, I have work to do. I will see you when you return from visiting your cousin.”
Margaret turned away and quietly walked out of the room.
John rose from his chair and watched her negotiate the steps. He realized she had on the same dress that she had arrived in, with blood coming from her mouth. He slammed his fist against the window, breaking it, as she disappeared into their door at the house. Hopefully, they could begin a new life; something with a firm foundation. He was punishing her right now, and he hated himself, but other forces were ruling him that she did not know about.
The hours went by like days. Finally, Margaret was ready to do her best to save her husband. She’d been over her speech all afternoon. She walked outside to check with Branson. He was ready. She asked for the arsenic, and he handed her the tin can. She took it inside and heaped a bunch into a shallow whisky bottle and shook it until it looked clear. She needed to return the arsenic tin to the stable on her way out, or John could be suspicious if he came home unexpectedly.
The sun was starting to set. Twilight was an hour away. She was shaking, but the thought of saving John from a noose lifted her through the scare.
Returning the arsenic, she said to Branson, “I’m ready. Are you?”
“I want to ride up there with you. I need to talk some more about our approach.”
Margaret realized quickly that she should have worn her rib corset today. What was the matter with her? She knew what it was.
“Go.” She said to Branson.
“Walk on,” were the last words said as they left the grounds.