They walked arm in arm down the tree-lined street, towards the cottage that John hoped someday would be Margaret’s. He was thrust into the feeling of incredible contentment welling up inside of him. He didn’t care to analyze it; he just wanted to hold this tender sensation inside him forever. John noticed the little house several times on his courthouse days. He was still finding it hard to believe that they were strolling toward a possible residence for Margaret’s return to Milton. John suspected she might like it. Its appearance seemed to be well suited for her, he thought. To him, it looked like a tiny white fantasy house. It had intricately carved ornamental trim, dragon scale wood siding, and a spindled banister porch on three sides. If a house could be male or female, this house would most definitely be female.
As they neared the cottage, Margaret excitedly pointed to it. “John,” she asked, “is that it? Is that what you wanted to show me? It looks precious from here. Oh, I hope that’s the one.”
“Yes, that’s it,” John reassured her. “With all the fancy woodwork and white paint, I think I should be cutting a piece and having it on my plate. It appears to have icing,” he added jokingly.
“Oh yes, hurry! Oh, it’s enchanting.”
Laughing to himself, John increased the pace of his stride. Earlier, he had to fall in step with Margaret’s little strides, and now he couldn’t keep up with her. Life was heavenly at this moment, bringing him to hope along with Margaret’s many enjoyable surprises and her cute feminine ways. It seemed as if the years that had torn them apart, had actually brought them closer. How odd when one considered how they had parted ways.
Where did it all go right?
Before John could locate the key in his pocket, Margaret was already running along the wrap-around porch, from window to window, peeking inside. As he opened the door, they were struck with the stringent smell of paint; undeterred, they proceeded to cover every square meter of the “little darling,” as Margaret called it. Occasionally she would say, “Oh, look at this,” as John studied the house from a totally different perspective: possible construction weaknesses, leaks, problems with the roof, dry cellar, faulty plumbing and more. He was pleased to see the little cottage had been refurbished with the most modern conveniences, such as indoor gas lights and an indoor lavatory with tub, all of which Margaret was familiar with, having lived in London. Leaving her to her decorating whims, John headed to the rear of the house. On the ground floor, he noted, with interest, there was a nice mud room with a drain and a secondary lavatory without a tub. Glad to see the back building, he walked to the small carriage house and noted it could stable one horse, with room for a small buggy, a tack room, and quarters overhead. He walked the outside observing the painted wood siding and other facets of the restored buildings. John remembered it when it was a home, but for many years it had been a bookstore that he had visited often. Since the expansion of Milton, many of the older main street small businesses sold out, making extremely nice profits. He was pleased to see the realtor had enough vision to restore the house to its original state. Satisfied with all that he had seen, he went looking for Margaret.
As John entered through the back door, he caught a glimpse of Margaret twirling around the empty kitchen like a ballerina. She was looking up at the ceiling, as she turned around and around with her arms outstretched. He stood there and watched the woman he loved more than life: seemingly enraptured by the probability that she would be living here soon. How precious these unguarded moments were, he thought.
Finally, realizing that John was at a distance watching her spin, she surprised him by saying, “Do you think I can afford it?”
John walked forward, catching her in his arms, and held her while her twirling dizziness subsided. Heat quickly rose within him. He tilted her chin up, looking deep into her eyes, then at her lips and back to her eyes for any sign of uncertainty. Finding none, his lips found hers, drawing her breath into him, kissing her fully for the first time. His kiss was warm and tender, possessed of passion and longing. John couldn’t help the moan that escaped between his lips. Margaret felt his lips soft in touch but firm in deliverance, and her knees gave way to a swoon. John immediately caught her, delighted by her response. No other women had ever reacted like that when he had kissed them, but then he knew kissing Margaret was different; his heart was in his kiss. Pleased that she had not backed away like she had on the veranda, he gently released his hard grasp of her. Having waited and dreamt of this moment for four years, John felt overwhelmed, and he feared he might prompt an action that could have consequences, she was not ready to face so quickly. Reluctantly, he stopped it there, allowing the anticipation of the future to linger. Still cradling her to him, he finally answered her question, “Afford it? It shall be yours at any price.”
Margaret wrestled herself away from John and stepped back, slightly annoyed and a bit dizzy from the kiss. “John Thornton, I’m renting this house. I don’t need any help. If I can’t afford it, I will find somewhere else.”
Uh oh . . . the Margaret I remember first loving has returned . . . independent as ever.
“Well, I can tell how you love this white frosted cake of a house, and I think it’s sound and solid. Let’s go see the agent, Mr. McBride, shall we?” John asked, as he extended his arm and completely ignored her little tantrum.
They walked back in silence, each dazzled in the moment they had just shared: their first kiss; a cherished moment to stow away in the chest of remembrances. Arriving at the Professor’s place, the Professor and McBride were settling on pieces of furniture that remained in the house: these which would also be purchased by the Doctor. John and Margaret looked around at the furniture that was being discussed, waiting for an opportunity to talk with Mr. McBride.
When it eventually came, John began to ask, “We would . . .” but Margaret interrupted him saying, “I would . . . like to speak with you for a moment, Mr. McBride, privately,” looking directly at John as she emphasized the word PRIVATELY.
“Yes, Mrs. Reed, anything you like,” he said as John handed the key back to him and he walked her to the back yard.
As much as he wanted to ensure a good price for her, John knew he was seeing what he loved most about Margaret, and that was her spirit. Smiling, he paced the room, watching from the window as he observed their conversation outside. First Margaret would frown, speak, and then smile. Next McBride would shake his head no, and then frown, speak and smile. It took some time, but John thought the smiles had it by a slim margin. Twenty minutes after god knew what, John saw them shake hands, both smiling at the same time. “She’s coming to live here, and soon,” he said to himself.
Margaret had struck her own deal, and she seemed quite proud. Good, bad, or indifferent, John could see by her face that she was pleased with whatever decision was agreed upon. Perhaps she would share that conversation with him later. Since the Professor was momentarily nowhere to be found, Margaret asked the agent if he had already purchased the very large upholstered wing chair in the future office room. Being told, no, she then asked that she be allowed to purchase it and have it delivered to her new cottage. She thought the chair looked large and comfortable enough for John, so she purchased it for his anticipated visits.
Following a lovely meal and a thoroughly enjoyable conversation at the Marlborough Mills home, the Professor Pritchard excused himself about two hours later, leaving John and Margaret to sit and talk. The three of them were together most of the day, looking all over the city for furnishings. The Professor had bought most of the pieces that were left in the house, as he had no particular preferences other than the two desks and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, he was having made. Margaret, on the other hand, was looking for contents that would go well with the age of the house and had arranged to have several pieces custom made. John and Margaret had both agreed, since he was well-known in the city, they would run the billing through him, and Margaret would reimburse him, when her finances were transferred to Milton. They had accomplished much in just a one-day period and Margaret was excited about their progress. Dixon had a cook already lined up and John was to see about a chore man / driver.
It had grown late, and Dixon came into the room and announced that she was going to bed and asked if they needed anything before she retired. Receiving “no thank you,” she went back downstairs for the night.
John sat slouched down in his chair, arms across his chest, long legs extended in front of the fire. Margaret lounged on the couch. Both felt full and tired, and especially pleased with themselves for their accomplishments of the day.
“John,” Margaret said, after a few moments of quiet, “one week ago, I was depressed, confused, and rushing towards flight out of London, and now my world has completely turned around. How is that possible?” she asked, somewhat puzzled, as she stared off through the window into the dark night, still deep in thought.
John came over and sat beside her on the couch, not facing her, but relaxed against its upholstered back, as he took one of her hands in his. “Margaret,” he said, softly, “I am sure you know how I have felt about you since I first met you. Someday I shall tell you about my first impression of you, shouting at me in the mill.” John smiled, remembering that, “I have thought about you every day for almost four years and suffered the loss of you, twice. I have dreamed of every possible way to win you, to love you, to make love to you and to possess you, forever. I am taking nothing for granted, and I am not making any assumptions at this point, but you have to know how my life has changed in the last twenty-four hours.” He gently squeezed her hand.
Margaret looked up at his handsome profile and spoke softly, “John, thank you for loving me all this time. You may find this hard to understand or think it woman’s intuition, but I could always feel you there . . . waiting . . . and I can’t explain how. You were always hovering somewhere in the twilight of my life and that brought me comfort, which I can hardly explain even to myself. It has seen me through many difficult times. I still have . . .”
John interrupted her, “Wait . . . please, let me speak first while I can,” he said, as he turned to face her, choking back the lump in his throat. “I have always loved you. I have waited a long time to have you near again, and I will wait forever if that’s what it takes you to accept me. I think you have some feelings for me, but I do not want you to feel compelled in any way to express them, at least not for a while. You have only been widowed for three months, and must have many conflicts within yourself to resolve, and a proper bereavement period to conclude. I know you are joyful right now, but a different reality could settle on you once you are comfortably situated in Milton. As much as I would like to carry you off to my bed right now, I know that would be wrong in many ways. I do not want to scare you, pressure you, influence, or smother you. I’m going to keep my emotions reined as well as I possibly can, and I’ll wait for you to come to me. If I get carried away, just say no. I hope I don’t get to the point to embarrass us both, but my body doesn’t always listen to my brain whenever you are near.”
“John . . .” Margaret said, as she stroked his cheek.
Not wanting to lose his train of thought, he pulled her hand from his cheek to his lips and kissed her palm. “Margaret, let me finish, please. I love and desire you beyond all reason. I want to be everything to you, your friend, your lover, your husband, and the father of our children. I will always be at your side to protect you, to cheer you, to comfort you and to love you. But along with my depth of devotion to you, there must come honesty in your feelings. I do not want pity, or any sense of obligation, and I do not want to wear you down. I could not live with that. I will keep my self-respect, for if you turn from me, it is all I will have left. I can take a lot of rejection before it’s all too apparent that you do not care for me in the same regard. Just don’t say you love me until you are sure of your words, but I do love you and will all my life.” John leaned in and gave her a light kiss, then licked the drops, now, falling from her eyes.
Margaret closed her eyes; a hushed sigh escaped her lips, as John drank in the salt of her tears. With a silly incandescent smile, she said, “I wish I had more tears to shed right now.”
Snuggling deep into John’s strong arms, and resting her head on his broad shoulder, Margaret began her tale.
“I think I am in love with you; I am almost sure of it. You have asked me not to say those words just yet, because you fear I don’t know myself, I think. However, I will wait, as you ask, until I am sure that you know that I love you. You seem to need proof.”
John, smiled as he pulled her closer to his chest, encasing her with both arms, while his cheek rested against the top of her head.
“It is true,” Margaret continued, “that I have conflicts within me to resolve, mostly confidence. Not with regards to my independence, as you might think, but my confidence as a woman. With the Professor’s guidance and relentless soul searching, I now know why my marriage was a disaster.”
Margaret paused, wondering how to say what needed to be said.
“If you are to love me fully, you must know where my conflicts lie. I do not want to tell you this, but lying or holding back from you is worse. I now understand what I never saw before, and what the Professor discovered after my marriage to Booker. He has opened my eyes to the fact that my husband was strongly attracted to his male pupils. Perhaps, he never realized this until he married me, but young men were his preference. I will never know if he married me out of love or as a cover for his dark desires. We had no premarital relationships, so nothing was realized beforehand. Once he discovered the truth about himself, which must have been almost immediately, I knew little love and no passion at all. Unaware of any of this, I began to think it was my fault; I was too naive and inexperienced in the ways of passion. He never desired me, not even the pretense of desire. I lived with guilt over not being enough of a woman for him. In his eyes, I was defective, or so I thought. This created deep scars and a total loss of confidence in feeling desirable to a man. We quickly grew apart, barely even touching. No good bye kiss in the morning, nothing – but worst of all, there was no explanation given as to why. I just continued in my misery. In all other ways, he was a decent husband, I guess, but for me, not where it counted – in my heart. I had moved from one setback in my life to another. I reached the bottom of my existence. After my parents died, I didn’t think life could have gotten worse, but the misery became compounded by the feeling that I was being cast off, thrown away. I was of no use. This is the most terrible thing I will ever say: I don’t know what would have happened to me, had I stayed in that marriage for a life time, and I am grateful, I won’t have to know.
So she could liberate all her sorrow and clear her soul, John let her finish without making any comments. He just held her even tighter and kissed her forehead. He wanted to know all of her story. “Go on, Margaret.”
“It became painstakingly clear to me,” she continued, “that day on the veranda that Booker’s affection for me was far from what it should be, and I had taken it to heart as guilt. Then you said those words to me that I will never forget – “Oh, God, how I love you.” You said it in such a way that it tore my heart out because I felt you wouldn’t feel that way if you knew me as Booker did. I had often thought about you. I would pull you out of the twilight and I talked with you whenever I was alone. When I saw you a year later at the funeral, it was like someone turned on the light to my soul. At first, I felt ashamed thinking I was happy to be free of Booker, but then I realized it wasn’t him, it was you entering my life again, descending from my twilight. You weren’t there for him, you were there for me. It was my ‘someday’, and you rescued me that day. The Professor has tried to free me from my guilt. He told me how sorry he felt for me, as he watched the two of us, and saw the relationship spiraling down almost from the beginning. He knew it would get worse. He hadn’t been sure about Booker himself, but after we married it was confirmed, to him, in his mind.
John stroked her cheek and kissed the hollow of her neck, still holding her fast to him. Inside, he wanted to explode and put his fist through a wall or a face of anyone who could have treated her with such indifference, enough to make her despise herself. What she must have endured that year and half marriage, and perhaps was still feeling. She believed she had married a real man only to discover disappointment; then she took the blame on herself for his lack of interest in her. This was more than John could stomach. Margaret was all the woman whom any normal male could ever want, and John knew she was everything to him. Wanting to find a way to reverse her wavering confidence and begin to dispel any self-doubts, John initiated a delicate but passionate move. He gently picked up her hand, which he was holding and placed it lightly in his lap allowing her to feel his arousal for her.
“Margaret . . . know that you are a very desirable woman and never will doubt that again,” John whispered, looking into her tear-filled eyes.
She startled herself, as she realized she wanted to know him in that way, but she hesitantly retracted her hand with a forced embarrassed look. Inside, Margaret was glowing from John’s physical reaction to her; it lifted her. She scoffed to herself that propriety deemed this closeness was too soon. Awaiting the end of her bereavement period was going to be more difficult than she had anticipated. Margaret was blushing and feeling the warmth of that sensual moment from head to toe.
John did not miss a breath of her reaction.
She brought both hands to John’s face, holding him, as she initiated a light but firm kiss. John responded the same while he slowly licked her lips apart and tried to enter her mouth. Naivety surfaced, and she pulled back unsure of what he was doing.
Now radiating inwardly, and sensing her bewildered innocence of such a kiss, John pulled her back to his shoulder. He was exhilarated to find that this passionate act was new to her. Perhaps, he would be the first in her life for many other sensual pleasures. He selfishly hoped so.
“John,” Margaret said, “I want us to take our time. I want to, need to, know that I am what you want in a complete woman. Though I know about Booker, now, but I do not feel strongly about myself, yet.” Starting to laugh, she said, “I know you are anxious to help me find myself, but we must proceed at my pace. Can you bear with me?”
“Margaret, I can wait forever, because you are my life. I have no other options and wouldn’t want them, even if there were. Being who you are, at your core, made that choice for me a long time ago. And yes, I . . . together . . . we will find you. You can be sure of that. However, let me just say, I would still love you for the rest of my life even if real intimacy wasn’t possible. Never, ever think I love you for carnal reasons, alone. I have had experience in that area of life, and still I have waited for only you. I have had sex, but I have never made love. I have wanted only you, Margaret, to release what I know waits inside of me.”
They nestled in each other’s arms for a long time before retiring for bed. Again, a brief embrace was the only affection shown before going to their rooms. The air was heavy with unspent passion.
Separately, they each lay awake a long time, ardently cherishing the openness and honesty of the words imparted that evening. Words straight from their heart were starting to tie the bindings of love.
Dixon’s assignment was to gather a housekeeping staff for the Professor, which was to consist of a live-in housekeeper, a full time cook and a daily char person, whose duties included setting the fire and clearing the fireplace, scrubbing floors and a few more menial tasks. Dixon had already selected Margaret’s cook. She was also responsible of purchasing linen for the home, along with food, cooking utensils and daily chinaware for the kitchen; she would send Margaret the measurements for the window sizes. Margaret would take care of the fine china and silver later. If all the furniture arrived, Dixon would be allowed to move in at any time.
John was responsible for finding a chore man / driver, who would be assigned all outside duties, such as cutting and stacking firewood, in addition to tending the fireplaces inside, general repairs and inconsequential yard duties. If needed, a part-time gardener would be hired on a less frequent basis. The chore man would also be a coach driver, when and if that time arose, as Margaret was already planning on this for some time in the future. In the event that any major pieces of furniture didn’t arrive on schedule, Margaret and Dixon would remain at John’s residence until they were delivered. The chore man, however, was to begin as soon as he was found, and Margaret’s cook would begin next week at Thornton’s home. She had recently retired but didn’t find it to her liking. Eager to return to the kitchen, she would be preparing meals alongside John’s cook, in order to hone her old skills in preparation for her Margaret’s arrival if everything went according to plan. Margaret would return in three weeks, the week before Christmas, to her new home and life. John promised to post to her every couple of days, and keep her informed of their progress.
As they waited for the Professor to come fetch Margaret for the train, John and Margaret stood at his parlor window, looking out at the workers going about their business.
“Margaret,” he asked, “Do you remember the last time we stood together looking out this window?”
It only took Margaret a moment to cast her mind back to the day of the riot. “Yes, John, that was quite a memorable day, as I recall.”
“In more ways than you know, Margaret.” John lifted her hair to see if there was any remaining mark from the stone that had felled her that day. There wasn’t, but John leaned down and kissed the spot where she had bled. “I haven’t spoken to you much about the mills; I didn’t care to waste words, with so little time, but when the strikers were at the door, the words you said to me that day changed my life and the life of everyone who works for me. Those words have been the very cornerstone of my success. I owe much of my success to you, you know.”
“Don’t talk piffle, John. I did no such thing. Don’t credit me for what you have accomplished.”
“Somehow, I knew you would say that, but one day I hope to prove to you, what that day inspired in me after your departure from Milton.”
John saw the carriage coming through the mill gate and pulled Margaret away from the window. “Margaret, I love you, and I will never tire of telling you so. I will live in anticipation until you are safely returned to Milton in a few weeks’ time. I will not have a moments rest while you are away. For you and me, our tomorrow will finally come.” John pulled her into his arms, kissed her lightly but firmly, and held her until they heard the knock on the door.
Dixon escorted Dr. Pritchard into the room and went straight to Margaret for a good-bye hug. “Miss Margaret, we will have everything ready and waiting for you. I’m so excited.”
John retrieved Margaret’s coat as he bid the Professor a cordial “hello.”
The Professor picked up Margaret’s bag, saying, “Hello all…so, Margaret… are you ready? Your carriage awaits, Milady,” and bowed from the waist.
Margaret laughed, as she told the Professor, “You’re stealing John’s lines.” Margaret and John smiled broadly at each other.
John accompanied Dr. Pritchard and Margaret outside, and handed Margaret into the carriage. He closed the door and Margaret leaned out of the window, “See you soon,” she said. John covered her hand, which was resting on the door frame, and squeezed hard on it, mouthing the words, “I love you” as the driver told the horses to ‘walk on’.
John returned to the top of his steps. Once again, he was witnessing Margaret being borne away from him. His stomach roiled at the remembrance, but he was uplifted, as she looked back at him, dispelling one horrid memory with a brilliant new one, balancing the scales. He stood there thinking, long after the coach had departed the gates, how the memory of the two worst days of his life had been replaced with two new beautiful memories: This one, that had just happened, replaced the day Margaret left Milton four years ago; the other, Margaret’s appearance at his door two days ago, replaced the day he read that she had married.
John and Margaret’s Reunion
Maxwell and Edith Lennox took Margaret to the train station to meet the Professor for their visit to Milton.
“You know, Margaret,” Edith teased her, “it is quite scandalous of you to take off to Milton so early in your bereavement, but I must say that I envy your courage. We’re very happy to see you settle into something that you really will enjoy. You’ve been unhappy for so long. I think you have found a very agreeable place working alongside the Professor. I’ll miss you so when you move to Milton permanently; look for a house with guestrooms.”
“Thank you, Edith.” Margaret smiled at her cousin affectionately. “I agree. I think I have found a good purpose in my life, one that will bring me joy and takes me away from London. Sometimes, I envied you for your willingness to live within such strict guidelines and proper societal etiquette demands. That has never been tolerable for me as a way of life. Oh . . . there’s the Professor, now. I will say good-bye to you and will see you on my return Sunday. Take care,”
“Good-bye, Margaret. Enjoy yourself,” Maxwell said, as he handed over her overnight bag and he and Edith gave her a quick hug.
Dr. Pritchard and Margaret strolled towards each other, carrying their small bags, which would see them through the next two days.
“Excited, Margaret?” The Professor asked, without even saying hello.
“YES! I am full of questions and ideas, and I am already decorating my home in my head. I find myself laughing over the silliest things; you have changed my life, Doctor. I feel reborn into someone new. Do you think that a bad thing?”
“Contrary to what your family probably thinks,” said the Professor. “I think it the best medicine for you. If anyone needed a life change, it was you. I think of you as a rosebud, once wilting on the vine from lack of care, but now you’re like a bloom ready to open itself to the sun, beckoning the bee to taste its nectar,” he finished, laughingly lecherously, raising his eyebrows up and down.
Feeling her face redden, Margaret couldn’t help but burst out laughing. “I do like you too much, I think,” she said, lavishing him with attention. They both roared, almost doubling over with laughter.
“Ah . . . here’s our train. Ready, Mrs. Reed?” the Professor asked as he extended his arm for her to take.
“Ready! Dr. Pritchard.”
They stepped into the crowded coach and discovered they had to sit separately for several more London stops. When it finally cleared out, they sat side by side leaving only one other person traveling north to Milton. Darkness was creeping into the coach, and the third rider lit the gas lights, not waiting for the porter to come by. The man seemed to prefer his own company and newspaper, so the Professor and Margaret settled into quite a long and involved discussion about how to proceed with his reference work and getting settled into Milton. He told Margaret to expect only two or three days work a week, at the most.
“Margaret,” he said finally, “the one thing that I am not looking forward to is hiring my housekeeping staff. Do you have any experience with that?”
“Professor, I’ve very little, but I do know someone who can help us, so don’t worry yourself. We can start that task while we’re there this weekend,” she assured him. The Professor could have talked hours longer because he taught classes all day, but he could hear Margaret’s voice starting to get hoarse. “Margaret, I think I shall let you rest before you lose your voice entirely.”
Margaret smiled and let her head rest on the back of the seat, knowing Milton was only another hour away.
John had just settled down to write a letter to Margaret when he heard his big mill gate rolling open. He set his pen down and walked over to the window to see who could be visiting him, unannounced at this time of night – and in a carriage, no less. “Dixon,” John called out, uncertain as to where she was that the moment, “someone is coming to the front door. I will see who it is, don’t bother yourself.” He hurriedly threw on his waistcoat, leaving his top coat and cravat lay where they were. Descending the steps, he opened the door and saw the most unbelievable vision of his entire life. A coachman was handing Margaret out of a carriage. His breath left him, although he was sure any minute now, he would remember how to breathe. The driver grabbed her carpet bag and handed it to John. He was so overwhelmed at the sight of her; he couldn’t get a single word out.
I know I am dreaming this.
“John, please close your mouth. Yes, it’s me,” Margaret laughed as her breath plumed in the frigid air. “Surprise!”
She jests! I am definitely asleep.
John, picking up on Margaret’s playful mood, replied, “Who are you? You look incredibly like someone I used to know, but I’ve never heard her jest, so obviously you cannot be her.”
“How are you, John?” Margaret asked in all seriousness.
“Do you mean generally or at this very moment?” John laughed, not believing what was transpiring. It felt surreal. He knew he was trembling inside. “I was just sitting down to write you a letter. How kind of you to spare me the ink.”
Could this really be happening?
As John and Margaret entered the sitting room, he called for Dixon to come to the parlor. John set down Margaret’s bag as he waited for Dixon to arrive. He was very interested in knowing why she was carrying it tonight, to his home, at this hour. As he removed her coat and hung it in the hall, his heart was pounding hard in his chest. Just then Dixon came into the room and, seeing Margaret, ran straight over to her with her arms outstretched, almost hysterical with glee to see her lifelong charge. They hugged briefly and exchanged a few pleasant words. Dixon asked Margaret if she would like a cup of tea, tea being Dixon’s answer for everything.
“Not tonight, Dixon, thank you.” Margaret said, as she cast her glance toward John, who was already on his way to the bar. “I think I prefer something a little stronger, for this is a celebration indeed.”
“Margaret seated herself on the cushioned settee, feeling relief from hours of sitting on hard train benches.
“Brandy, whiskey or port, Milady?” John asked, bowing to her, mockingly. “What would you desire?”
To anyone who knew them well, John and Margaret’s performance would have seemed unbelievable. They were so giddy with delight, beyond happy, both throwing themselves headlong into some joyous abyss. Margaret knew why she was acting this way, but she was shocked to see that John . . . John Thornton . . . THE John Thornton had such a sense of humor and was joining into the farce with her. She had never seen this side of him before and doubted that anyone ever had. His capacity for high spirits enthralled her.
Continuing on with their performance, Margaret stood and curtsied saying, “Port, sir. If you will.”
Dixon was baffled by the amusement taking place before her. Eventually, they all laughed and settled into chairs with their refreshments: John, in his usual chair by the fireplace, with Margaret on the couch at his right, and Dixon sat nearby on a small chair opposite John.
John smiled and shook his head from side to side, still unable to comprehend the playfulness that had overtaken him. “Margaret,” he said, “thank you for that. I haven’t laughed this much since . . . well, I don’t know since when. I can’t believe you are sitting here in this room without our having known of your impending visit. Please tell us what it is you’re celebrating.” John seemed to be holding his breath; judging from the mood she was in, he was expecting some good news. He wanted to pinch himself to verify he wasn’t dreaming.
Margaret burst out giggling again, “John, are you pinching yourself?” She asked. “It looks like you just pinched your thigh. I do think you are awake and yes, I am really sitting here, and . . . I will be spending tonight and tomorrow night here before returning to London.”
John, now totally embarrassed, normally an almost impossible accomplishment, said, “So you will spend two days with us. I’m happy to hear that.” He was still stunned and could only offer courteous, stilted words for this unexpected miracle. He wanted to lift her off the floor and whirl her around in a circle. Finding a ray of sense, he asked, “Who accompanied you here? Surely you were not alone?”
“Miss Margaret,” Dixon interrupted, “could you please tell us what is going on? I can’t wait any longer,” she insisted stubbornly.
“Well,” Margaret said, looking at them both and smiling, “I’ve made a very important decision in my life. I know where my future lies, now, and it’s right here, in Milton. I’ll be moving here almost as soon as I can.”
An audible gasp came from John’s direction. He became silent, inwardly reeling from Margaret’s declaration, which seemed to breathe life into his abandoned soul. It was all he could do to listen to whatever followed. Four years, he had wanted to hear those very precious words.
“John,” Margaret continued, “you may remember the Professor that gave Booker’s eulogy?” John nodded yes, just barely. “He has asked if I would partner with him in writing his research book about the Industrial Age, and its beginning, which is here in Milton. He’s been a great friend to me. He is helping me overcome some rather serious matters in my life, but I have a long way to go, yet. I had already decided to move back here where I knew I had friends, but two days ago, the Professor visited me, told me of his plans, and asked if I would like to help him. I couldn’t agree fast enough.”
“Oh, Miss Margaret,” Dixon clapped her hands together, enthusiastically, “we’re so pleased. I’ve hoped for this day, and now it has come. How long before you move here?”
“Well, that will depend on John, I think.”
“I? Tell me how I can help.” John inquired, trying to form his words and allow them to flow out, above a whisper.
I can’t believe what I am hearing. Is it really happening?
“I’ve come here this weekend with the Professor,” Margaret explained, “so he could finalize the purchase of a home that he’s already selected. Instead of writing to you, John, to ask for help in finding a residence, I thought I would accompany the Professor and ask you personally, so it would be easier to discuss what I would need. The Professor will move here permanently within a couple of weeks, and I hope to be here before Christmas, which is only a month away. I don’t need the time myself, but John you might, looking for a place, that is.” Margaret finished. She was watching John while she spoke. He looked as though he had been hit by a runaway coach. He seemed to be growing paler by the minute.
Only a month away? I am soon delivered from my hell!
“Margaret, count on me to do whatever it takes to get you here. Like Dixon said, we have all waited for this day. I was only a few weeks away from visiting you, myself. This news is beyond belief. Please excuse me for a moment.” John walked down the hall to his room and quietly closed the door. He sat on the edge of his bed literally trying to breathe. He was caught in a deluge of happiness that just kept pouring over him and over him, not allowing him to catch a breath before the next blissful torrent assailed him. This must be what pure bliss feels like, he told himself. He cursed the tears that had sprung to his eyes.
I can’t face her like this..
Sensing John was overcome with happiness similar to hers, (it felt as if she had been walking on clouds for two days), Margaret told Dixon to go on to bed, and they would talk more in the morning.
A few moments later, John heard a light tap on his door, and before he could answer it, Margaret entered his room. He quickly turned his face from her with deep embarrassment. Catching sight of his tear-filled eyes, she walked over to him, and sat by his feet, allowing him to hide his manly sensitivity.
“John,” Margaret whispered. She heard no answer.
“John, happiness is overwhelming, isn’t it? I know what you’re feeling right now. I cried, too, when I was finally alone.”
John swiftly pulled her up to a sitting position on his bed beside him, holding both of her hands in his. He looked into her face and saw tears matching his own looking back at him.
God, let me find the strength to do what is right at this moment.
He bent towards her and slowly brushed his lips against hers. Feeling no denial from Margaret, he wanted to crush her to him; but then, calling on all his reserve as a gentleman, he quickly pulled away and stood up. “I think its best that we return to the parlor, don’t you?”
“Yes, John. Maybe someday, though.” She whispered enticingly, as she walked away.
Her statement staggered him to a halt; he couldn’t believe what he had just heard.
She’s remembered those words that I left for her, well over a year ago.
They talked well into the night about her move: the type of home she would like to own and what she could afford. She had the address of the Professor’s new home, and was hoping that she could find a home within walking distance to him. Purposely, there was no mention of any ardent feelings between John and Margaret. Much later, Margaret admitted she was tired and wished to go to bed, but was unsure as to where she was expected to sleep. John showed her the way to Fanny’s old room, which was always kept fresh by Dixon. He escorted her to the door, and he stopped outside. She looked up into his steel blue eyes, and he embraced her tightly, stealing her heat and her scent. He held her as she put her arms around his waist. A kiss was hanging in the air, but did not rush itself. There were no inhibitions on either part, leaving each with a suspended expectation of things to come. They no longer had to hide their feelings from each other, or, from others.
Margaret’s reaction shocked him. It was pure. No emotional burden being the cause. It was true, and it was right. John returned to the parlor, turned down the lights and sat back his chair by the fire. Staring at the embers fading to a soft glow, John drifted through all the past years: the initial meeting at the mill, the misunderstandings, his rejected proposal, the man at the station, the separation, the absence of communication, her marriage, the veranda, the funeral, and now . . . she was sleeping in a bed in the next room. After four years, Margaret was returning home, to his love, a love which he had never given up. John told himself long ago, that he would wait forever. Forever was now here and he had no earthly idea where to start, but he wept with happiness for it had finally come, setting him free from the loneliness.
When he finally retired to his room, he was afraid to sleep, fearing he would wake to find it all had been a dream.
Dawn broke the next morning, signaling the beginning of a new outlook on life for John and Margaret. Slipping over to the office, he invited Higgins over for a talk, but kept the surprise a secret. “I’ll be right behind you, Master” Higgins told him, “let me just finish giving directions to our foreman.”
John returned to the house and saw Dixon busy setting the table. Margaret’s door was still closed, but he could hear her moving around and knew she’d be out momentarily. “Dixon please set the table for four this morning and tell Cook. I want you to join us this time.”
Moments later, Higgins hollered up the steps and John told him to come ahead. Not having any hint as to what this talk was about, Higgins was surprised at the four place settings on the dining room table.
“You wanted to talk to me, Master?” Higgins asked.
“Yes, Higgins, I want you to join me for breakfast. I have something to show you.”
“I see there are four settings? You have my curiosity well and truly peeked.” Higgins said as he placed his hat in the hall and removed his coat, wishing he’d washed his hands before coming over.
Dixon entered the room, and told John that Cook would bring the food in a few moments. She began to pour the tea for four. John invited Higgins to the table, and they both sat. Seeing Dixon sit down to the table with them really unsettled Nicholas, and as he looked at the fourth place, he began to wonder. Before he could get very far in his thinking, he heard a voice.
“Nicholas!” Emerging from her room, Margaret shouted with glee upon finding her old friend seated around the table. Higgins had hardly stood before Margaret had her arms round his neck, kissing him on the cheek. “Oh, I am so happy to see you this trip. How is Mary?”
While Margaret was hugging him, Higgins looked up at John for his reaction and saw a beaming smile; he then felt comfortable in hugging her back. “Miss Margaret,” he said, “I can hardly believe this. The Master didn’t tell me you were coming.”
“Actually, John didn’t know himself until I showed up on his doorstep late last night, begging lodging,” she laughed.
As they all sat down to the table and the food was passed food around, Margaret briefly related her story to Nicholas about her return to Milton. Higgins occasionally watched John’s face as she spoke, noticing his eyes never left Margaret; Higgins was really happy for the two of them.
It was past 9:30 and the breakfast party was just starting to break when there was a knock on the door. Walking over to the window, John saw a carriage waiting outside. Dixon had gone to greet the visitor, and returned, shortly escorting Dr. Pritchard into the parlor. Margaret hugged him and happily introduced him to everyone, suddenly realizing she was surrounded by her loving and only friends, in the whole world. This is what she wanted, she felt it immensely at that moment and knew she’d found her home. To everyone’s bafflement, she was suddenly overcome by the warmth and relief that surrounded her and she started to cry. In an effort to regain her control, she turned and headed for her room.
Everyone looked at each other in bewilderment. Dixon was on her way in to see Margaret, when Margaret returned with her hanky.
“I’m sorry for being so silly,” she told them, still slightly teary-eyed, “I just became aware that all my favorite people in the world are with me right now, a moment that I have dreamt about for so long. I was overcome with the comfort of it all.
As he watched her run away, John’s knees had weakened at her happiness. He recognized, even with his great passion for her, he could never have brought such a significant moment to her life. He wondered how often that ever happened to anyone.
Rather than standing around speechless, Higgins decided he had to get back to work. “Master, I couldn’t be happier for the two of you and for us,” he said, and turning to the Professor, “It’s been a pleasure to meet you, sir. Miss Margaret,” he added with a twinkle in his eye, “I couldn’t be more pleased to know that you will be living here soon. If I can be of any help in any way, please call on me. You know where I work,” he finished laughingly as he grabbed his coat and cap and left with Margaret escorting him to the door, leaving John and the Professor alone.
“Won’t you sit down, Professor,” John asked, pointing to a chair near the fireplace.
The Professor sat, crossed his legs, and pulled out a pipe from his vest pocket. “Do you mind?” He asked, indicating the pipe to John.
“Please,” John replied with a slight wave with his hand.
There was a moment of silence while he struck the wooden match and puffed life into his pipe. “So. You’re the one.” The Professor said, more as a statement than a question.
“I’m sorry. I’m what?” John asked in total surprise.
“You’re the man in Margaret’s life,” the Professor said. “Someday, I will explain why I know that, and why I know that Margaret is coming to know, too. Furthermore, you’re the man who’s making the history around here. You will be very prominent in my book, with all that you have done in Milton. I won’t go into that now either, for I will be moving here in two weeks, and it will be several months before I come to you asking for your whole story.”
John shifted in his seat. “I will be glad to work with you when the time comes,” he said. “Do you and Margaret have appointments today?”
“Well, yes and no.”
Just then Margaret returned to the room still looking a bit embarrassed, but she sat down on the couch to listen to their conversation.
The Professor, puffing on his pipe as smoke swirled overhead, said, “Glad to have you back Margaret,” he said. “Your heart rendering proclamation warmed us all. Do not feel embarrassed. It is something you’ve needed probably your entire life. It must have been the equivalent of a person totally blind from birth, having his sight restored. It was an epiphany for you, and I am envious.”
John was watching Margaret intently, stunned by the personal way in which the Professor was talking to her . . . and speaking that way in front of him. However, he saw a smile break out on her face that took his breath away.
There is closeness there, far beyond mere friendship.
“As I was about to tell Mr. Thornton, here,” Professor Pritchard continued, “I have come by to see if the two of you would like to see where I will live, so plans can begin for your own residence, Margaret.”
“Yes, surely. I would like that, “Margaret said as she looked questioningly at John.
“I’d be most interested myself, Dr. Pritchard,” John said standing. “By the way, would you care to have dinner with us this evening?”
“Yes, thank you. I’d like that very much.”
Margaret jumped up and said she would find Dixon and tell her, as she also wanted to ask Dixon about a housekeeping staff for the Professor.
While Margaret was gone, John and Dr. Pritchard discussed where he would be locating, and the possibility of finding something suitable nearby for Margaret. John remembered a quaint little house that was being refurbished weeks ago, close by and told the Professor about it.
“Excellent,” the Professor was saying as Margaret re-entered the room. “If there is nothing left to do, I have a hired coach outside. Should we take our leave?” That remark was a small joke between Margaret and the Professor, as a sort of nose-thumbing to the vanities of Londoners.
“Oh yes, let’s do.” Margaret said, as John retrieved her coat, and placed it around her shoulders.
John slipped into his own great coat, grabbed his top hat and they all set off for 840 Queens Lane. As they were being driven there, on what was formerly known as Main Street, John noted the distance from the gingerbread cottage that sat across from the courthouse to the Professor’s residence. Upon arriving at the residence, John saw the same realtor sign in the window of the cottage. Providence was still holding sway, he thought.
As they entered the dwelling, Margaret began looking around the old refurbished store front home, remarking that it had downstairs quarters for a housekeeper. “By the way, Professor,” Margaret told him, “I’ve spoken with Dixon, and she is sure that she can accommodate you with a suitable staff, just as I thought she could.”
The realtor arrived shortly after, with the necessary paperwork prepared for Dr. Pritchard. “Hello, Dr. Pritchard,” he said, “nice to see you again. Oh, and hello Mr. Thornton, I’m surprised to see you here.”
John introduced Mrs. Reed to the realtor and asked him if he happened to have with him, the key to the cottage across from the courthouse. He replied that he did and handed it to Mr. Thornton, without a care.
“We shall let you two do your paperwork, while I escort Mrs. Reed to the cottage. We will return shortly.” John said with a smile.
Surprising Margaret and catching her totally off guard, John wrapped her arm around his and whisked her out the door saying, “Come, I want to show you something.”
John opened the door to the Shaw’s and a smartly dressed young man with perfect posturing in a red-coat. No one was going upstairs until he knew who this man was.
“Good afternoon, Miss Shaw, Mrs. Shaw, and you, sir, are?”
Maxwell extended his hand. “I am Maxwell Lenox. I am betrothed to Edith.”
“Oh yes, do come in. I am John Thornton, husband to Margaret Hale Thornton,” he said for good measure.
As the four came up the steps, John asked, “Are you the brother of Henry Lenox?”
“I hope you will not hold that against me, Mr. Thornton, but I am. Margaret made her choice a long time ago, and that was his and her business, not mine. I can well imagine that you look at anyone new now as ‘friend or foe.’”
John had no reply to his last statement, but let it slide back in his mind for now. Unusual, he thought.
Margaret heard the visitors coming up the steps with John. It would be nice to see Maxwell again, she thought, but when she saw the red-coat, she let out a scream.
John squeezed past everyone coming through to the parlor room door and ran to her.
“John, I’m sorry. Everyone, I am truly sorry. Maxwell, I’ve so wanted to see you again, but your uniform just startled me. I’m fine now. Everyone, please sit down.”
“Margaret, I do apologize. How thoughtless of me.” Edith ran to Margaret’s other side. Do you want us to leave, Margaret?”
“No, don’t be silly. John and I just finished discussing these issues I will be working through. I’m sorry everyone. Maxwell, come here.” Margaret sniffled.
“I’m sorry to scare all of you. Maxwell, give me a gentle hug and put it out of your mind, what I just did.”
Mrs. Shaw wandered over to John’s chair and dropped in it, completely shaken by Margaret’s outburst.
John had been shaken to his core with her reaction. No matter how she tried to soothe his concerns for her, he knew they were buried deep as the doctors had mentioned.
As Edith petted Margaret, John went to the back stairs and called Cook, asking for her to get Branson up here to serve the bar.
Maxwell walked to John and apologized. “Mr. Thornton, I was thoughtless. I am sorry.”
“Captain, please be at ease. I have but just recently said words that had almost the same reaction. This is still very fresh, and we are beginning to manage.” John explained.
“In regards to ‘it,’ I would like to have some private words with you in the next day or two. I have information that I feel I should tell you. I will be at the Milton Hotel.”
“I would very much like to hear what you have to say. I will set something up and send word.”
Both men returned to the center of the room. Maxwell went to the other fireplace chair and John on Margaret’s side.”
“Aunt, it will be another time that I show you through our house. I have only seen this room and that one myself,” Margaret said, pointing to the dining room.
“Margaret, do not concern yourself with me. I will be glad to see it another time.” Mrs. Shaw was overcome with Margaret’s fright at seeing Maxwell’s uniform. She realized that her fear ran deep, even this far from London. What she must have suffered.
“So, I gather you just returned home, then?” Mrs. Shaw asked, endeavoring to take the conversation in a new direction.
“Yes, we have not been here an hour, yet.”
Branson appeared at the stop of the steps when all eyes landed on him.
“Everyone, this is my fearless and experienced driver,” John smiled, “Branson. He is here to take your refreshment orders.” Branson remembered the two women who had come to the hospital earlier that morning. He didn’t know the gent.
Maxwell rose and unexpectedly walked to Branson with his hand extended. “I am Maxwell Lenox, friend of the family.”
“Thank you, sir. It is nice to meet you.” Branson was taken aback at his courtesy to a driver.
Branson turned to the lady’s first. Branson went around the room. Mrs. Shaw wanted a cup of tea, Edith and Margaret had decided on a wine, while the men asked for scotch.
“I see you are a scotch man, too, Captain.” John offered.
Conversations were started, and John realized that Mrs. Shaw had trouble hearing across the room and offered to switch places with her. She agreed. Edith had brought Margaret a book to read while she recovered and the women talked about that.
John lowered his voice to speak with the Captain. “You have knowledge of most of this ordeal that Margaret has suffered?” John appealed.
“Yes, much more than Margaret, I dare say. Do you have any word on her brother?”
“I think Adam Bell is expecting to hear from him today. We believe he is safely out of the way. Margaret is now married to me, and I hope for her sake that is an end to it.”
John saw the Captain frown. He had to talk with him soon. “How long are you here for, Captain?”
“I’m not sure, yet. I will talk about that when we are alone.
Branson returned to the kitchen for the hot tea.
“Branson, how many people are up there? If they are going to stay, I will need to change my menu for midday,” Cook said anxiously.
“There are five, but I expect Mr. Bell will not be long before arriving. I would have thought him to be first. So, it best be six plus us.”
“Well . . . it will have to be sandwiches again, but I think I can make a few side dishes to go with it. I’ll have to wait on Miss Margaret’s special meal, I suppose.”
Branson returned with the tea when there was another knock.
“Sir, I’ll get that. I expect it’s Mr. Bell.”
“Thank you, Branson. That’s about all that is missing from this group.”
Branson trotted down the front stairs and opened the door to find Chief Inspector Mason and another new gent with an unlit pipe.
“Hello, Chief,” greeted Branson.
“I see a coach outside which isn’t yours. Would you tell Mr. Thornton, that I and Detective Boyle from the Metropolitan in London, are here to see Mrs. Thornton.”
“Yes, please come in and wait here. He may want to come speak with you before you go upstairs. There is family from London visiting Mrs. Thornton. I’ll return shortly.”
Branson flew upstairs to his Master and whispered in his ear. John shook his head and stood. “Captain, maybe you would like to come with me.”
Maxwell rose to his feet, setting his glass aside and pulled down his uniform jacket to perfection.
“John, what is it?” said a worried Margaret.”
“I am going to see about what is it right now.”
“And Maxwell is going with you?”
John couldn’t lie to her, and he couldn’t get close enough to whisper to her. The men had to be here to question her, and there would be no hiding their reason.
“Branson, bring them upstairs. Captain, have a seat.” John walked by the doorway to the downstairs and waited for them on the landing.
Margaret and the women peered over to see two men standing with John. Branson was trying to squeeze through the trio. Captain Lenox heard the voice of Boyle and rose himself, in respect.
“That’s Chief Inspector Mason,” Margaret said.
“And that’s Detective Boyle from the Met in London, I believe,” said Edith.
“I wonder if our driver could take me to the hotel,” asked Mrs. Shaw. This was all too much for me.” She would rather Edith told her about it later tonight. She motioned to Branson.”
“Yes, Mrs. Shaw, may I help you? More tea?”
“No, help me down the stairs. I will have my driver return me to the hotel.”
“Will you be all right mother?” asked Edith.
“Yes, stay if you will; I can manage.”
“Mother, Margaret is tiring. I will go with you and see her later. Is that agreeable, Margaret?”
“Yes, Edith. It would appear that I am in for some questions and then I will want to rest. Thank you, Aunt Shaw, for making the trip. Do not worry about me. I shall write to tell you how I am progressing and how much in love I am.” Margaret waved.
“Do that dear. Take care.”
The two women spoke to Maxwell on their way out and could see that he was going to stay.
“I will be at the hotel when I can. Just send the driver back,” he replied.
There seemed to be congestion at the doorway leading to the stairs.
The three men stepped into the parlor and let the ladies and Branson pass through. There were no goodbyes, as John seemed quite tied up with the Detective.
Margaret felt helpless sitting in the middle of the sofa, not having the armrests to aid her to rise.
John came to her side. “Margaret, you know Mason and the other man is a detective from London. He wants to question you after we have talked. I am going to carry you into our bedchamber and let you rest until I bring them to our room. I can turn them away if you want me to, but it will only be temporary. He wants to talk with you sometime.”
“Take me to rest. I’d like to get this over with. It would seem he is after that Grant Hartford?”
“I believe that’s his reason for being here. Captain Lenox, and your family opened the case in London. Since you are here, and they know you are too injured to return, he has come to you. Are you ready?”
“Branson, seat the gentleman while I take Margaret to our room.”
“That sounds wonderful, John.”
“Our room,” smiled Margaret.
“Sweetheart, nothing has yet gone the way I had planned. I wanted to introduce you to our room, alone. Now, I have to just deposit you and return. I shall make all of this up to you some day, my love.”
“Yes, I think I have missed all of the wooing and kissing alone this path to our marriage and no honeymoon.” She spoke in light-hearted tones, so John didn’t feel any worse than he did.
“I don’t know how long, we will be.”
“Oh, let me take my book.”
John turned with her in his arms and lowered her to grab her book and then swiftly moved through the crowd to get her out of there.
Captain Lenox greeted Boyle and was introduced to Mason. Branson took orders on drinks for the two new men. Mason declined, and Boyle asked for a whiskey, seeing that other alcohol was being consumed in the room.
Detective Boyle did not take a seat. He should have realized he would speak with the lady first and she may be able to rest.
John returned to the room.
“Mr. Thornton, I apologize. I do not wish for your wife to wait on us. If you don’t mind, I will speak with her now. Would that be possible?”
“I’d like to be present,” John said.
“Sir, with all due respect, I would wish to speak with her alone. Some things a woman will not say in front of her husband.”
“Being a Magistrate, I am quite aware of that.”
“I will be glad to call you in, in a short time,” replied Boyle. He hadn’t known the mill master of some fame was also a Magistrate. He was dealing with an intelligent man, he surmised.
John went upstairs, and Boyle followed. John tapped lightly on the door asking if he and Detective Boyle could come in.
“Yes, of course.”
Margaret was sitting up with pillows behind her, just as she had been in the hospital.
“Margaret, Detective Boyle would like to speak with you alone. Do you feel well enough for this?”
“Alone? Yes, if I must. I mean, yes. I am fine.”
John left the room and closed the door behind him. Detective Boyle introduced himself while pulling over a small chair to the bedside.
“My, this is some bed,” he cajoled.
“This is my first time in it or in this room. It’s been a hectic day starting out.”
“I will try to be brief. I have a few questions. I have asked your husband to be absent because I feel you will have something to tell me that he may not know about. What you tell him is not a problem, but what you tell me will mean a great deal. Do you understand what I am saying?”
Margaret blushed, and the whimpering began. “I know exactly what you are saying. My husband does know everything, I believe, as the doctors seemed to give him a full account. But having to finally say the words myself is going to be hard and I am glad he is not here to hover. He is very concerned for me, and he’s holding back his anger, but I can feel it there.”
“That’s understandable. Inspector Mason has cleared up the reason for why you came to him and are now married. That was a surprise to hear. My congratulations. Can you tell me in any words you can manage about the last night you were with Captain Hartford? And, before you begin, I know all about your brother’s past. Mason and I are in agreement and apparently your husband is, too, that we are not looking for him. Let the navy do their own job.”
“Thank you, Detective. That is such a huge relief. My whole life seems to have been one disaster after another because he’s been a mutineer, but I would not change what I have done, except where my husband is concerned. Had I’d known of his attitude about my brother, we would have been married before now.”
The detective pulled out a pad of paper and a pencil. Margaret thought about how the Met didn’t operate on much more of a budget than the local police.
“Begin where you can, Mrs. Thornton.”
Margaret didn’t start with the last night, she started from the beginning. She told of her injuries that the doctor had told her she’d had over a long time. She talked about how the injuries seemed placed to be hidden. Margaret spoke of her coercion to marry because of her money, so she thought, but everything was predicated on her brother being turned over to the Navy. She held up well until she finally arrived at her final night at his home.
“Mrs. Thornton, you are doing well. I am fairly certain I know what you are going to tell me, as it seems Captain Lenox has put a lot of this puzzle together. Tell me as best as you can, or I will say the words, and you can correct me.”
“Maxwell? Maxwell thinks he knows what that man did to me?”
“Yes, he gave me his assumptions and why. I find it quite likely he is right.”
“Can I ask what made him know?”
“It seems he visited Hartford the morning after you had disappeared, to ask about his knowledge of how you were taken home that night. Hartford, had, for two days, a lap blanket, lain across his groin area, each time Maxwell went. On his first visit, with his wife, she noticed your little handbag had slid to the side of the couch. Now, can you tell me?”
Margaret broke down and told him exactly what had happened that whole night. She showed him the hand prints on the back of her neck and tops of her arms. He declined to see her broken rib. Her black eye was most apparent.
“Mrs. Thornton, this is a travesty I have yet heard of in all my years. I am terribly sorry for your torturous times with that man.”
“I won’t have to say this in a court, will I? Margaret sniffled.
“I’ll make sure you don’t.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“I can’t answer that right now. We do know a lot more about this man than you do, and none of it is pretty.” Boyle told her.
“Is he still in London, walking around like nothing happened?”
“I cannot tell you that either, but I will say, we are watching him. When we have enough facts, we’ll know where he is to pick him up. Mrs. Thornton, you have been a brave woman, and I should not think that I will have to speak with you again. I know this has been very traumatic and some things may be recalled that are being left forgotten now or blocked out. If there is anything new, I will be here for a few days, or you can relay it to Inspector Mason. He is fully aware of this case and had started one of his own here in Milton.”
“Yes, your husband has been keeping him apprised of the situation. Mr. Thornton is very protective of you. Since he cannot leave you to see to this man himself, he wants to ensure he doesn’t come here.”
“Do you know anything about my brother?”
“No, we don’t. I am hoping to learn more about that while here. Is there anything I should know that you know?”
“I have no idea about him. I’m so worried. Mr. Bell, who was my father’s best friend all his life while he lived, has taken on the role of guardian because my father asked him to. Even being of age, he still feels the need to see that I am happy. He is dying soon,” Margaret wept the words. “He has endowed me with his fortune, which is what Grant was after, I believe. Mr. Bell is the only one in the family who may keep in some contact with my brother and know what’s happening.”
“And where is this Mr. Bell?”
“He lives at the university in London, but he’s here in Milton at the hotel. I guess you’re at the hotel?”
“Just arriving a little while ago, I think I’ll be staying in one of the empty jail cells while here. I will try and contact this Mr. Bell, later today. Again, my sympathy for your experience and hopefully, I won’t need you before this is all over. We will get this man, there is no doubt.”
“Thank you, Detective Boyle. That relieves me greatly.”
“I’ll show myself out. Good day.”
John had been waiting on the landing for the Detective to call him into his bedchamber, but Boyle exited instead.
“Have you completed your questions?” John asked.
“Yes. She is very brave, that wife of yours. After you’ve seen to her, I’d like to talk downstairs.”
“I’ll be down when I am sure she is all right. Please, have Branson fix you a drink.”
“The lad has done that. Thank you.”
John stepped into their bedchamber. Margaret looked pitiful; his heart wanted to break. She was propped up in such a large bed which made her look even smaller, she was alone and wearing a nice black eye. Now, her eyes were swollen, and her cheeks were red.
John sat next to her on the bed and held her in his arms. He didn’t need to say anything. She clung to him like she was drowning.
“John, she said, he won’t need to talk with me again, he thought. He said he would get the man. Maybe the real healing can begin now.”
“Margaret, this emotional wounding will be smothered away. I will see to that. You will not ever have to worry about him. It will just be you and I. I love you so much,” he said.
“Thank you, John.”
“For loving you?” he asked.
“Well, I guess and so much else. I don’t know where I’d be if you weren’t on the other side of that door when I knocked. You could have been married or any number of reasons for not wanting me. I guess I am thanking you for waiting . . . waiting for me to come home.”
Still cradling her to his chest, he allowed his own tears to fall on her shoulder.
“Can I lay down, now? I’m tired.”
“Is our bed softer than your one at the hospital,” John said, attempting to pass through the highly emotional moment.
“You still don’t have shoes on. Someone is going to think we are poor if I don’t get my love a pair of shoes,” he chuckled.
John helped her lay down.
“John can you pull that slip off of me.”
“Yes, love. Just lay still and close your eyes.” John reached up and untied the drawstring and gently wiggled it off of her. He pulled the light quilt at the foot of the bed, over her. He left the room.
John found little surprise finding Adam Bell downstairs, but Adam walked over to him before he could sit and whispered in his ear.
John turned to his visitors. “I will be right with you gentleman. I have a small emergency. It shouldn’t take more than a few moments. This may be worth our wait.”
John walked down the stairs and outside with Bell following. He arrived at his office steps and took two at a time before opening the door.
“You must be Margaret’s brother.”
Grant Hartford began to assess the damages. He was damned to know how everything had gone wrong so quickly. It was the backhand to her face and the forceful sexual performance he had expected. That had worked in the past, but this time he’d gone too far with a woman who was a lady.
He pulled a sheaf of paper from his drawer and thought he’d start with a list of ‘irons in the fire.’ He sat there for a while. The list was blank. The only thing he knew for certain at that time was that Margaret was alive, now in hospital and married. The beatings to her body were no longer a secret. Maybe his ‘ace-in-the-hole’ was still playable. She never had known for sure that he did know of her brother so now that he didn’t have him anymore, it made little difference.
No one had yet to come after him for offenses against her, so perhaps she was still silent, covering for him, in order to maintain the safety of her brother.
On the other hand, her family would know of her injuries, and Captain Lenox and the Shaw’s knew that Margaret had been seeing him. Therein, lay the problem. Even if Margaret never spoke his name, the assumption would be there. Still, perhaps, they could do little with assumptions, legally.
Her husband could be a thorn in his side. If he was any man at all, he would seek some retribution. It would not matter if his wife admitted it to him or not, he would come after the man that had inflicted the fists to her body.
Grant thought, perhaps, this man, being only a mill master, may be willing to forego his revenge for a price. That was a long shot, but he had no worries about her husband in any regard. He could easily be dispatched, too.
Yes, Margaret had beating marks to her body, but until she told the world what happened to her, nothing was provable. He couldn’t believe a lady would admit what happened to cause his own injury. Margaret was the key. If she could never testify, he could get past the rumors as he’d done once before.
Grant knew he could put on a good act. He’d had Margaret and her family all fooled from the beginning, which included Captain Lenox. It would not be too hard to convince his Commander of his innocence if he tried hard enough. He would ask for reassignment and start over.
He drew up his battle plans and pulled out a map to see where Milton was located. No one in Milton knew what he looked like except Margaret and her family, who would be at the hotels or thereabouts. He would leave for Milton to reconnoiter the playing field and finalize his plans, once there.
He wrote the name, John Thornton, on his paper.
Margaret awoke in the middle of the night with a nightmare. Quickly she became aware that John was sleeping in the chair beside her with his hand on hers. She wondered if she was worthy of this almost unreal man and his love for her. How could she be so blessed?
She laid back down and began to think about the conversation they had never finished earlier about him staying the night. Why she asked herself. She was coming home tomorrow. There had to be more to his wanting to be close than he was saying.
“He feared for her!” swiftly bolted through her head. John loved her, but he was there for protection. That was the only thing that made sense. Why she asked herself again. Grant Hartford would never come seeking her in Milton, would he?
Margaret tried to step into Grant’s mind and see this situation from his perspective. A kaleidoscope of ideas cascaded through her mind. The colored chips of glass would change with every thought. She couldn’t put anything together. Were the police involved; no one had even asked her about informing the police. That was strange in and of itself. Aunt Shaw should have been hounding her to go to the police. John was handling her as delicate as was possible. He had shown no signs of anger or revenge. She would not wish him to be obliged to harm her perpetrator but not speaking about him at all was . . .
“What are you thinking, my love?” John whispered in the dark.
“I woke, not expecting you to still be here and found you holding my hand. How am I so lucky to be the woman of your choice? You’ve had many women to select from over the years, and I wonder what makes me special.”
“It would take me a long time to list all that I love about you. We shall save that for a time when you are healed.”
“Would you ever lie to me,” Margaret asked.
“Now, where did that come from?” he asked. “Do you think I have lied to you?”
“You haven’t answered my question.”
John pulled his hand from hers long enough to right himself in the chair. She was serious. Something was pressing in on her to have any doubts about him.
“Do you have doubts about marrying me?” John asked with a trembling voice held at bay.
“No. I have no doubts about being your wife or your love for me or my love for you.”
“Then, what is this?” John rubbed her arm with one hand and intertwined his other fingers in her hand.
“I guess I don’t mean ‘lie to me’ but hold something from me?”
“Your being here tonight. I think you fear something and you are here to protect me.”
“Margaret, I will protect you all my life.”
“Is that a yes? I am the happiest woman in the world, John, being loved by you. I only have one fear and that is behind me now. I will move on. You will help me through the rough times, I know. By your sleeping in that horrid chair beside me, I feel there is something else happening that I know nothing of. It is a feeling, I have. Everyone is walking on eggs around me. No one has suggested going to the police. That seems strange. It occurred to me that my aunt did not once suggest I do something about that Captain. You know her well enough to know that is not her normal behavior. Talk to me, my husband. Where is your fear?”
John moved to her bed and sat beside her. He kissed her tenderly in the night. He held the sides of her face with both his hands and licked her lips. He kissed her eyes closed.
Margaret raised her arms gently to ensconce his face in her own hands. She couldn’t see him, but she ran her fingers through his hair, down his face, across his lips and pulled him back for a deep kiss that she could feel through her body.
John wrapped his arms carefully around and drew her to his chest, holding her there. He could feel her heart hammering as was his. There was no talking, only feeling. He pulled her braided hair lose and raked it with his fingers. Margaret moaned softly.
“Am I hurting you my love?” John whispered into her ear.
“Quite the contrary. Why do I feel your fingers pulling through my hair all the way to my toes?”
“That’s what love is all about, my Margaret.”
“I think we’d better stop. I’m feeling as if my body is light-headed all over. My nerve endings are tingling.”
“Oh God, Margaret, how I love you.” John made love to her mouth once again and then laid her back on her pillow, but stayed on the bed.
“I’ve had a cot put into our room for me to sleep away from you, but I think I’ll have to move to another room, altogether. I can’t help but want to touch you all over, and you’re still in a hospital. I have no control around you, it would seem.”
“I think I will be glad of your weakness very soon. I cannot think of what my own actions are going to be like after this.”
“Margaret, don’t think. At times like this, when we are moved to an emotional and passionate place, you don’t think, you just do. You draw from me and I from you. We want to become one, that is natural, that is love. You hold nothing back from me. You forget all that you were ever taught as a child, and you give yourself to me as I give myself to you. Never think, just love me. Be one with me.”
“John, that is beautiful. I am not sure I would even have the willpower to hold back if you make me feel like I just did.”
“That is beautiful to hear, too. You have just given me the pride to be the man to make the earth move for you of which I have only dreamt about. It’s within my reach, now.”
John could hear Margaret beginning to weep. He leaned down and swept away the new tears with his mouth and kissed her once again.
Captain Lenox was on the train platform to Milton by 6:00am. He carried with him a satchel with his uniform and other clothes as well as a portfolio of all gathered information. He had sat and tried to draw a picture of Grant, but that wasn’t one of his specialized skills. His training was more into ‘infiltration,’ where Grant’s was setting a battle field with logistics and strategy’s. Lenox had brought his small personal arsenal of two pistols, ammunition, but left his dress sword behind. To his way of thinking Grant had one recourse and that was to silence Margaret before she accused him directly of her mistreatment. Maxwell had to bring the man to Army justice or bring him down. He was an embarrassment to a proud and centuries old tradition of brave men, stemming back to the knights of old. Women were always championed, never mistreated or worse.
With the exception of a daylight cargo voyage across the channel, Frederick had traveled by night, mostly on foot, with the occasional merchant wagon giving him a lift on their way to market in Milton. After three years of running he didn’t feel the Navy was actively pursuing him, but would always be on the lookout should he ever be spotted by forces that knew of such wanted seaman. He felt more at ease from how he managed entry and exit from England, now almost two years ago. No one knew him in Milton. He would only be recognized in Helstone. It would not be beyond the Navy’s realm to check on his sister now and again to ensure that he had not taken refuge with her.
Margaret insisted that John go home and clean himself up and have a meal and hopefully she would be nearly ready for him when he returned. With his hesitation, it took constant prodding by Margaret for him to leave.
“I thought I once heard you say – and it was very recent – that you would not be able to deny me anything. Has that gone away?” Margaret smiled.
John kissed her for the fourth time that morning and did her bidding. He was surprised to find Branson waiting outside. Branson seemed to be nodding off in the box. John woke him by getting into the box himself.
“Master, I’m sorry. I haven’t even been waiting that long.”
“I didn’t expect you, but I’m glad you are here,” John said. “I would like you to go in the hospital and keep an eye on my wife while I run home for a short time.”
“I’ll be glad to, but wouldn’t you want me to drive you home first?”
“I’ll take the team,” John said, trying very hard, not to show his trepidation. It had been a long time since Branson had taught him how to handle a team and turning a coach.”
“You, sir? You’ll pull the coach?” Branson wanted to laugh.
“I see that smile you are hiding. Go ahead, laugh. I will permit it this time because these are unusual times.”
Branson took his Master at his word and burst out laughing.
“You know, Branson, I really didn’t think you would do that.” And then John laughed.
“Here Guv, take my cap. I’d be too embarrassed for anyone noticing it was you driving my team. They are used to an experienced driver.”
“Give me the damn cap and get out of the box,” John laughed.
From ground level, Branson shouted, “It’s WHOA to make them stop and WALK ON to make them start.” He turned his back on his master, almost in a fit of hysterics.
As Branson mounted the hospital steps he heard his master say, “Walk on . . . . walk on.”
“Guv, you have to ruffle the reins at the same time.” Branson didn’t have the heart to watch any longer and entered the hospital. He went to the registration desk to find where Mrs. Thornton was located. He wondered to himself, what should he call her. He’d have to see what Jane and Cook called her.
Branson found his way to the room and the door was open. He knocked lightly to get her attention before proceeding inside.
“Branson! Come here and give me a hug.”
Branson was stupefied. What planet was he on? The master driving the team-the mistress wanting a hug.
“If you wish,” he babbled out.
“It’s very good to see you, Miss,” Branson gently put his arms around her, like an old friend. “My heartiest congratulations on your marriage. Besides being very happy because my boss is finally happy, you will now be saving me long hours of waiting for him.”
“You mean as he visits his past lady friends,” Margaret smiled, putting him at ease for the words he realized he’d misspoken.
“You have a real shiner, there, Miss. I’m not sure what to call you. Do you have a preference?”
“Hmm… you won’t call me Mrs. Thornton, I don’t want that rigid formality in our home as I am sure your master wouldn’t either. What do you call, John?”
“I usually call him Guv, which he has never seemed to mind. Once in a while, I’ll call him Master like everyone one at the Mill does.”
“Let me think. I would imagine Mistress would be most suitable, but you can leave it at Miss, short for Mistress, as far as I am concerned. If ‘the Guv’ says different, we’ll negotiate.”
Branson knew his Master had met and married the perfect woman for him. He almost loved her, himself, in a brotherly fashion.
“We all have been waiting for you to come home.”
“Home . . . that has a nice sound to it, Branson.” Margaret became a bit maudlin, and Branson didn’t know what to do.
“Did you pass John on the way here?”
Branson started with a big smile, and it turned into a chuckle.
“What has you smiling like that? You are going to make me laugh, and I don’t know why.”
“The Guv sent me in here, and he took the team home.”
“And why is that funny?”
“He really doesn’t ever drive the team. It’s been years. We’ll be lucky to see the coach return in one piece.”
Margaret started to laugh and then held herself around the ribs. “I’m sorry. That is funny, but right now, I have a hard time laughing.”
“Miss, we are all terribly upset about the . . . the horrible experiences you’ve been through.”
Margaret had to wonder if everyone knew everything.
“Thank you, Branson. That’s all behind us now,” Margaret said as she saw Branson’s serious face appear.
“What is it, Branson? And just why did your Guv send you to me, when we would meet again in a few hours?”
“I just obey him.” Branson worried that he couldn’t recover from the sense that she just picked up on.
“He is so happy today, he’s acting like another person from the one I’ve always known. I didn’t ask why I just did and am very happy to see you recovering. Do you have a bag packed or can I help you with anything?”
Margaret did not want to put Branson on the spot any longer.
“I’m waiting for a final visit and last minute directions from the doctor. Then, I believe, my cousin should be here any moment, to bring me a frock to dress in. Now, I am just waiting for me breakfast. Why don’t you sit down in that chair and so we can talk. Where’s your cap? Don’t you always wear a cap?”
Branson smiled. “I made the master wear it so no one would notice him. You don’t know how flustered I am at him driving my team.”
“Are they really your team? Is that common for a driver to be hired with his own team?”
“The master bought them, of course, but they’re mine, and he knows that. Besides my lady friend, they are my life.”
“Tell me about your lady friend. Is she pretty?”
“As pretty as they come. She’s about this high,” Branson indicated a few inches shorter than himself, “and she’s a little bit of a thing. She has black hair like the Guv, unlike my yellow hair.”
“Does she work at the mill?”
“Oh, no. She works for a lady in a ribbon shop on the main street.”
“Are there any thoughts by you for a future attachment to her?”
Branson began to squirm in his seat. “I’m not sure how that would work. I will never leave the Guv, and I don’t know how she’d feel living over a stable in two small rooms. I haven’t yet talked with the Master if there was any other answer.”
“Well, Branson, don’t worry. I am now half of the decisions being made in regards to the house. I might be able to have him see my way about some changes. Not in the very near future, mind you, I have to break him in gently . . . like a horse.” Margaret laughed, again, holding her ribs. “I’m sure he would not want to lose you, either. Let’s keep that in mind.”
“Thank you, Miss. I can see where a lot of things are going to change for the better when you are well.”
Edith came through the door with a small parcel in her hand. Aunt Shaw was right behind her.
“I’ll be outside the door,” Branson said and left the room.
If Margaret thought she had been in a weakened state before, it was now officially confirmed when John walked through the door in his exquisite evening attire. He had a yellow rose in his lapel and a yellow rose nosegay for Margaret. He handed Nicholas and Adam yellow roses for their apparel and went directly to Margaret. Peggy moved away and everyone walked out of the room to give them privacy. Nicholas even closed the door behind them.
John knelt at Margaret’s feet.
“I love you more this minute than any time before. Are you ready to be Mrs. John Thornton?”
“You know I am. John, you are so handsome, you make me want to cry.”
“All for you, my love. Only and forever for you, Margaret. Where is that stunning hospital gown I was expecting? I even wore a white cravat to match you,” he smiled. You look positively stunning. And what are you doing sitting on the side of the bed? Shouldn’t you be sitting up with pillows behind you?”
“I convinced the doctor that there was nothing wrong with me legs. I want to stand beside you for as long as I can. When you kiss me at the end of the vows, just don’t squeeze me too hard. I’ll take a lot of pain for that kiss I want so badly, though.”
“Oh, how I want to squeeze you now. I cannot wait to get you home so that I can serve you and hold you and stroke your forehead and kiss your neck. I am going to stop there, or you will know me better than you should right now.”
Margaret smiled and grimaced once again.
John leaned in and parting her lips gave her a sensual kiss. “I won’t be able to do that with everyone watching. Are you ready?”
“I’ve been ready for two years. I am eagerly waiting to give you my vows. I do so love you, John Thornton.”
John kissed her once again and then helped her to her feet. Do you have a preference where you want stand?”
“I think at the end of the bed. I can lean back on the footboard if I need to.”
“If you need to lean, you lean on me. I want you to lean on me always, Miss Hale. And say goodbye to Miss Hale, now.”
John placed Margaret at the end of the bed and opened the door for the others to take their places.
Margaret was surprised that Adam stood next to her and not John. She realized he was giving her away. She looked up into his eyes, and both had tears welling.
The minister stood facing Adam and Margaret and asked who gives this woman away.
Adam said, “I do.” Adam turned to shake John’s hand and then placed Margaret’s hand into John’s. Adam and John exchanged places.
Peggy collected the flowers Margaret had been holding and Margaret could feel John looking down on her. She peeped up and saw an almost reverent benevolent smile. His eyes were speaking his love to her heart.
Staff from the hospital had drifted in, including Nurse Pickering and Dr. Wagner.
The minister continued into the vows and then Nicholas had to fish out the emerald ring for Margaret’s finger, to hand John. Margaret gasped at its loveliness as John looked into her face and slowly slid it onto her finger, then squeezed her hand. Margaret felt her knees trembling, and John felt that happening, too. He gently folded his arm around her waist and held her up until the final words of Man and Wife were spoken. He had wanted to kiss her tenderly in front of the crowd but found no success there. He kissed her for long moments, to the applause of everyone in the room. John, the passionate man and lover, was finally revealed to all who watched.
As soon as he gave her breath, he escorted her to the chair, where she received all the well wishes and kisses.
The doctor was in and out of Margaret’s room until he thought the festivities had gone on long enough. He could see his patient tiring and spoke to Mr. Thornton. John went to his friends and told them of Margaret’s fatigue. To Adam, he said he would seem him later this evening at his home. Branson carried the minister back to the church and John said he would get a cabby to take him home.
“No, sir. I will be back for you. I will be outside starting at 7:00 pm.
John walked his friends to the hospital entrance while Nurse Pickering changed Margaret back into a fresh cotton gown and got her comfortably settled into her bed.
“Mrs. Thornton, you can’t seem to stop smiling.”
Margaret paused, hearing that phrase for the first time from someone other than John. Her face flushed as the smile grew larger.
“Mrs. Thornton,” she sighed out loud.
“Yes, Mrs. Thornton,” John repeated coming back through the door.
The nurse disappeared knowing that Margaret was settled, perhaps in the best situation of her life.
John quietly pushed the door closed when she had left, not latching it, but hiding them from onlookers. He walked back to Margaret’s bedside and took the chair pulling it close to his new wife.
“Margaret, you have made me the happiest man on this earth today. Even up until you said, ‘I do’, I feared something might interrupt us for what I have waited for since meeting you. I want to make you as happy as I am.”
“You already have. You’ve taken on a woman of reduced circumstances, who treated you poorly, and then left you heartbroken. I am a woman who returns to you when everything in her life has failed her and asks for sanctuary, and you took me in. You give me love and not just abidance.”
“Margaret, stop that. You sound like you are making yourself self out to be a charity case. Had I known there was any regard for me, I would have sought you out long ago. I have done nothing but think about you. I tried to carry on; I saw very few women since you left, but no one could compare to you, my love. Under any condition imaginable, I wanted you, everyday in every way. For the past few months, I have even thought of selling the mills. I had to make some change in my life to get past you or give up living. I could no longer face the world with you somewhere that I couldn’t touch. Don’t ever think there is gratitude in my love for you. You don’t think that I could ever entertain the idea that you returned because I just happen to be a little better than the last man seeking you. Do you? No, I know that you love me and today was something we both wanted. This wedding was not a rescue for either of us. We’re married because we should have done this, two years ago. I know I rushed you into this, perhaps much faster than is proper. Here you lay in a hospital bed, delirious on laudanum and saying you will be my wife. I hope you never come to regret that. I was terribly selfish in gaining your hand while you were willing.”
“John, now you stop talking that way. I was not delirious when I accepted your offer of marriage. It wasn’t long after I was taken from Milton that I knew I had left my heart behind. I felt trapped between the two men I love most in this world. I knew I broke your heart as mine had already done, but my brother’s life could have been at stake and that weighed a bit heavier than my happiness.”
“Margaret, let’s not dwell on the past and the why’s. We have finally reached each other for all time and that’s all that matters, now. We just need you to concentrate on getting you well, so that you can come home with me. You cannot imagine how my mind is carrying me too far off places I’ve never thought of before. You will be loved like no other woman.”
“I hope can live up to your expectations.” Margaret said softly.
“Margaret, you far exceeded my expectations long long ago. I guess I am too anxious to know all of you and I have told you not to think of me being anxious. There is love driving me, not lust. It feels quite different, you know? My desire lies more with me wanting to please you than the other way around. It is a most exhilarating fantasy, waiting to come true. You’re blushing! Black eye, red cheeks, what more could a man ask for?” John laughed.
“I loved our little wedding. Everyone here wanted this for us, too. I am glad it is behind us now, so when I face my aunt, she will have no advice to give me.”
“Yes, I am afraid you have a couple more days of discomfort with visitors. Your aunt and cousin will want to know what happened, why you are here, and why you are married. It will be up to you what you say to them. I will not tell them what I know.” John moved towards Margaret’s lips. It was their first kiss since the ceremony. Margaret was able to manage one arm around John’s neck. John put one arm behind her, anchoring his hand under her bottom and pulled her to him. The other hand stroked her face and neck. He tenderly made love to her with his tongue and hers intertwining. They eventually pulled apart and John withdrew his hand from underneath her. That had been their most intimate contact.
“Yes, my love. What is it?”
“This medicine hasn’t dulled all my feelings.”
“I don’t understand. What are you telling me?”
Margaret blushed and smiled causing John to kiss her again, as before.
At an inn in Doncaster, Belfour rented two rooms because they had a lady with them. Of course, he would assign Goose to Miss Hale’s room while he took the other. Margaret asked to visit the facilities before climbing the stairs to the room that she would share with at least one of the Neanderthals who kept her guarded. Dinner was ordered to their rooms. Margaret had noticed the sign over the Inn door when they entered, stating it was the Fox Hunt Inn in Doncaster. Now, that they were settled into the larger room waiting for their meal, she had a few moments to try to place in her mind where Doncaster was on a map.
“It appears we have driven due east from Milton, is that correct?” She asked as she cleared a small table for the food that was coming.
“Yes, Doncaster is due east about halfway between Milton and the Grimsby port. We have been on the road nearly eight hours today. It should be about the same tomorrow. I guess you’re looking forward to France, are ya?” Reg asked, chuckling aloud.
“I know there is nothing that I can do. I was just wondering how long I had to ride on that hard coach seat. Maybe I will ride with Goose tomorrow,” Margaret chided, still hoping to keep them talking.
“No . . . Goose, she is not riding up with you in the box so get rid of that smile. Maybe she can ride on my lap if she’s so uncomfortable, although my lap might be hard, too.”
“Aye, I know the wee lass wouldn’t like it even if she be allowed. It’s a might dirty and cold up there with me, lass.”
A knock was heard at the door, and the serving maid was escorted into the room. She set the tray down which consisted of ale, bread, cheese and a pudding of some sort. Margaret was very hungry by this late in the day so anything would appeal to her right now. She hurried through her meal so she could get into her bed and her dream state, as she was coming to call it. In her mind, she kept chanting ‘Doncaster Grimsby Port – Doncaster Grimsby Port’. They finished the meal in silence and Reg started to leave the room for his own.
“Wait a minute. What about Goose?” She asked, pointing towards him.
“What about him? He’s staying with you.” Reg looked over at Goose, “Be sure you bed down in front of the door, Goose.”
“Aye, I will,” he said.
“Yes, that is as may be but what about my privacy?”
“Lass, do not worry. I will hang a blanket across as much of the room as I can. I am sliding that wardrobe over there in front of the window. We will be fine.”
Resigning herself to what she knew was her best option she asked if she could look out the window for a bit before turning in. Reg did not even bother answering that. He walked out of the room, ignoring them both.
“Aye, ye can, lass, but I will be beside ye so do not go hollerin’, or I will have to punch ye. Ye can have a couple minutes.”
Margaret walked to the window hoping to see some distinguishing landmark or structure that she could hold in her dream. There was nothing to see of any significance. Looking down and to the left a bit, she could see the Inn’s sign with a fox being chased by a rider and horse. She burned that image into her mind along with her chant ‘Doncaster to Grimsby Port’. She had not noticed that Goose had moved away but heard the wardrobe being slid toward the window. She backed out of the way and turned to look about the room for ways to gain privacy. The ceiling was raftered so there would be no problem hanging a rope and blanket. She went over to her bed and started to rummage through the clothing that their Lady had sent along for her. It was immediately apparent that the Lady did come from wealth because even though the clothes were of a very old style, they were richly made from handsome fabric, now faded. The stitching was of the finest quality and Margaret concluded only a Londoner would have worn clothing like this.
“Here, hold this rope for me,” Goose ordered.
Margaret did as she was told still maintaining her train of thought. “Londoner?” She found that curious. Could a London Lady want her out of the way, so she could marry a Baron?
Still . . . she knew no Baron, but something was niggling in the back of her mind. She started thinking of all the men she had met since coming to London, wondering if she had met a Baron and decided she had not. Kindle came immediately to mind, but he was not a Baron. Or was he? She knew he came from wealth although he did not act like those of upper society. He wasn’t snobbish in any way. She had noticed that he had guards with him when they went to the park, but surely, that was because of his military rank. She had never inquired as to what rank he was and never could read all the accouterments and strips and whatever else told the world who he was by what he wore. Besides, Barons did not work in service as if military men would. The most telling aspect to Margaret that he was NOT a Baron was that he was interested in her. She was too far below the class that a Baron would associate with. No . . . it still had to be a case of mistaken identity. Setting that tangled thought process aside, not wanting John to get a hold of that, she helped Goose give her some privacy and made ready for bed and her dream session.
John had a nightmare that he would sleep through a vision. He tossed and turned most of the night trying to sleep without actually sleeping. It did not work. He was bound to fall asleep no matter how hard he tried to stay in focus.
In minutes, John was dead to the world for a few hours before the nightmare set in, and he started tossing the bed in his sleep. John dreamt that he was her protector, and he was failing her.
The distant horizon was beginning to lighten, and dawn would break within the hour. John had been lying awake in his bed for an hour tightly focused on Margaret’s face. He could feel a vision trying to form. Again, the waves of fog were swirling in his mind, finally giving him a sense of hope. He heard a voice this time. However, before he could make out what he was barely hearing he saw a vision of a fox. A fox? John did not know what he could do with a fox. Was there a town with Fox in the name? Had she seen foxes on her trip? Was she left outside somewhere, chained to a tree and the foxes were nipping at her ankles? He felt ill. He got up and swung his head back and forth trying to clear the last image. His mind went blank, and that seemed worse. Sitting back down on the bed, he heard the voice again. It was louder this time, almost audible. He instantly heard the name, Doncaster. Doncaster? John ran to his study and found a map. Searching . . . searching . . . he located Doncaster quickly. He was stunned to find it was due east 80 kilometers away, only a half day’s ride by a fast horse. He had never been there and had not realized it was as close as it was.
John now knew his new direction. He thought, with some relief, that Margaret must still be all right if she was still trying to reach him. If she only knew what the two of them were achieving . . . communicating through time and space . . . she would understand how he came to love her before he ever met her.
While John was at his desk, he composed two notes – one for Higgins and one for Brampton. However, before he could pour the hot wax, he heard ‘Grimsby Port.’ He closed his eyes and laid his head on his folded arms on top of his desk. The debilitating exhaustion was setting in. He listened. And he listened, harder. He waited. And he waited some more. There it came again. ‘Grimsby Port.’ Waiting a few more minutes proved fruitless. Once again, he unfurled his map and looked for Grimsby Port. That was still due east from Doncaster. They either were headed for or were already at Grimsby Port. Using the legend, John calculated that they could not be at the port, yet.
John caught his breath as he thought about the fact that she was going to be whisked out of the country. He knew little to nothing of France. He had to reach her before they sailed.
He felt a tinge of real hope slip into his consciousness. He had not allowed that thought to come into his head, but now it was not going to be denied. He knew at a good clip on his horse, he could make 80 kilometers in about six hours if he changed horses. That should give him plenty of time to reach the port before Margaret and her captors. Although his horses were his love and expensive, he would rent fresh horses as they rode, and hoped where he left them at the first stop, would tend to them properly until his return for them. He would pay well to ensure that.
John looked down at his note to Higgins and his missive to Brampton and tore them up. He started over with a real sense of hope. He had no idea what the Baron could do being as far away as London, but he prayed that he and Branson could handle any people holding her captive. As he finished the second note, the light of dawn streamed through his window and crossed his desk. Feeling the sun as an omen of a new day, John hurried to dress and find Branson.
Margaret had only spent a few hours of actual sleep when she was awakened by a pounding on the door to her rented room. She could hear Goose complaining about being awakened as well. He was tired from the previous day driving a carriage for all those hours. Margaret peeked around the corner of her blanket to see him getting to his feet to open the door. She was grateful that he had needed the sleep as much as she had. For a reason she could not fathom, she felt she was making friends with him, which may come in useful in the future. As ill kempt and simple as he seemed to be, she felt underneath all that hard living, he had a heart.
“Open the door,” barked Reggie.” Eggs, bread, and cider, will be here soon – then we leave.”
Margaret quickly readied herself because she knew any second that one of them would pull back the blanket to make sure she was still in the room. “Please give me a little time to dress. I am awake and preparing to leave. I will need to visit the facilities before getting in that carriage. Reggie, is there any chance of stealing a different book for me?” Margaret asked, feeling she needed to lighten Reg’s morning attitude. She wondered if they had all overslept and it was growing late from the tone he had taken on.
She heard Goose ask him, “Was anything wrong?” Reg’s voice dropped to a whisper, and she heard Goose laugh. From the few words she could hear, she assumed that a bar wench had disappointed him during the night. As funny as Margaret thought that was, she started to worry that his frustration may turn on her when they were in the coach.
The small breakfast was delivered to the room, and they all ate as fast as Reg set the pace. Reg left the room to collect the few things that he had carried in the night before. Goose busied himself returning the wardrobe to its original spot while Margaret slipped the butter knife, wrapped in a handkerchief into her reticule. Goose collected her baggage and steered her toward the door.
“Now, ye be a good lass, and this will all be over soon.”
“Goose . . . what will happen to you after you deliver me to my destination?” Margaret asked. “Aren’t you afraid that your Lady will have you killed to be assured of your silence of where I am?” Margaret had been waiting for an opening to plant that seed and hope it would take root and bear her fruit if she needed it.
“Miss, we have a pocket full of coin. I do not think she would have paid us that much if she planned on killin’ us. We have to disappear, that is all.”
“Well, as bad as all this is for me, and I know you are acting on instructions which are based on mistaken information, you have been a nice man to me. Thank you for that.”
Goose tipped his invisible hat and encouraged Margaret to leave the room ahead of him.
She heard the clock chime nine times as they were leaving. It did not seem like a well-managed plan to be leaving this late.
As they reached the coach, Margaret asked if she could keep her cloth satchel in the coach with her. She explained it could be used for padding to sit on or even a pillow, remembering how she had wished to have one yesterday.
By the time, the clock had struck nine at the Fox Hunt Inn in Doncaster, John Thornton, and Branson were only three hours behind Margaret and her captors due to the sheer power of John’s two horses. They would spend some time once reaching Doncaster, checking the inns, finding food, and renting fresh horses.