Captain Hartford returned to post with explanations to his Commander. He had entered his Commander’s office with great hesitancy only to be buoyed by the fact that nothing seemed out of order. Surely, there would be a severe questioning session if Miss Hale or Detective Boyle had come to him with any suspicions. Grant wondered how long it would be before Miss Hale was found, dead or alive. She had to have taken her own life as she admitted she had been thinking of doing. There could be little hope of reconciliation after all this time, if she lived. Grant decided to stop worrying about Miss Hale and do something about it. Looking over his shoulder was something he caused to others, and not something he would endure himself. Once he could locate her, he would dispose of her as he had once done to the fiancé of a woman he forcefully bedded. When all doubts of his involvement in her death were well and truly dismissed, he would pick his moment to expose her brother and gain the accolades of the crown.
It was nearing midday when the Shaw household received their post. The housemaid set it on the table in the foyer where it always rested in a silver tray. Edith and her mother were in the parlor still suffering the loss of Margaret.
“The police have had twenty four hours and still no word,” Mrs. Shaw stated as she paced the room. “She cannot have just disappeared off the face of the earth.”
Edith remembered spotting Margaret’s reticule on the sofa in the house of Captain Hartford. She knew the police had that knowledge but her aunt did not. Edith began to think that the waiting was starting to take a great toll on her and her mother. A doctor should be summoned tomorrow to ease her mother’s nerves.
“Mother, how about a cup of tea with me?”
“Yes, Edith, ring for the maid.”
The maid entered the parlor as requested and asked what she could do. Directed to bring a tray of tea, she turned to leave, offhandedly telling the Mistress that the post had arrived.
Edith walked to the foyer and brought the small bundle into the parlor. Noticing a post from Mr. Bell, she handed it quickly to her mother.
Mrs. Shaw snapped the seal in an instant and began to read of Margaret’s whereabouts. Almost with the vapors, she grabbed her heart and shouted, “She’s alive. Margaret is alive. She is in Milton.”
Edith pulled the note from her mother’s waving hands and read it for herself.
“Mother, it says she is injured and in the hospital there. We must go at once.”
“Edith, we will go a first light tomorrow. We will pack. Today we need to inform Maxwell and he will know who else should know of this. Oh, Thank the Lord, she is alive. Do you think Maxwell could have some time to come with us?”
“I hope so, Mother. He’s been very involved in this, much more than I think we know. I will take the buggy to the post right away.” Edith went outside and asked the groomsman to harness the buggy. She returned to the house for her shawl and to calm her mother before leaving.
As Edith reined the light buggy towards the fort, she kept repeating the words ‘particularly injurious condition’. Now, she was sure and Maxwell would be too, that Captain Hartford was hiding something. It did solve the worry that he had her tied up somewhere in his home or other place. Still upsetting to Edith was, why did she not come home that night. Did Hartford drop her home or not? Did her cousin have to run away from him? What took her to Milton?
Edith thought about the note saying that she had arrived at Mr. Thornton’s home. She had run to him for help, for protection. She still loved the man. It was as plain as day but created more questions than it answered. She could have had nothing to do with Captain Hartford, so why did she? Edith couldn’t wait to get to Milton tomorrow and she hoped Maxwell could attend with them.
The guard at the post gate admitted Edith Shaw into the visitor area behind the first gate. He sent a horseman across the fort to fetch Captain Lenox, if he were in his quarters. He was not and knowledge of his whereabouts was not immediately known.
Edith wrote a note, sealing it and handing it to the guard. “Please see that he gets this as soon as possible. It is a family emergency,” she told him, lying just a little bit.
Instead of returning home immediately, she went to see the local constable to acquaint him with the facts that they had just received. Someone should know something before they stepped onto the train tomorrow bound for Milton.
“You say you have had word from the Mr. Bell, who you spoke about before, that Miss Hale is in a Milton hospital?”
“Yes, that’s correct. I do not remember the exact wording but it said she arrived, injured, at the home of Mr. Thornton, a man who she once had feelings for. I believe she ran to the only male she trusted. Mr. Bell was not in London, and my fiancé, Captain Lenox, also, wears a red coat. She may not have wanted to confide anything to him. I’m just guessing, you understand.”
“I know of this Mr. Thornton. He is a well respected Mill Master in Milton. He has done much to place that city on the map. I will get this information over to the Met right away. You say you are leaving for Milton in the morning?”
“Is Captain Lenox going with you?”
“I’ve just come from trying to locate him to see if he could accompany my mother and I, but he couldn’t be located. And should he contact us, I do not know if he would be permitted to leave his post.”
“Do you know where you will be staying when you arrive, in case the need arises?”
“Yes, we will be registered at the Milton Grand Hotel, but will be found at the hospital, I am sure.”
“Since we and the Met have a file started on Miss Hale, someone should be down there tomorrow as well. We will need her statement.”
“I’m glad to hear that. This is all so confusing.”
“Do you have a particular sense of what is confusing to you?”
“She is my best friend, and I believe I am hers. After her father died a year ago, she came to live with us rather than staying in Milton alone. I should rephrase that. My mother insisted that she come and stay with us. As she began to slowly recover from her grief, she talked more about Mr. Thornton, quite a bit more. I could tell that she had loved him, but something wasn’t right between them when the death came and my mother pulled her to London. I’ve been confused since this letter this morning.”
“And why is that?”
“I do not see why she began to see or continued to see this Captain Hartford if her heart lay elsewhere. It’s quite unlike Margaret to do something she does not want to do. Like we said before, when she began seeing this Captain we started noticing a different person in her. She was quiet and withdrawn. That in and of itself was odd, but now, out of nowhere, she runs to her first love. I can’t blame her for that. The note said she was injured. Captain Hartford had to be abusive for her to run so far and not let us know. In her darkest hour she ran to the man she loved.
Mr. Bell was Margaret’s first visitor, almost an hour early. Margaret had tears in her eyes after seeing him come into her room and set down his top hat and cane.
“Margaret, my dear.” Were the only words that Adam Bell could say as he walked towards her. He struggled to hold his own emotions back as he looked at her face with the black eye.
Margaret tried to stand from the side of her bed, to hug him, but didn’t make it. Adam knelt on one knee in front of her and wondered how he could hug her. Instead he held her shoulders and kissed her on top of her head.
“Margaret, I have no words and you know that is most unlike me. You cannot know how we have grieved over what you have suffered. Before you ask, I think we have Frederick in a safe position. We will know more by tomorrow or the next day. Your torment is over and here, today, you finally wed the man that you should have, two years ago. Margaret you don’t know how John has been waiting for this day. He will not show it, but he is extremely upset at what this man has done to you, but you have brought him the happiest time he’s ever been in all his life.”
Margaret tried to bend and reach forward to put her arms around him but only found a small success. “I know, Adam. It took leaving him to know how much I loved him. I’m the lucky one that he didn’t have another woman in his life. I’m blessed that he still loves me.”
“I know you couldn’t know, but there was never any doubt in that. It was all too clear to me. You two will make the best couple I have ever had the good fortune to know. So, are you healing as expected?”
“Yes, I am doing well. I think I might even be a day ahead of their expectations or it could be just the good day that started for me today. You see the decorations that the hospital staff did for our wedding. I think John bought the entire flower seller’s wares. Look at this room. I did not think we could get the alcohol smell out of here, but John found away. Oh, Adam, I do love him.”
“And where did this frock come from? You did not arrive with that. I bet someone on the staff brought something from home for you. I must say it clashes with your bright black eye,” Bell laughed instead of crying for his charge.
“Oh, wasn’t that nice of them to do. John will be so surprised. The doctor and nurse worked with me this morning so I can stand for a few moments for the ceremony. I’m glad John doesn’t have to remember this day with me wearing a while sheet,” Margaret laughed and then grimaced. “I can see that laughing will a bit uncomfortable for a few weeks.”
Adam Bell stood and pulled a small chair to her side.
“Adam, who knows about me?” Margaret asked in a serious tone.
“That would be myself, John, of course, Nicholas and his wife, and Branson. Your aunt should be getting my note today about your condition, I didn’t say much, mostly about your whereabouts. I expect them very late tonight but more likely tomorrow afternoon. I have rooms reserved. Only John, Branson, Nicholas and myself, know about Fred. I hope John has told you we are making plans and feel good that Frederick is taking actions now, on his own. We want to help him get to another country. I am sure your cousin and aunt have been to the police about you being missing, but I don’t know what they told them. They didn’t know about this treatment that you were hiding from all of us, from this Captain Hartford.”
“You know about that? All of that?”
Adam, slowly nodded his head and pulled her hands into his. “Margaret we all love you. You can’t hurt and we not know why. It is absolutely unbearable to think of what you endured. He will be dealt with; you can be assured of that.”
“How? I cannot stand in a witness box and tell strangers what I have been through.”
“That is not going to happen. John is going to see to that. You must speak with him after your happy wedding day today.”
Changing the subject, “Margaret, your parents would be so proud of you and Frederick would be too, if he knew John. I hope they meet some day.”
“I want that more than anything. Besides you, Frederick is the only family that I have and who’s opinion I highly regard.”
“Margaret, you certainly have mine. You could not find a man that loves you more, will cherish you, will protect you beyond his own life, than John Thornton. It’s nice that you love him, too, don’t you think?”
“I couldn’t ask for anything better in my life than to have found him. And to think I did not like him when I saw him. The first I saw of him, he was losing his temper.” Margaret paused, thinking of that side of John. What would he do if he came face to face with Captain Hartford? Margaret set that aside for later thought.
Next came, Nicholas and Peggy through the door. Peggy set the cake off to a side cabinet and ran to Margaret. “Oh dear, Margaret. I wish the circumstances could be different but I am so glad to have you back in Milton. I have missed my friend. And now, you are going to be the famous Mrs. John Thornton.” Peggy kissed her on the good cheek followed by Nicholas doing the same thing.
“Miss Margaret, you have finally reeled in the catch of Milton. It’s about time. I’m tired of watching over his life and his moods. It’s your turn now.” Nicholas said.
“You two are scaring me. You mean I will be famous?” she laughed.
“Oh yes, you will need a spokesman to talk with all those reporters outside. They know something is up with John being seen here so many days in row. You don’t know how many hearts you will break today when you take him off the market,” Nicholas continued.
“Look at this room!” said Peggy. The women started to talk as Adam gave Peggy his seat and went to the corner to talk with Nicholas. Both had to admit they were wearing false smiles, when all they felt was sorrow and rage at this initial look at Margaret.
“I think we’ll both do better when we see the happiness on John’s face in a little while. I can’t say it will be worth what it costs, but everyone’s prayers are answered today,” added Nicholas.
John finally remembered to tell Cook and Jane that he was getting married today and that Mrs. Thornton should be in the house in a few days. Cook jumped for joy and Jane smiled for the happiness of her employer.
“There will be no celebration here at the house, at least not today. Mr. Bell may come back for a drink or two, and maybe one or two more, but no food will be necessary. I would hope between the two of you, you can stock the house with what a woman needs. I’m not sure of what it all is and Mrs. Margaret Thornton will not be in a position to shop for herself. Cook, since you go home nightly, the live-in nurse will take your room for a week or so. Include her in all meals as well.”
“Master, we are so very happy for you. I’ve been waiting for this day nigh on ten years. I’ve watched ‘em come and go. You and I have had our talks about a few of them, but no one ever measured up to Miss Hale in our eyes and apparently yours, either. Congratulations. We will do everything thing to help her settle in and teach her how to run this house.”
“Thank you, ladies. I couldn’t ask for more. I think you will come to love my lady as I do. I guess it will take some getting used to, to have a woman in the house after the both of you have left for the day. Somehow, I think I will manage that,” John smiled.
“I’m sure you will manage that quit well,” said Cook. The wedding starts shortly and Branson and I must pick up the minister.”
“Do you have the ring in your pocket,” asked Mother Cook.
John tapped his vest pockets and went scurrying back to his bedchamber to the clothes he had on moments ago. Coming back through the kitchen on his way to the stables, he kissed Cook on the cheek. “You saved me a terrible embarrassment. Thank you. Next you see me, I will be married.” John picked up his best top hat and left through the back door.
Kindle handed Margaret into an empty coach. How long they would be alone, no one knew. He took her into his arms as soon as the driver was underway. Two guards rode in front of the carriage and two in the rear. He could feel her hesitate slightly and that worried him as it had for many days.” Margaret, is anything wrong, you’re shying away from me.”
“Kindle, it isn’t you,” she lied. I am just so exhausted. The tension I have been under for days and then fearing I would drown and then lost in the woods – it is all just pushing me down right now. Until Branson found us last night, I did not know if I would live or die.”
“This may be very impertinent but as a gentleman, I must know. Was Mr. Thornton a gentleman while you two were together? I will take actions if you tell me, no.”
“Kindle, put your mind at rest there. Mr. Thornton treated me with much regard. He was quite concerned about my comfort and me. He did everything he could to accommodate me. I guess you did not know I fainted onboard ship from the stress. I bumped my head and was unconscious for a while. He was very worried over that. Kindle, I think I know what you are really asking and let me be as fair with you as I was with him. You know how I felt about you before I left. Nothing there has changed. Mr. Thornton has asked for my hand in marriage but I have given him no answer because I have not been able to know you equally as well and I want to do that. He understands the way I feel, but he is not happy. He is very much in love with me and told me that many times over these past two days. Because of you, I would not commit to him in his offer of marriage. I think you may be in love with me and I am extremely fond of you but I want to know you as well. I want to give you the same time with me that John had. I am sorry to be so blunt but there it is. I know it must hurt you as it does me and I know it does John. Somewhere along my road, I will be hurt by having to decide one good man over another good man and either you or John will be hurt terribly, too. It is a predicament that I never could have imagined in all of my life. I could not blame you if you wanted to back out now. I do not know how this all happened. I do not understand how I can feel so strongly about two completely different men. Although, Mr. Thornton never mentioned anything, I know there is more of you that I do not know. You alluded to that fact before I left for Milton. I am more than anxious to start there but I do not think I can do it today or even tomorrow. I need to find myself again. After almost losing my life, my priorities in life have changed. I see life differently. What was important before seems trivial now. I wonder if one can have both love and happiness. Do they always go hand in hand? Can two people love equally, or will one always be the dominant partner? Being a soldier, you must have faced death many times. Can you understand any of my newer deeper thoughts and concerns? I am a woman with a woman’s thoughts and desires.”
“I will be honest with you as you have been with me which is one of the reasons I love you. I would like to say I would wait forever if I could. I would want to but I must produce an heir and that is what we will talk about when you are ready. I can only wait for you while you are still in a childbearing age. I know that sounds harsh and it truly is harsh but I hope to explain that soon. Please, let us say no more now. Just lean back against my shoulder and sleep your way home.”
Margaret noticed a lot more accoutrements on his uniform this time but still leaned back against Kindle as he had asked. She could not get John out of her mind. What did she say that he misunderstood? He became almost violent when she had said the word indebtedness. He must have thought that she felt indebted to him for saving her life. What she was meaning was the time that she promised herself to give to Kindle, so her final decision was based on equal moments shared. John or Kindle had no idea of the agony she was going through being fair. Which was the road to her greatest happiness? Down deep, she knew it was with John, but now she wondered what he was thinking of her. He had bewitched her, body and soul. As the exquisite memories lingered, she recognized that it was not his lust and passion she loved most about him, it was his tenderness.
John finally spoke to Nicholas about the conversation with Margaret but he was not able to hide the hurt. He spoke of no specifics but Nicholas became aware that they had been together romantically and how John had left with a good feeling about it all until her last words.
“John, did not you hear her holler ‘You do not understand’ or something to that effect?”
“I am not sure what I was hearing at the time. I was so deep inside myself that everything else was a haze of pure heartbreak wanting to lash out. After my reaction, I would have expected her to say that.” John had his elbows resting on his knees holding his head, looking at the floor. He was in total denial. She was not in love with him. She was confusing love for being grateful . . . thankful for her life. John was glad he had saved her life; nothing there would ever change, even if he had not loved her. Except now, his life seemed to have come to a staggering dead end. “Nicholas, I do not think she knows what love is. I think she is confusing it with gratitude. I have been a fool letting myself become so obsessed with her.” John spread out on the empty bench placing his arm over his eyes. He found it hard to look at the pity in his best friends face.
“I think you’re wrong about her, John. She seemed truly interested in you at your dinner and you hadn’t saved her from anything.” You had only known her hours, I think you’d said. She even talked about you casting a spell over her. As far-fetched as it sounded then, she was in love with you, I am sure of it. She would be a hard woman if she did not feel grateful for you saving her life but I do not think she is confusing the two. I did not hear much of the conversation until you got loud but did you ever let her finish what she was saying?”
Still with his eyes covered, “No, at least I do not think so.”
“I imagine this has to be devastating for you because it hurts me for you but hold it together until you do understand what she said that you did not hear completely or understand correctly. I am sure you will get a letter soon, explaining what she was trying to say before you exploded on her. I get it, that you are very deeply in love with her and there is competition out there that you fear, and that you cannot fight. You are anxious. Your whole life depends on her eventual choice. I do not know how any man gets through that. Nevertheless, you have to believe in what you two shared and hold it within. Do you have any doubts that the emotional bonding did not come from her heart?”
“No, I do not.”
“Then give her the benefit of the doubt right now, at least until something is made perfectly and unmistakably clear to you. I will only give you three days to sulk and then I will go find her and get to the bottom of this,” Nicholas said, trying to lift the mood. “I think the next move is yours, my friend. You should apologize for your outburst. Whether you are right or wrong that is no way that John Thornton, the gentleman and my friend has ever acted or spoken to a woman.”
John sat up, sliding his legs off the bench and rubbing his face with his hands. “I know you are right on that anyway. I do need to apologize for my behavior.”
Margaret was welcomed home with a lot of crying and hugging. Tea was served and she was sent straight to bed. Nevertheless, Margaret could not sleep for the way that she and John had parted. She wanted to get on a train and go find him, but she knew she would not. She would get a brief note off to him in the early post. During her ride home with Kindle and his attentive actions, she knew deep down that she would never have the love for him that she did for John. She vowed to see him several more times to insure she kept her promise but she fought the idea, knowing it would be hard to hide her sentiments and the lack thereof. She hoped that whatever he had been hiding about himself would be something he’d understand that she did not find unto her liking. The business about producing an heir had to mean he came from a very highborn family with a long history and that was enough to scare her off already. Having a child was quite normal for a married couple but the words produce an heir had a positively different meaning. It meant an heir, and heir to what . . . God, it must be a Title. The longer Margaret thought about that, the more she thought she was wrong. She could not see any way that he would have even looked in her circle of society. Margaret eventually fell asleep but her sleep was fitful.
Unknowingly, Margaret woke to the most important day of her life. She would experience devout sadness and elated happiness.
She came down to the breakfast room and served her plate from the buffet as all the upper English people did. Her aunt and cousin were sitting there with all smiles waiting to talk with Margaret as they had barely begun last night, seeing her weariness. That sat there for a long time while Margaret imparted everything from when she left on the train for London until her return yesterday.
Her safety had been the tantamount concern but Edith was interested in Margaret’s reaction to Kindle being a Baron. Margaret never mentioned it but her Aunt soon could not hold in her own excitement.” So, have your feelings for Baron Brampton changed through all this? Aunt Shaw asked.
Margaret, looking at the food on her plate, slowly put down her fork, placed her hands in her lap and without looking up, said, “Baron?”
The room fell into dead silence. Edith looked at her mother with disappointment. They had promised the Baron to let him tell her. Her mother shrugged off her attitude.
“Yes, Margaret. Your gentleman suitor is Baron Brampton, a family close to the sovereigns for, I should think, many centuries. He is also held in very high regard in the Military. That is his family’s heritage. They have served and protected the realm forever. Every son born into the family name distinguishes himself in service to his country. Kindle, as you call him, is a Baron and I would not be surprised if he becomes a Viscount soon. Most people call him Sir Kindle, Your Lordship, or Baron. To have listened to you call him Kindle made me cringe. I knew the name Brampton was familiar but could not place it until we found out you had been abducted off the train and Maxwell told us who he was, although Edith thought it might be so. He is in the daily paper often for his voice in House of Lords.
As Margaret listened, she wanted to jump for joy. She wanted to run to John because now she did not have to pretend any longer. She would find her happiness in his loving arms. How badly she yearned for him to look down at her with those sapphire blue eyes.
“What are you smiling about, child?” asked her aunt.
Margaret looked up at the two of them sitting across from her at the table.” I am smiling because I am truly and most definitely deeply in love. No more having to pretend. I can openly show him my love.”
“Finally, girl you have come to your senses. I think the Baron will make a generous husband.”
Edith sensed it first and put her hand lightly on her mother’s wrist waiting for the truth to come out.
“Aunt Shaw, I am sorry to tell you, it’s not the Baron, it is John Thornton.”
“You mean that working man from up north?” Her aunt said with disgust in her voice.
“Yes, I mean that working man from up north.”
“You mean you’d give up a Baron for him? Are you confusing gratitude with love? Surely, you can’t be serious.”
“I have never been more serious in my life. I am afraid I left him with a very unpleasant mistaken idea and I have to correct it immediately.” Margaret did not know whether to write or pack when a knock came to the door.
“The house maid admitted the Baron. While Aunt Shaw and Edith curtsied, Margaret did not.”
“I am sorry to intrude so early but I have urgent news for Miss Hale.”
“Of course, Kindle. Let us go out back, if that is all right with you.”
“Wherever you prefer Miss Hale, as long as it’s private.”
The Baron followed Margaret out to the veranda where the dew had not touched the chaise. They both sat and faced each other.
“Before you begin, Kindle or should I say Baron. I know of your nobility and I must confess I am quite surprised. How . . .” Margaret was interrupted.
“If you would let me speak first, I think it will save a lot of words whether hurtful or endearing about our relationship.” Kindle replied, looking quite saddened about being there.
“First I must tell you that I have loved you since I met you. When marriage to you seemed like it might be a possibility, I decided to damn the family tradition and marry the woman I loved, who had nothing to bring to the marriage except for her feelings for me. I knew there would be some scandal among the nobles that I had married well below my class, but I did not care. However, I did need to talk about that which you could expect and be expected as a Baroness. In other words, I was going to walk through fire to make you mine, I love you that much.”
Margaret did not know where to look. It seemed like she was being highly esteemed on one hand and insulted by the classes she abhorred with the other hand.” Baron . . . do not feel so . . . ,” she was interrupted again.
“Miss Hale some news came to me this morning of a grave nature for you and your family which would absolutely dismiss any marriage between you and I.”
“What is it? Please do not spare my feelings. Tell me at once.”
“Miss Hale is seems your brother Fredric is now a wanted man. He and part of the crew mutinied against the Captain of his ship. They set him, a few other officers, and small crew off in a small boat at sea. I do not know any more of the details, but I can say it is a very serious situation for him, punishable by hanging. Nothing can help him now but I must say that I know of that Captain and he is a mean tyrant, absolutely ruthless with his crewmembers. He likes to take the whip to them all. Your brother probably did a brave act at the cost of his life. At this moment, the mutineers have escaped. It is possible we, speaking for the realm, may never find him unless he returns to England.”
Margaret was hysterical with tears and loud sobs, all for her brother. Now, she really had no one – but she did.
“I am so sorry Margaret for your brother and us. I cannot be as disappointed as you are now, but I can tell you that my heart is breaking. I wish it had been otherwise. When I read the missive about the mutiny, I asked to deliver it to you personally instead of reading it in the paper. I am sure it will have no reflection on your Aunt and cousin or you either, really. In addition, I am sorry, that my family heritage of serving our sovereigns for centuries could never withstand such a scandal being associated with it. And for that, I am truly sorry. I do not think anything else could have dissuaded me from marrying you. Going against the Queen’s rules is a path our family has never crossed.” Kindle pulled her into his embrace and allowed her a long cry on his shoulder.
“Kindle . . . Baron . . . I have no words. After my past five days of terror and now, losing you and my brother is more than I can bear. I thank you for you being the one to come and tell us. And how do you thank someone for the love you felt from them and for them but now will be no more? I do not know how to do this.”
Patting her head against his shoulder, “Do you not think I know that, too? If you have feelings for Mr. Thornton as you have admitted and think you could be happy with him, go to him now and let him soothe you in your hour of need. I am just sorry it isn’t going to be me.”
Margaret rose up and looked into his eyes. They were tear-filled. Here sat a brave soldier and noble Baron being moved to tears for having to leave me, she thought. She knew he could never replace John in her heart but he would have been a close second. “I have never thanked you for the tremendous effort you and your men put forth on my rescue. Please thank Gilbert for me. I will see Maxwell.”
“Oh, Gilbert will get his knighthood out of this. He has his thanks, but I will tell him. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Yes, kiss me goodbye.”
Baron Brampton took Margaret into his arms and gave her a most delicious kiss. It was a proper kiss, not a sensual one like she shared with John, and Margaret thought that was a fitting goodbye.
“Thank you for all the time I spent with you. I will truly miss it.”
They stood and Margaret curled her arm into his and walked him to the front door. He said his goodbyes as he left. As he got to his coach with his guards looking on, he turned back and gave her one long look before finally stepping into his carriage.
Margaret, with tears rolling down her face, waved a gentle goodbye.
“Oh, Margaret, what disaster has been heaped on you in the past few days is beyond belief. I am sorry for you, child. In addition, Fredrick, we do not even have to assume that he did this act to prevent cruelty to his crew – there is no doubt there. It is just inconceivable that such acts only result in hangings. I know trials are given but I do not think a hanging verdict has ever been overturned. What are you going to do Margaret?”
“That question was answered in my head about three days ago. I am going to marry John Thornton and I am sorry that you do not approve. I owe him a long letter right now, but I think I will go tell him in person. I cannot do anything for Fred and if I could, I could do it from Milton. Do not be surprised if you get a note from me soon that I am married. I intend to do it immediately . . . I love him that much. I am going upstairs to pack. Tell our driver, I will be ready in half an hour.” Margaret disappeared up the steps not caring what they said.
Margaret exited her room with her soiled and salty clothing folded in her arms, meeting Branson in the hall.” Well, do you not look smart, Miss Hale?”
“Someday, you must teach me to ride. Does John just ride or does he love to ride?” she asked.
“Miss, he gets little time, but he enjoys taking each of his horses out weekly for a short ride.”
“Do I hear him talking to someone down stairs? I thought I was up early.”
“Yes, Miss. He is talking to someone named Brampton who has been waiting several hours for you to wake. I do not think the Guv is very fond of him.”
“Are they being social to each other?”
“They are saying very little, now. I think the Master explained all he could about the two rescues and there has not been much talk since then. Mr. Higgins should be here sometime soon, too. He is taking the train. He doesn’t know you have been rescued yet.”
“Thank you, Branson.” Margaret replied, visibly shaking as she started down the steps.
As she descended the stairs, she heard a chuckle from John. When her face appeared, Kindle was looking at John wondering what he was laughing at.
“Margaret!” Kindle walked over and took her hand for the traditional nobility greeting, never noticing her livery garment.
As Kindle bowed and kissed her hand, Margaret briefly looked at John but saw him turning his back to the sight.
“Margaret, please come this way. We have a large table as we are expecting a Mr. Higgins that you know, my cousin Gilbert, who led this whole search and rescue for you and Maxwell Lennox.”
Kindle seated Margaret and sat next to her. John sat directly across from her, so he could watch all of her expressions, embarrassments, and possible lies. Before Kindle could get out his first word, Gilbert came through the door.
“Miss Hale. Hail and well met. You do look most fetching in boy’s livery clothes. Is this the new London look? Now, why did not I think of that for Eve?” He laughingly stated. “I take it Mr. Thornton’s driver lent you his clean clothes. Maxwell is seeing to the horses. He should be in any moment. I will wait for him before this whole adventure you have been on is repeated.” Gilbert was trying to be jovial, which he was, but he could tell the air was heavy between two suitors. Both went out to rescue their damsel and Mr. Thornton had won, apparently.
Maxwell entered and came to the table repeating the same hand kiss to Miss Hale, responding that she looked safe and healthy.
John was not sure he could sit through the telling of this to these men. He knew that any admiration of his courage or intellect would be just words to three soldiers. He did not want those words or any words on his conduct. He hated being the center of any attention except with Margaret. He sat at the table being courteous until Higgins came in.
“Excuse me, please.” John rose from the table and walked over to Higgins.
Higgins stuck out his hand to be shaken, surprised, and happy to see John alive and Miss Hale, too. “John, what can I say? I have been worried sick what I would be told when I got here. I see Miss Hale over there. Is she all right after her kidnapping?”
“Yes, Nicholas. She’s doing very well for all she’s been through.”
“She? You have been through a hell of a lot yourself, haven’t you?”
“My hell is just beginning. I need to get away from all this as soon as I can. We will talk on the train.”
Nicholas Higgins looked puzzled and saddened for John over that statement. Apparently, he’d saved her life twice and there seemed no happiness to the man at all. “I am going over to see Margaret.”
“Nicholas!” Margaret jumped up and hugged him around the neck, surprising him but maybe it was a show for the men in red coats.
“You have had Peggy and I so worried about you and John when we heard from Branson about you jumping overboard,” he laughed.
“Yes, I know. I just couldn’t take that smell below deck anymore so I decided to get away from it,” she chided back.
“Nicholas, let me introduce you to Kindle Brampton, I am sorry I do not know your rank, and this is cousin, Gilbert and I do not know his rank either. I must learn those soon. This is a friend of my cousin Edith. His name is Captain Maxwell Lennox. Would you sit with us?”
“Let me see what John has planned and I will be right back. It sounds like you are just starting this story.”
Nicholas walked back over to John and before he could say anything, John said. “Yes, I am coming.” They both returned to the table.
For the next hour, Kindle regaled Gilbert, Maxwell, and Nicholas with what he had heard from John. Margaret kept interrupting to explain things more clearly putting John in the light he deserved but which he himself had omitted. She was singing his praises and he did not care for it. He was there to impress no one. Margaret could tell his forced smiles and his attempts at cordiality were making him uncomfortable. She herself felt like a bull’s eye and wanted out of the limelight. She wanted to get home and be with her family right now.
Finally, a decision was made. Gilbert and Maxwell would see to the return to camp for all soldiers. John and Nicholas would take the coach that Nicholas had hired, to the train leaving Grimsby while Branson would ride one horse and lead the other. After the coach ride from the small village to Grimsby, Kindle would escort Margaret home on the train to London, where he had decided to tell her all about himself.
By 10:00 a.m., everyone was starting to move in separate directions. John had given Branson a handful of coins for whatever expenses had been incurred with his own horses in Doncaster. John told him if he could find a rider for the second horse, he would pay him and his return home by train. Branson thanked him but knew he would never do that to his Master. He was the horseman and he needed no one’s help with this. He left first.
Next, left Maxwell and Gilbert. They rode out together but would only travel a short distance before splitting off to find their own men.
That left Kindle, Margaret, John, and Nicholas standing outside the small tavern waiting on their coaches and Kindle’s guards. Higgins walked down to the coach area and left John alone to talk with Margaret. He stood there waiting to see if she would walk toward him. And she did. Kindle also stayed behind not wanting to intrude.
John had to pull on all of his maturity to get past the next few minutes. He was a ticking time bomb, knowing he was leaving her behind with Kindle. She would know of his historical family, wealth and his favor with the royals. He was walking away from the rest of his life, right now. He wanted more than anything to pull her to him for a crushing embrace and kiss, but knew he would not.
“John, this is the moment we have both dreaded for days. I hate this,” Margaret sniffled as the tears started flowing. Oh, God, look at me. And I wanted to be so brave right now. John, I do know how much you love me. I really do not think one can really love more than one person and you are that person in my life. Since our time on the train, my world has been turned upside down and I am in love with the dizziness of it all. I do not want it to stop. Please, try to find some solace that you are buried deep within me. Aside from saving my life twice for which I know only one way to repay you,” Margaret smiled, conscious of their time together, “you know that I love you, too. I want to hear from you and to see you often until all this indebtedness I feel, is satisfied.”
“Repay me? Indebtedness?” John said with a whisper and a frown on his face.” Is that how you feel? That you are indebted to me for saving your life. Where has all this come from? I cannot believe this, which you are saying. Indebtedness?” John nearly staggered from her words. His mind was reeling out of control. He could not even hear her protestations as to his misunderstanding. He stared down at his feet unable to come to grips with her slicing words. “I have been a fool,” he said aloud unknowingly. His incredulity overcame him. He looked at Margaret with a scowl as his eyes turned to ice. With as much gentlemanly muster that he could summon, he said, “I wish you every happiness and joy. Please consider your company for the past two days as payment in full. Goodbye, Miss Hale.” John turned on his heel and strode directly to the coach where Nicholas was holding the door open for him. He was in total disbelief. Her statement had struck him like a bolt of lightning to his soul. He had been so sure.
Margaret ran after him saying, “No, you do not understand.” Whatever she said after that was lost in the pull of the reins by the driver. Margaret stopped running and mouthed the words ‘I love you’ and then John saw her put her hands over her eyes as she bent over crying. He had to look away. He did see Kindle run to comfort her and he thought he would be sick. At least, Higgins had the decency to hold his tongue and stay quiet until John spoke first. John went into deep thought wondering what had happened in the past few hours to imply that she had come to a different attitude towards their love. Had seeing Kindle made the difference? John had been afraid all along that their next meeting would be an important pivotal position for Margaret. The longer he sat there staring quietly out the coach window, aware of Higgins eyes on him, he began to hope he had overreacted and totally misunderstood something. Surely, this could not be happening after what they had shared, not even thinking of saving her life. He had done that for himself, too.