Margaret Hale was strolling the cool breezes outside on the veranda, feeling a bit hot and exhausted but happy over the evening so far. She had been whirled and twirled around the ballroom many times. She would have been asked again had she not stepped outside of the hall into the moonlit night at Hanover House. This fine historical building was a place for meetings and social occasions. Her graduation from finishing school was not far off and she knew she would miss these exciting times and experiences, but mostly all the friends she felt she was making for her lifetime, especially Grace. In the last half year, the graduates were exposed to the gentlemen from the nearby college for fancy balls and casual dances. On Sunday, the Hanover House was turned into a fine dining facility so if a young lady wished to be taken to a nice dinner she was allowed to be invited to a Hanover dinner by one of the seniors of the men’s college. Margaret kept in touch with two other ladies that had graduated last year and was surprised to find they went on to marry a gentleman from that local prestigious college.
Margaret only had a brother and her father left. Her mother, who had been a Lady, had left Margaret with money for finishing school, a small allowance to get her through her single years, a significant dowry and all of her jewels. Her father was still the clergy of a small local parish outside of Helstone and her brother was in the Royal Navy somewhere near Africa. She missed him as he rarely made it home. Margaret was of modest height, slightly below average, but that small frame supported a nicely curved body and full bosom, small waist and nicely rounded hips. Her eyes were a shade somewhere between blue and green depending on the light and the colors that surrounded her face and her light brown tresses. She felt she was pretty but would never be devastatingly beautiful like many of the other women school mates.
“Miss Hale?” She heard as she turned to see Trevor Tennant attempting to gain her attention in a quiet manner. “I saw you leave the room and probably for the same reason that I am here. The room has become warm and stuffy. What a nice difference out here, don’t you think?”
“I do indeed, Mr. Tennant. I thoroughly enjoy the dance, all of them that have been held here. It was just a moment there I felt I needed to take the air. It’s lovely tonight, too. The stars are bright, the music is gay, and we are young and eager to fly,” Margaret said wistfully while gazing into the heavens.
“Would you mind dancing with me, here, outside? Trevor nervously asked. “The music is slow, unfortunately, not a waltz, but I dare say we have no room here for that.”
“Why, yes, Mr. Tennant, I would be delighted.”
Trevor Tennant moved closer and took her hand, advancing her toward a more open area — away from the assorted outdoor furniture. He slid his hand lightly to the middle of her back at her waist and offered his other hand for her to take. The dance consisted of some intricate steps and many times they would part and revolve around the other eventual coming back to the original position of how they started.
Margaret wasn’t sure but it seemed each new time coming back into his arms, he held her a bit closer. It was starting to feel embarrassingly too close, but she wasn’t sure that she minded all that much. As a lady though, she felt she must mildly protest such advances. “Mr. Tennant, I fear you are holding me too closely for propriety.”
“We are alone out here, I see no propriety watchers. The question is, is it too close for you?”
Margaret wanted to stammer out an answer to that but didn’t know if she should tell the truth or not. Down deep, it felt nice and warm, and protective. “Mr. Tennant, you have me at a disadvantage.”
“As it should be,” he replied. “I have watched you from afar for many months through the balls and dances here. I think we have danced before, too. At this moment, I have you all to myself and I want the advantage. I’d like to tell you of my feelings for you.”
The music ended at that moment and Mr. Trevor did not take his arms from her. Instead, he lifted her chin so her face was to his and he gently bent down and gave her a light kiss.
The sound of voices from others arriving on the veranda immediately separated them from each other at a proper distance. Trevor kept looking at Margaret trying to gauge her totally confused expression. “Miss Hale, should I apologize?”
“I . . . I have never been kissed before.” Margaret continued to diagnose the all of it. The sensation was divine. The propriety was out of bounds. His expectations from this point forward, were what? “No . . . no, you don’t need to apologize. It was very nice.”
“Nice, maybe, but was it welcomed?” He asked, as he guided her to a more secluded area away from the emerging dancers.
Several of Trevor’s school friends saw him in the corner with a woman and walked over to tease him. Before Margaret could form her answer, they arrived.
“Hey, Trev, aren’t you going to introduce us to this fair maiden?” Lord Robert said, already slurring his words from too much drink.
“Would you gentlemen kindly leave us to our conversation?” Trevor politely asked.
“Oh c’mon, Trev. You’ve talked about this young lady for months; it’s time we meet who has taken your fancy.”
William was pulling on Lord Robert to leave them alone. He could see they were uninvited.
Margaret was very embarrassed at all the fuss and took off in hurry through the ballroom, to the ladies area.
“Damn you, Robert. See what you’ve done.” Trevor said, heading off in Margaret’s direction.
Lord Robert, staggered backwards spilling his champagne glass, hollering, “Sorry Trev. I just wanted to meet this apparition you keep referring to.”
The other school mate, William, took Lord Robert’s coat lapels in hand and led him over to a table and chair set and shoved him into it.”
William, standing over Lord Robert, watching him swill the remainder of his drink, spoke up. “You nobles! You think you can just walk over anyone. You think your title gives you a life’s permission to act in any fashion you please. You disregard others and their feelings. I’ll be glad when graduation is over and I can be away from your lot. There aren’t too many nobles this semester, but you all act the same. Do you have prep schools that all of you go to? Are there classes in condescension, rudeness, bawdiness, egomania in this school? Somewhere, all of you, with few exceptions, seem to learn the same lessons. I’ve said all I want and you won’t remember it anyway.” William left Lord Robert to fend for himself and went in search of Trevor.
Margaret felt she had hidden away long enough. The redness from crying had left her face and she looked presentable once again. However, the rumblings in her stomach wouldn’t subside. As utterly rude as Lord Robert was, it was a small blessing as she didn’t know how to reply to Mr. Tennant. She’d had no particular interest in him before this evening. She only felt he was going to be a fine gentleman. The kiss, however, was something she had looked forward to experiencing. A lot of the other girls talked about how one gentleman kissed compared to another. To Margaret’s way of thinking, kissing was only done when you had strong feeling for the person you were to kiss. Maybe she was wrong. It could be just one step above the admiration level. It was a gentleman’s way of speaking words, he couldn’t say. She put her hand on the doorknob to leave and still had no answer should Mr. Tennant find her again. The evening was getting late so Margaret decided to slip out and walk back to her residence on the school’s square.
Successful in her escape, she had to wade through the coaches and the drivers waiting outside for the masters. Fortunately, they seemed more of a gentleman than Lord Robert and asked if she needed an escort. It bothered them that a woman was alone on foot in the dark. “Thank you kindly, but my residence is just up this hill. Your concern is appreciated.” Margaret said, holding her skirt above her ankles as she waded through the dampening grass. It took her about two minutes to see her residence in sight when she was suddenly and violently grabbed from behind. She was able to shout out one loud scream before a handkerchief was shoved in her mouth. She was roughly thrown to the ground while she hammered her arms against her attacker and kicked her legs as hard as she could. She felt a smashing backhand across her face and was stunned into stillness for a moment.
“You keep that up little Miss Hale, and it will get worse.”
Margaret managed to pull the handkerchief from her mouth and let out another scream. This time she received a heavy blow to her chin, not quite taking her consciousness but leaving her unable to defend herself any longer. She could feel her dress being ruffled over her head and hands reaching and pulling frantically at her petticoats, looking for entrance to her undergarment. She was going to be raped. She wanted to die.
In the distance of her haze she thought she could hear voices. The plundering of her body seemed to stop and someone was covering her up with a cloak. Another lifted her head and she heard the words, “You’re going to be all right. The bastard is being well and truly taken care of right now. How do you feel, Miss?”
“I’m now sure yet. It’s all so dim in my memory. My face hurts, I know. Who are you?”
“Miss, it’s about six of the drivers you just walked through. We heard your screams but couldn’t find you in the dark until the second scream.”
“Do you know if . . . have I been . . .” Margaret was interrupted.
“Miss, I cannot be sure. There is a small portion of blood on your clothes, but you should see a doctor, immediately. You have many scratches to your abdomen and thighs besides the beating to your face. Please, let’s see if you can sit up.”
The two drivers with her tried successfully to get Margaret into a sitting position. The three of them were aware of the commotion still going on between the other four drivers, her assailant and she thought she’d heard Trevor’s voice.
“Do you know who attacked me?”
“Yes, Miss. It was Lord Robert. And probably nothing will be done about it.”
Arriving at her side next came Trevor and William taking over the positions of the drivers. It seemed some chaperone heads were just behind them. “Driver?” Margaret spoke in trembling tones, “Thank you and all of the others for my rescue. I wanted to die when I realized what was going to happen. Thanks to you, it didn’t last long.”
“Glad to be of help, Miss. I will pass your words onto the others. I wish we could have found you sooner.”
“Before you leave, what is your name?”
“Miss, I am William Ripley.” He topped his driver cap and left.
Trevor and William helped Margaret up to see if she was steady on her feet. Trevor noticed the trickle of blood running from the corner of her mouth. “Miss Hale, I am so dreadfully sorry for this. I would have gladly escorted you home. I am so ashamed at the behavior of my once friend.”
“Mr. Tennant, please, you have no blame in this whatsoever. It was all due to my stupidity to walk home and that Lord Robert.”
“No, I feel my actions encouraged you to leave. As a gentleman it is almost unconscionable to believe I put you in such a situation. Please forgive me? I have learned a valuable lesson at your expense.”
“If you must feel forgiven, you are. My naiveté had more to do with it then you did. Let’s not talk about that anymore.”
A few of the finishing school chaperones arrived and assisted Miss Hale to the infirmary. It was diagnosed as rape due to the rupture of her maidenhead, but there was no deposit of Lord Robert’s seed found within her. She suffered some minor tearing and bruising in her vaginal area. Everything would heal, possibly leaving a small scar or two on her thigh from his fingernails. The worst part for Margaret was going to be the memory of the experience and how it may change her outlook on life and her attitude towards men. Educated and well aware that most men were not like that, still she doubted her closeness to anyone for some time to come.
Margaret’s twentieth birthday arrived only a few days before graduation. She was surprised not to have heard any word from her father, yet. She was expecting to hear him wish her a nice day for her birthday and some arrangements about her coming home next week. She would have to hire a coach to bring her home from London, mainly for the purpose of all the baggage she had collected being away from home for two years. A train ride was out of the question unless she boxed all of her possession and had them shipped as freight.
Still receiving no word from her father, the day after graduation, Margaret started to feel fear about her father. Was he ill, too ill to write? She decided to box her possessions and have them shipped and she’d take the train. Traveling the six hour ride, Margaret had plenty of time to reflect on her life and its future. Her thoughts drifted towards how she would fare should her father pass from her. She would be alone in a large house, while her brother sailed the waves a thousand miles south. After two years of merriment with her female acquaintances, bright dresses, balls, picnics, and the nicer young men, she feared reality would not match it. Somehow she had to mold her gay self into a woman that could blend with her environment. Helstone was no match for London. She wasn’t even sure there were many gentlemen of whose acquaintance she could make. For two years her life had been rushing ahead full steam expecting on the outside what she had learned on the inside of the school. She pondered the enormous difference of what lie ahead.
Margaret had written her father several days ago telling him when to expect her home and to meet her at the train station. As the train pulled in, Margaret looked out and didn’t seem him about. A porter helped her exit the coach with her bag. Feeling lost she walked toward the carriages for hire when she felt a touch on her shoulder. Still remembering her attacker, she whirled fiercely to face who touched her.
“I’m sorry, Miss Hale. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Hello, Mr. Bell. It’s nice to see you. I fear my reaction to your touch is caused from an attack I suffered while at school. My attacker approached me in much the same way. I’m sorry for my display.”
“Well, I am certainly horrified to hear about your attack. Your father had not mentioned that to me.” Mr. Bell said with real concern.
“It wasn’t all that long ago and I didn’t want to worry him, so I never told him. Do you know why he isn’t here to greet me?” Margaret stopped walking to ask. “Something’s happened to him, hasn’t it? Is he so very ill?”
Mr. Bell carried her satchel, leading her towards the carriages. “Margaret, I will speak when we are in the coach.”
Margaret could feel the tears welling in her eyes. If it hadn’t been bad news he would have alleviated her concern there and then, and he hadn’t.
As they approached Mr. Bell’s carriage, the driver had the door open and took the baggage setting it in a boot in the back. Mr. Bell handed Margaret inside then followed, sitting beside her. He could see Margaret was crying and he took her hand and began to rub it. “Margaret, I am afraid I have the worst news possible.”
“Father has passed away, hasn’t he?” Margaret couldn’t help but let out the sobs that she had been holding back. “Tell me what happened.”
“Margaret, I have been your father’s closest friend since college, I decided to be the one to tell you. There is even worse news than your father. I am taking you to my home because I think I will need to tend to you. This is the worst hardship I have ever encountered and I need to help you through it.”
“I can’t imagine what can be worse than loosing father, but get it all out, please.”
“I would rather wait until you are at my home. You will need a brandy. Just a few more minutes until we’re there. I can tell you that it was I who made the decision to wait a few days in telling you and allow you to go through your graduation ceremony. There was nothing for you to do here anyway. Here we are.”
The driver opened the door and Mr. Bell assisted a trembling Margaret out and to his front door. Mary, Mr. Bell’s live-in housekeeper came to open the door. “Mary, fix two brandies, please. Is there a room prepared for Miss Hale?
“Yes, sir. I’ll take her belongings up when the driver brings them in.”
“Thank you, Mary.”
Mr. Bell removed his coat and hat, laying them across a chair in the parlor. Margaret had walked over to the settee and was staring into the flames which kept the damp away in the early fall.
Mr. Bell sat next to Margaret. Mary came back to the room with the brandies and handed them to each one. He saw that Margaret was already in a state of disbelief and he felt bad that he was going to make it worse.
“Miss Hale, drink your brandy while I tell you what has transpired recently.”
Without looking up Margaret sipped the brandy. She was finding it difficult to breath, much less swallow.”
“All right, Mr. Bell, I am ready.”
“Yes, your father had been feeling unwell for several weeks. It seemed to be a problem with his stomach and the doctor had him in bed with mild soups for a few days. He was being tended to by a nurse’s aide but that was not what took him.” Bell paused.
“Please, continue,” pleaded Margaret.
“Four days ago your father received a note from the Navy . . .”
“Frederick?” Margaret looked wide-eyed at Mr. Bell.
“Yes, I am afraid so. It seems that Frederick had contracted malaria but never wrote home about it. Frankly, he would have been too weak to try. He passed away about ten days ago and upon your father reading the Navy’s letter, he suffered a massive heart attack. Your father died quickly and probably felt little to no pain.”
This book will contain some explicit sensual scenes later in the book. If that is offensive to you in a Romance novel, you may be well advised to not begin this book. – Loyal Wynyard