"Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within you and in your thinking."

~Marcus Aurelius

Chapter Eleven

The next morning, John left home before his mother joined him at the breakfast table. In fact, he skipped breakfast altogether. As he walked across town to the constable's office, he thought about the long night he had just suffered through. He had slept so poorly, thinking of nothing but Frederick Hale and Margaret's beautiful, but sad eyes as she explained her brother's folly. Margaret had been so open with him about her brother, knowing full well it would be difficult for John to hear, but she also likely knew it was necessary to alert him of the possible conflict. How, as a magistrate, could he become romantically involved with the sister of a fugitive mutineer?

He knew everything Margaret told him was true. She spoke with no guile, no pretense. She had obviously understood John was beginning to consider a more permanent relationship with her, and had wanted to save him the embarrassment, or perhaps anger, of finding out about Frederick Hale from a different source. Her behavior on both Friday evening and the beginning of the walk on Sunday had shown she was interested in knowing him better. She was not a flirt, but she was certainly open with him, talking freely and listening to everything he had to share.

He had reacted poorly to her admission, turning cold, instead of showing appreciation for her honesty. Surely everyone had family secrets, the Thornton family did, and while he had not told her about his father, he assumed Mr. Bell had. Apparently, his father's suicide had not made a difference to Margaret, and truly, her brother's activities did not matter to John. If he were not a magistrate it would have had no effect on his interest in her, whatsoever. However, he was a magistrate, and thus held to higher expectations than a common man. Margaret Hale had done nothing illegal, and if John were satisfied Frederick Hale was in no way involved in the murder at the Hale home, he would feel more comfortable pursing a courtship with her, but as it was… He shook his head, frustrated over the sticky business in which he found himself.

It was sometime long after midnight when John decided he needed to know more about Frederick, perhaps even more than the Hale's themselves knew. The best place to start was at the constable's office. The officers would be able to start the investigative process. Even better, since they were already working on the murdered body at the Hale house, perhaps they could combine the two investigations. John hoped that they were not connected, but he had allowed his mind to wander and speculate, which is why he had so little sleep.

Despite the cold, damp and windy November day, John trudged on to the constable's station. Sergeant Snipes was the man who was leading the investigation of the unknown man found at the Hale's property. Snipes was the only man John would share his information about Frederick Hale. John had known the man for quite some time, knew he was trustworthy and accountable, and would maintain the highest level of secrecy as Snipes conducted his enquiry.

Unfortunately, Snipes was not there when John arrived. Instead, he was shown to the man's office and offered a strong cup of coffee as he waited for the constable. As John looked around the policeman's cluttered office, he felt less guilty about his own pile of papers waiting for him on his desk at the mill. He grinned and took a sip of the hot liquid, trying to alleviate the chill in his bones.

His eyes narrowed on a wooden file cabinet behind Snipes' desk. Hanging slightly askew, was a sketch of the dead man found at the Hale's home. It was the same sketch which had appeared in newspapers throughout the country. Sketches were also hanging on light posts throughout Milton, in hopes of someone coming forward to identify the body. A reward was now being offered, and John was hopeful the publicity might lead to some clues to not only who the dead man was, but also a suspect.

Before John had taken a second sip of coffee, Snipes was bustling inside the small room.

"Mr. Thornton," Snipes held out his hand, "I apologize for making you wait. Generally, I would have been here, but my mother was quite ill last night and I was tending to her until my sister's arrival." The man took off his heavy wool coat and hung it up on a peg next to the door.

John waited for Snipes to take his seat behind his desk before he answered. He looked as tired as John felt. "I have not been here very long. I am sorry to hear your mother is unwell."

"It has been a long illness," Snipes answered with a sad smile. "But I do appreciate your concern. How may I help you today, sir?"

"I have several items to discuss with you. May I close the door?" John asked.

Snipes nodded.

When John closed the door, the room suddenly feeling more like a small closet. He returned to his hardbacked wooden chair and crossed his legs. "I would like to know if there has been any progress on the murder investigation in Crampton."

Snipes shook his head. "We had the sketch that Miss Hale and her maid assisted our artist with put into newspapers all over the country. It was run in London and at Liverpool for two weeks straight. I have had no leads from either."

"That is disappointing." John took another sip of his coffee. "Has there been any other violence in the district since?"

Snipes shook his head. "As you know, we have the occasional burglary or assault. Murder and such serious crime is quite rare."

John nodded. "If you receive any viable leads, I would like to be informed."

"Yes, sir." Snipes nodded.

John paused, formulating the proper explanation in his head. "There is something else I would like you to check into for me. This is of a personal nature and thus I must ask that you keep it strictly confidential. Are you willing to do so?"

"Yes," Snipes answered quickly. "I value my position and would do nothing intentionally to lose it."

John nodded. "Very good. A man named Frederick Hale once served in the Royal Navy. About eight years ago, he was involved in a mutiny aboard a ship called the Russell. Captain Reid was Hale's supervisor." John paused while Snipes wrote down the information John was giving him. When Snipes looked up, John continued, "A list of the mutineers was published in a London newspaper at that time. I need to know if Hale was indeed named as a traitor. He has since disappeared and the family believes he is no longer living in England. I also need to know how many of the men named on that list have been given appropriate justice, and if anyone other than Hale was able to escape."

"Do you want me to have Hale found?" Snipes asked.

"No." John shook his head. "Not yet, anyway. At the moment, I simply need to know if he was named as part of the scheme, and if anyone else on the list escaped judgement."

Snipes looked up from his notes with a frown. "This is the son of Mr. Richard Hale?"

John nodded silently.

"Do you think he might have something to do with the body found outside the Hale's house?" Snipes asked cautiously.

John gave Snipes a grim look. "I do. I know the dead man was not Frederick Hale. I have seen a portrait of Hale and he did not resemble the dead man."

John recalled the boy's picture on the mantle in the Hale's study. He had wondered then who it was, thought perhaps it was Mr. Hale as a younger man as there was quite a resemblance. Now it was obvious to John, the portrait was a young Frederick Hale.

"Perhaps Hale killed the man? Is Frederick Hale why the family moved here?"

John shook his head. "No, I do not think so. I believe they moved to Milton at the urging of Adam Bell, who is a close family friend. Richard Hale was a minister in the south, and chose to change occupations. I suppose his new surroundings and career could not be more different from what he had been doing. They believe Frederick has escaped to Spain. That was where he was when they last heard from him."

"Alright." Sniped nodded. "I can see to this. Do you have more you would like me to look into?"

"I have some other information I will give you once I hear what you uncover. If you could put a rush on this assignment, I would greatly appreciate it."

"I will start as soon as our discussion is through," Snipes answered.

John stood and when Snipes did as well, John held out his hand again to the man. "Thank you."

Satisfied with Snipes, John left the constable's office and then left the building, stepping into the cloudy wet day. As he replaced his tall black hat, he hoped his instincts were wrong, hoped Frederick Hale had not been involved in the murder outside of his parent's new home. It was such an odd coincidence, though, and John was not a man to believe in such things.

He paused to pop open his father's pocket watch. It was still early, he could go to speak with Mr. Hale, to determine if he had more information than what Margaret had given him. He did not sense any deception on Margaret's part. Indeed, she seemed completely forthcoming, but perhaps details had been deliberately kept from her by her parents, either in an attempt to spare her feelings or to keep her safe. She would have been very young when Frederick left home, and perhaps only twelve when he was declared a mutineer. Surely, she would have had no concept of the significance of such a crime. She may have even been in London when it happened, and her aunt might have shielded her from the ordeal altogether.

He put the watch back in his pocket and considered if today was the best time to visit. He was nervous to see Margaret once again, having parted company on bad terms the day before. His anger had flared and instead of curbing it, he had turned it inside, which caused him to behave coldly formal toward her. After their walk-out, he had intended to begin courting her publicly, and instead, he would be surprised if she would even speak with him again.

He clenched his jaw and decided to go to the mill. He would see her the following day, and then, if she would even look at him, he would apologize for his abysmal behavior. He had treated her with such contempt when she was only being honest about her family. She was not the mutineer, but she carried the guilt of her brother.

Stopping suddenly, he realized the easiest solution would be to step down as Milton's Magistrate. He could then pursue a relationship with Margaret with no worry of scandal. A smile slowly spread across his lips. His mother might be disappointed; she was so proud of his status as magistrate. He had been offered the position when old Jacob Bright died. Flattered he had been chosen; he had readily accepted it. He had not claimed the position out of pride for Milton or with any grand ideas of improving the town he called home, it had simply fallen in his lap. It paid well for the small amount of work he was required to do, but he and his family could certainly get by without that salary.

John had never encountered a woman that brought such pleasure to him as Margaret.

Was she worth giving up his position? He continued smiling as he walked to the mill, feeling a lightness in his step and hope within his heart.

That evening, Margaret and her father were having dinner. Monday was the only evening he did not have a guest whom he tutored. Sometimes, she had been able to get her mother to join them, but tonight was not such an occasion. The woman was falling deeper into her depressed spirits, and even though Margaret had spent the entire afternoon sewing with her, her mother had spoken only a dozen or so words.

"Margaret," her father began, "I have decided that your mother should go stay with your aunt in London."

"Oh?" With an announcement such as that, she would have expected him to build up to the topic, but no, out it just came.

"It is painfully obvious she refuses to participate in life here in Milton." He shrugged. "It saddens me she refuses to even socialize with us within our own home." He paused with a miserable sigh. "While I understand the adjustment is significant, you and I have done rather well. She, on the other hand, refuses to even attempt to accept the change."

His voice was colored with anger, and frustration, carrying a harshness she had never heard come from her father's mouth. Margaret knew he had become desperate and irritated with her mother, but sending her to London seemed a rather extreme solution.

Margaret wiped the edges of her lips with her napkin. "Papa, I have tried to get her involved in activities, but she continually refuses. Perhaps she needs just a little more time?"

"You have done a fine job, my dear." He reached out and squeezed her hand. "I never realized just how stubborn she was until we came here. I knew she wanted better for us than Helstone. She dreamed of me preaching in a grand cathedral somewhere." He shook his white head. "My church officials knew a cathedral was not my calling and they were right. I enjoyed my small parish, having knowledge of the lives of my parishioners. She was never truly pleased, not since we first left London, and I was granted the church in Helstone. Now she is angry with me for upsetting her future dreams and plans."

Guilt was written all over his face. Margaret swallowed back tears for her father. It was not his fault he could no longer accept the tenets of their church. She knew he had tried very hard to continue as a minister, but in the end, the church was not his true calling. He was such a good man; it hurt her heart to see him in so much emotional turmoil.

Margaret had no desire to move again, not so soon. She had begun to settle, to make a place for herself here. She had made many acquaintances, some she hoped would eventually become her friends. She found satisfaction in helping others through the Milton church and knew that she would continue in such endeavors. Were she to go to London, Aunt Shaw and her mother would never allow her the freedom she had found here. They would encourage a match with Henry Lennox, and Margaret would likely give into it, just to make her mother happy. She shuttered. No, she would not marry Henry Lennox.

"Must we all go to London, Papa?"

His eyes widened. "Heavens, no, child. I do not think I shall ever move again. As difficult as it was coming here, leaving so much behind, I cannot think of finding another place, even in London. You, however, are not required to stay here. If you would like, you could go with your mother."

John Thornton's beautiful face appeared in her head. Her heart lurched at the thought of leaving him. How silly was that? Yesterday, he had shown her, rather blatantly, that her brother's behavior disgusted him. Frankly, Fred's behavior sickened her, too. To think, the boy she had worshipped and adored as a child had committed such a heinous crime was, well, unthinkable. It was true, though, Fred had committed mutiny, a crime punishable by death.

"No, Papa." She shook her head. "I want to make a life for myself here, or at least try to. As odd as it may seem, I feel… fulfilled… here, as if I am… a part of everything. The people I have met here have made me feel welcome. I feel liberated here, Papa, as if I can try new things without the censure of Aunt Shaw. She meant well, I owe her so much, but she was very firm in her opinions of who I could and should associate with. How much I have already grown since coming here! Seeing the poor and how much even small kindness can make a difference, meeting the manufacturers, and feeling… so much excitement and energy."

Her father smiled softly. "I can tell you have changed. If only your mother could catch some of your excitement."

"Perhaps if she goes to London now, and if you give her the option to go more often in the future, she might be happier when she comes here?" Margaret suggested, nodding as she began to embrace the idea. "Mama loves Society, and so does Aunt Shaw. It will be a nice holiday for Mama."

"I hope your aunt will pay for your mother's expenses. I will send Dixon along, but as far as extra money for her entertainment?" He shook his head. "I just do not have any extra funds for that right now."

She squeezed his hand. "Yes, Papa, I know. We are comfortable here, and we will make this our home. Mama can come and go to Aunt Shaw and hopefully that will be sufficient to bring her some happiness. Aunt Shaw was generous with me, surely, she will see to Mama's needs? Besides, with Edith married and expecting, Aunt Shaw would benefit from having Mama there to spend time with."

"I hope you are right, my dear. I miss how your mother was prior to Milton, and if a trip to London will lift her spirits, I think it should be tried. What shall we do for a maid while Dixon is gone?" he asked her.

"Oh. I had not thought of that." Margaret frowned in concentration. After a few moments, she suggested, "Perhaps I can ask Bessie's sister Mary to help for a while? A few hours a day, maybe?"

"Bessie is your new friend in Princeton?" he asked between bites of ham.

"Yes," Margaret answered. "Her sister is a little feeble minded, but she can care for the house. I have tasted her bread, and know she is able to cook. I think it would be a help to their family, as well as to us."

"Ask when you see her again," he suggested. "Bessie needs Mary to care for her, does she not?"

"She does," Margaret agreed, nodding. "However, I do not know how often. I shall ask. I do not think I will return to Princeton until Saturday."

"Not Friday evening as you have been visiting?"

Margaret looked up at him with a smile. "I have been asked to attend the Harvest Ball on Friday evening."

"Why did you not say so?" He smiled. "You seemed so down in the mouth after your walk out with Mr. Thornton yesterday. How kind of him to include you."

She shook her head with a frown and looked back down at her plate and moved the food around. "Mr. Thornton did not ask, Papa. I will be attending with a man called Rupert Lewis. He owns the shop called Threads on New Street." She looked back at him to gauge his reaction. "His mother is part of the sewing group."

Her father's eyes narrowed. "Oh. I thought for certain Mr. Thornton would have asked you. What a shame. I thought he was coming to admire you. Well, I am certain you will have a fine time with Mr…. Lewis, did you say?"

"Yes," she whispered, nodding. "Rupert Lewis."

Mr. Lewis had asked her only that morning, while she was finishing up her dress at his shop. Margaret had explained to him that she would no longer need the dress, but would finish it so he could sell it to someone else for a fancy dance. He had felt such sadness for her, pity, she thought, and thus had extended the invitation.

She had refused at first. What girl wants to be taken to a dance out of pity? Not her. Ultimately, Rupert had convinced her that she would have a good time, and he even promised to do his best to make John Thornton jealous. It seemed the Milton rumor mill had begun to connect Margaret to Mr. Thornton. She was not surprised, having attended a very public musical with him on the previous Friday.

She had been so certain Mr. Thornton would ask her to attend the dance with him. She thought that was perhaps the main reason he wished to walk with her on Sunday. Why, their time at the musical on Friday had been almost magical. She thought for certain he was developing feelings for her. She believed now that the truth about her brother had likely ended any hope for a courtship between her and Mr. Thornton.

"I did as you and Mr. Bell asked, you see," Margaret said. "I told Mr. Thornton about Fred's mutiny… well, after that, Mr. Thornton quickly changed moods and seemed to lose interest in me. And… I suppose I can understand. A magistrate would surely not wish to become involved with the sister of a fugitive."

He reached forward and tipped up her chin. She had been trying to hold back tears, but as she looked up at him, the tears began to trail down her cheeks.

"Oh, my dear girl." He cupped her cheek. "You must not take responsibility for Fred's behavior! You had nothing to do with his actions. If Mr. Thornton cannot realize that, then he is not worthy of your attention anyway."

Her tears dripped on her plate and she swiped them away. "I do like him, Papa. More than any other man I have ever known."

"More than Henry Lennox," he teased. Her father knew she had no attraction for that man.

She chuckled, pleased he was trying to cheer her. "Much more."

Dixon tapped on the dining room door and entered, waving a letter in front of her face.

"A messenger has just arrived with a note for you, Miss Margaret." She handed Margaret the crisp white sheet of paper. "He is awaiting your reply."

Frowning, Margaret looked at her father before she opened the seal. "It is from Mrs. Thornton," she said, noting the signature on the bottom of the page. She read on a bit before saying, "She has asked me to come at noon for lunch tomorrow, before our sewing circle meets."

"How kind of her," her father said. He nodded to the letter. "You will go, will you not?"

Margaret chewed her lip in thought. Did she want to spend more time in Fanny's company than she absolutely had to? Mrs. Thornton was rather calming in her staid and placid demeanor, but Margaret was never certain what Fanny might blurt out and Margaret was always on edge in her presence, especially when John Thornton was with them. Would Mr. Thornton join them for lunch? Her stomach clenched and she almost decided to decline the invitation just because she had no idea how to behave with him, after his behavior the previous day.

"I will go, yes," Margaret answered. She stood. "May I use your desk to write a reply?"

"Of course, you may." He nodded. "I will meet you in the study shortly."

She looked at the maid still standing in the doorway. "Dixon, dinner was very good. Have you taken Mama her food?"

"Yes, Miss Margaret." The maid frowned. "She did not eat much."

Margaret sighed as Dixon hurried passed her, clearing the dirty dishes from the table. Papa was right, her mother needed a diversion or she would simply waste away to nothing. Margaret slowly left the room, looking down at the note, double checking there was no mention of Mr. Thornton being in attendance. Mrs. Thornton had mentioned Fanny, but not her son.

As she passed the round hallway table in the front foyer, she grimaced at the beautiful bouquet of flowers Mr. Thornton had given her the day before. She shook her head trying to clear the memory of the huge change in Mr. Thornton's countenance, after hearing about Frederick's foolishness. The messenger, a young, skinny boy with a cap on his head was him pacing in front of the door, but stopped when he spotted her.

She waved the paper toward him. "I will have an answer for you in just a moment."

He tipped his head to her before she entered the study. Once there, she turned the lamp up higher and found a fresh sheet of paper and her father's pen. She wrote a quick response to Mrs. Thornton, thanking her for the invitation and agreeing to join them. She waved the paper for the ink to dry and then folded the note. So, what if Mr. Thornton was there? It was his home and he had every right to eat lunch with them. Still, she had to admit to herself, she would prefer to not see him for a few more days; at least until her embarrassment wore off a little more.

She smiled at the messenger again when she met him in the foyer, and handed him her letter and a few coins from the table next to the door. She opened the door for him and then made certain to secure the sliding piece of wood was back in place before returning to the study.

Her father wasted little time in joining her. He sat across from her perch on the sofa, in his favorite chair with a deep sigh. They had not brought many pieces from Helstone. She was glad of it, really, as this house was so much smaller than the vicarage had been. Her father's chair had been one piece they simply could not have left behind.

"I was wondering, my dear," he said. "You do not suppose Mr. Thornton will discontinue his lessons with me, do you?"

"I should think not, Papa." She shook her head. She picked up her stitching, thinking to do something with her hands. "I do think it would be poor for his reputation to become romantically involved with the sister of a criminal, but no one could fault him for having you as a teacher. Why no one would give it a second thought."

"Whatever do you mean, Margaret? Do you think he will make Fred's behavior public?" Her father looked stunned.

"Oh! No, Papa." She shook her head quickly. "I trust he will not do that. I have already learned, though, that gossip is just as rampant here, among the manufacturers society as it is in London among the set of which I was a part. If he were to show preference to me, surely others would begin to question what sort of family I come from. Why, many may even remember the scandal, although it occurred so many years ago."

"And even if they do not recall the scandal, you believe they will try to find something to damn you in the eyes of Milton?"

"Not now, I do not. Yet, if Mr. Thornton began to see me on a regular basis, I know of one woman in particular who might seek out information to make my life difficult."

"My dear girl you have done nothing wrong."

"Do they not call it guilt by association?" She sighed. "I cannot be angry about telling him Papa. It would have been terribly unfair for him to find out in a different way. If I had waited until later, perhaps after I had developed stronger feelings for him, then it may have hurt much more than it does at present."

"You have feelings for him, then." His smile was warm, gentle, loving.

She nodded. "I do. I will try to set them aside and concentrate on his being your student and only your student. I will continue to associate with Mrs. Thornton. You have not met her yet, have you?" Margaret chuckled. "She wears black every day, and I am not certain if she simply prefers that color, or after so many years still remains in mourning for her husband."

"Is she like her son in temperament?"

Margaret smiled. "She and Mrs. Donaldson have been very protective of me. There is a Mrs. Latimer, who tends to be very critical of me. I think it is because she hoped Mr. Thornton will marry her daughter. She is the one I am most concerned about spreading rumors." Margaret shrugged, wanting him to know it was not a significant worry for her. "At any rate, Mrs. Thornton and Mrs. Donaldson have protected me from her wrath more than once."

"You suppose she might expose Fred?"

"No." Margaret shook her head. "As I said, at present, she has no reason to. I am polite to her, and have been honest about my own past. If she believes Ann could still become Mrs. Thornton, I am irrelevant."

"But if Thornton does decide to court you?"

"Then, perhaps she might try to make life more difficult for me. I think it is a distant possibility, Papa. A magistrate could hardly consider becoming brother, even by marriage, to a criminal. Do you know for certain Mr. Bell was able to get him out of Milton?"

"I do not know. Bell said Fred would be gone this week, but it has only been a few days. I trust he knows what he is doing."

"Yes, Papa, I do, too. I must tell you, though, as much I long to see my brother, the sooner I know Freddy is safe back in Spain, the happier and more relieved I will be."