Chapter 10 - A Small World

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John swung his legs over the side of his bed and blankly stared at the wall as he tried to gather his wits. He was physically and mentally drained. Once again, he had stayed up late, this time in argument with his mother. Having finally informed her of the events at Outwood Station, the death of Leonards, and Mason's inquiry, he had received the full force of his mother's wrath.

He jerked his fingers through his hair in frustration. Once she had heard all the details, his mother's reaction over the gossip surrounding him had paled in comparison to that of his intervention at the station. His mother simply couldn't understand why he had even bothered to help Margaret, especially considering her rejection of his proposal. To her, Margaret's "cruelty" released him from any obligation to assist her.

But he knew better, just as surely as his mother did within her heart. She had raised him, after all. Duty and honor governed every decision he made in his life, just as it did hers. And any man of worth would have given aid just as he had, regardless of any potential harm to his person or reputation...or his heart.

Despite the hurt it engendered in him to hear his mother speak so unkindly of his Margaret, he understood she spoke so out of a desire to protect him, to shield him from any more pain. In her pride and anger over her son's rejection, she was simply acting as any mother would to safeguard her son from any future harm.

However, it couldn't continue, not if he had any hope of finding happiness. John could no longer suffer his mother's cutting words and actions regarding Margaret, for they simultaneously injured him. When he told her as much last night, he had not missed the cascading emotions as they flickered across her face – surprise, recognition, and, finally, grudging acceptance. With a curt nod, she had turned and left the drawing room, essentially concluding their argument with a retreating rustle of skirts, her back straight and head held high.

John shook his head in remembrance. Would his mother truly come to accept his plea? With all his heart, he prayed she would. John wanted Margaret, and with a promising hope growing in his chest with every beat of his heart, he had every intention of renewing his addresses toward her. But this time, he would not act rashly, and certainly not out of any sense of responsibility.

He was a man in love and eager to earn hers in return, but there were things John had to see to first, namely, a visit with Jane. A sigh escaped his lips at the thought. He had no desire to bother the poor girl, who was surely mourning, but it was necessary to clear his name and move forward. And perhaps his actions would help Jane if it brought to justice the person responsible for Leonards' demise.

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As John descended from the carriage, he took a moment to look around, his surroundings a slight improvement from the Princeton district where the Higgins lived, but not by much. His mother, having reluctantly agreed to accompany him, exited after him, taking his offered hand. Her narrowed eyes and pursed lips conveyed everything he needed to know about her impression of the place.

At the threshold of his servant's home, he knocked on the door. A few moments later, it opened, revealing a haggard woman in worn clothing. "May I help you, sir?"

"I hope so. I am Mr. Thornton and this is my mother, Mrs. Thornton. We have come to offer Jane our condolences. Is she here?"

The woman pulled her shawl tight about her, almost shrinking back with the information. "Yes sir, please come in." She stepped aside timidly as they entered, glancing over her shoulder at Jane, who rose hesitantly from her place near the fire, keeping her head ducked and turned away. "Make yourselves comfortable, and I'll see to some tea," said the woman as her eyes shifted warily between Jane and the Thorntons. John saw no resemblance in the older woman's features to those he remembered of Jane's, so he could only assume they were relations in some way, since no introduction was offered.

After assisting his mother to a chair at the table, he took a seat as well. Jane shuffled closer, still keeping her head down, an arm clutched protectively against her chest. It dismayed John to see their presence affected her so in her own home.

"Will you not join us, Jane?" asked his mother, breaking the uncomfortable silence.

Jane considered it a moment and then closed the distance between them. Where before she had been merely a silhouette in front of the fire, the light from a window abruptly exposed her face as she moved forward, revealing several serious gashes upon one side, the swelling and bruising leaving her almost unrecognizable.

John shot up from his chair, both concerned and outraged. "What is the meaning of this, Jane? Has someone hurt you?" His booming voice seemed to frighten her, and he immediately regretted his tone as she flinched away.

"No sir," she mumbled.

He glanced at his mother, noticing her eyes were wide, a hand covering her mouth. Gentling his words, he asked, "Then what could have caused such a terrible injury?"

Jane sat down across from him, a single tear making its way down her face. "A carriage, sir. I was swiped by one two nights ago."

Two nights ago, John noted. The night of Leonards' death.

His mother, her shock now forgotten, addressed Jane with a tenderness that belied the fire in her eyes. "Tell us what happened, Jane."

The servant's questioning glance at her relation was received with a nod, and so, with a long sigh, Jane began her story. "My fiancé, for some time, has been working for a family in town. I do not know who, but he always implied they were well-known and respected. He was very secretive about what he did for them. I still don't know what his job entailed. Anyway, he was to meet one of them that night to discuss business – a regular arrangement for some time."

She shifted uneasily in her chair. "On his way home from the train station, he stopped by and asked me to go with him. I suppose he feared the outcome, and rightfully so." Jane blinked vigorously, trying to hold back her tears. "I didn't want to go, knowing to do so would be scandalous in the middle of the night, but he was so nervous, so scared." Her voice came out as a whisper, "I couldn't bear to disappoint him."

"When we arrived, he told me to remain out of sight, which I did, until I heard struggling. I peeked around the side of the building where I was hiding and noticed he was pulled against the door of the carriage, as though someone had hold of him through the window. Before I knew it, the carriage was bolting forward with Lenny still held there. I panicked and ran out to get the driver to stop, but they either ignored me or didn't see me. Either way, I was hit, by horse or carriage, I do not know. All I recall after feeling a rush of blinding pain was waking up on the side of the road. It was early morning by then, and Lenny was nowhere to be found. No one was."

Jane's tears flowed freely, and John handed her a handkerchief, wishing he could do more for her. Her story had generated so many new questions, none of which he had considered previously and likely none she could answer. He would try anyway.

"Jane, I am so sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine what you have suffered." With her shuddering nod, he continued. "Have you spoken with the police?"

"Oh no, Mr. Thornton. I am too afraid."

He nodded in understanding. "Do you know what business Leonards had at the station?" It was a test, he knew, but he had to see how involved she was in the Hales' business.

"Lenny had taken to spending a lot of time at Outwood, even gaming with the porters." She shook her head sadly. "It had become a routine for him, really, since about the time of the riot when Miss Hale was hit." She shrugged, her words seemingly an afterthought. "Lenny found it remarkable that someone he knew of from Helstone now lived in Milton. He mentioned it often, how small a world he thought it was."

**Okay, folks, sorry for the delay in posting. It took me a day or two to come up with what should happen in this chapter, not to mention all the Christmas preparations taking place around here. Hopefully the next chapter will be posted much sooner.

Let me know your thoughts on this one!! :)**

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