Chapter 19 - A Connection Most Familial

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"Miss Margaret, there's a police inspector here to see you," Dixon announced in a hurried hiss behind her charge as she hastily shuffled into the room.

Margaret twisted in her seat to look at Dixon, gathering her mother's shawl tighter around her as though it could shield her from the inevitable. Had she not expected this visit? Now, however, Margaret wondered if the questions would be concerning Frederick or Boucher. Surely John had kept his word concerning both?

Quelling the building swell of apprehension in her gut, Margaret replied with an obligatory smile, "Please show him into father's study, Dixon." Though her posture and voice revealed nothing of her inner turmoil, the sudden clamminess of her hands most certainly did. She would not be bowing to northern familiarity and offer up a friendly handshake to the inspector on this day, fearing it would give everything away.

Dixon hesitated for a brief moment, her uneasiness palpable, before making her way out of the room. Margaret found herself most thankful for the recent addition of an afternoon nap to her father's daily routine, for it would free up the study and exempt him from the interview to come. Such an event would trouble him, or worse, lead him to reveal information that would risk Frederick's safety. Silently, she offered up a prayer for guidance and restraint.

Standing up, Margaret took a deep breath and brushed at the stubborn wrinkles on her dress. Wishing to stall the inevitable as long as possible, she sidled over to a mirror hanging on the wall to check her reflection. Widened eyes returned her gaze, her skin pale and forehead creased with worry. She tried to smooth the traces of her anxiety away with her fingertips before moving them in a similar fashion over her hair, but just like the dress only moments before, Margaret found her efforts futile.

Donning her signature poise and forcing a demure smile, she paused but a moment outside the study door before pushing it open and stepping into the room. Finding the police inspector perusing a book, she clasped her hands before her and waited for him to take the lead.

In one swift motion, he clamped the book shut in his hand, releasing a sudden and unsettling 'thwack' that made her jump. "Good day, Miss Hale. I am Inspector Mason." Receiving her perfunctory nod, he continued. "I've come to ask a few questions." Gesturing to the two chairs before the desk, Mason asked, "May we?"

"Of course. Please, make yourself comfortable." As an afterthought, Margaret added, "Shall I call for some tea?"

"Thank you, but no. This should not take too long."

Margaret almost exhaled a burst of air in relief but managed to hold it back. The man was downright intimidating, though she supposed he had to be in his line of work. "Very well." They took their seats collectively with Margaret perched on the edge, her back rigid, and Mason sitting back comfortably. "How can I help you, Inspector?"

"You may have heard Mr. Thornton was under some suspicion regarding the death of a Princeton man near Marlborough Mills. However, new evidence has come to light, which will likely clear him of any involvement. A woman witness has come forward, and Mr. Thornton has also added some additional information. I must, however, make sure I cover all aspects of this case. Do you admit you were at the train station on Thursday night, the 26th?"

"Yes, I was there."

"Very good. Now, my witnesses claim to have seen you with Mr. Thornton and a man named Leonards. Mr. Thornton has assured me you were not awaiting his arrival. Were you at Outwood Station with Leonards?"

"No sir, I was not. I never met Leonards until that night at the station."

"I see. So if you were not there to receive Mr. Thornton or accompany Leonards, what was your purpose for being at the station that night?" Leaning forward in appraisal, he added, "You see, I have thoroughly investigated all those implicated by witnesses as being present at the station that night, but I have yet to conclude why a lady of your station might be in Outwood alone at night. Please, enlighten me."

Margaret felt the bile rising in her throat. If she denied being there with someone in particular, the inspector would likely assume something far more indelicate. After all, there were women who peddled themselves under the cover of night, possibly even greeting new arrivals in a darkened station. The rumors circulating about her now would be nothing in comparison to this!

However, if she admitted the truth, Margaret feared she would place her brother in even more peril. Would she and her father be considered traitors as well for accommodating him on his visit? Would Henry find himself accused as an accomplice for his efforts to assist? She had never considered that before. Oh, what had she done in asking Frederick to come home?

There would be no easy way out of this, every direction leading to a number of potential problems. She would have to have faith that everything would work out just as it should by telling the truth. Besides, she wasn't the kind of person to lie. Her father had taught her better.

Gathering her courage, she met his gaze directly and replied, "I was accompanying a relative. My brother, Frederick." A protesting voice deep within wriggled for attention, tempting her to lie, but she denied it. "He left on a train bound for London." It astonished her how composed her response came out, for it reflected nothing of the internal battle being waged inside. A fierce sense of loyalty and desire to protect would always reside within her, whatever her principles may be.

"Does he usually live here then?"

She held firm, revealing only the truth and offering nothing more. "No, he does not. He was visiting my mother, at her request."

"I am aware of your loss. You have my condolences, Miss Hale."

"Thank you. It is a comfort my brother was able to see my mother before she died."

Nodding his ducked head slowly in deliberation, Margaret wondered if it was possible for a person to burst under the pressure of such questioning. She was more unnerved than ever before.

Abruptly, as if coming to some kind of decision, he reached into an inside pocket of his coat and then slowly drew out a letter addressed in familiar handwriting – Frederick's. Handing it over to her, he scrutinized her unblinkingly as though he could read every thought racing through her head.

Grasping for whatever residual strength she had, she masked her terror as best she could. Her fingers trembled, however, as she took it, noticing there was no return address included. However, the letter had been ripped open and soiled by dirt, its contents woefully exposed.

"This was found on Charles Street and turned in at the station. It's a shame your brother couldn't make it to the funeral."

**Sorry it's a day late, but I was stumped with how to do this one. Thoughts??

Well, "Reputations" has surpassed 1000 votes. I really can't believe it. Every day that I log in, I am just blown away. Thank you all for your support and feedback!

Please continue feeding my writing monster!**

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