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Heroine

Chapter 14


Focusing, blinking the fuzz from his vision, Roxton pulled the bell ringer near the front door and waited. A steadying hand snuck out from his side to hold the black handrail that bordered the porch of her Georgian townhouse's striking front entrance. Roxton was feeling a little dizzy but he put it down to a lack of sleep. He hadn't slept much since leaving Paris then, coming home to London, he immediately started a mad search for the elusive Miss Krux.

For weeks he'd been searching, hiring private detectives, having a few of his attorney's check where they were allowed. Marguerite would be furious, he knew, but did not care. Damn the woman! A cryptic note with a request and apology was not going to stop him. He wanted to see Marguerite, meet her face to face, and have her tell him personally that it meant nothing. Roxton wanted to hear her own voice tell him that she wanted him completely and forever out of her life. He deserved that consideration after all they had been through together.

Exasperated, he pulled the ringer again.

A young woman opened the front door. She wore a maid's uniform, complete with the appropriate apron and cream colored bonnet, and she smiled up at the tall, dapper stranger, "Sir?" she asked, admiring the cut of his costly blue suit.

"I'm here to see Marguerite Krux." he told her firmly, gently grimacing through a wave of dizziness.

"I'm sorry, sir, but there is no one here by that name." the maid said.

"That's impossible." Roxton pulled a scrap of paper from his pants pocket, "I was told that …"

"The master of the house moved in only two weeks ago. Perhaps this Marguerite Krux was the former occupant?'

"Two weeks ago, you say?" Regret shown on Roxton's face.

"Yes, from what I understand she moved out quite suddenly." The girl stared at him for a moment, "Almost as if she was running away from something or someone … Or umh, so the master has said." The maid paused but it was not because she feared Roxton. On the contrary, she was quite intrigued by him. Yet, the fact that he seemed ill, his forehead dappled with perspiration, did not elude her. He was very pale and seemed rather weak for such an athletic, superior-looking male. She quickly added before he could ask, "My master is gone for the day. I don't expect him back until very late."

With a sigh, Roxton looked from the young maid down the street to his right and nodded. Marguerite was two steps ahead of him as always. "Thank you." He started off the porch.

"Sir," the girl called when he reached the bottom step, "Forgive me for asking but are you ailing?"

He looked up at the concerned woman and was honest, "I've been better. Much better."

"A cold maybe? A fever? Perhaps you should see a doctor."

He nodded, understanding her worry. It was still unstated but everyone knew an epidemic was raging. "Maybe I should." Aggravated, Roxton slapped the decorative knob at the bottom of the railing and walked down the street.

>>>>

She looked from side to side and pulled at thin, lacey gloves as she approached her intended destination.

It was early in the day and there were few people about. That could be either a blessing or curse. She rounded a corner in the train station and came upon several tall lockers. They were for rent and she had ordered hers under an assumed name just after she and the others arrived in England.

When Marguerite returned to London from Paris she had quite a bit of mail waiting for her at home. Most had been invoices, proposals and demands for payment her solicitor had ignored but wanted her to see. However, there were also a few personal notes, one which had arrived long ago and featured the return address of Edward Malone. Marguerite read what was inside and closed her eyes in grief. It had obviously been written just before Ned passed away. Veronica it said. Of course. Who else could it be? She dropped the note and, distracted, was about to make a call to her to agent when she spotted the telegram from China.

It was a very simple note telling Miss Krux to go to the train station - to her locker - and the news she had been awaiting would be there. She would do that but first she had to see a man about a new place of residence.

Marguerite was not fool enough to believe that Lord Roxton would do as requested. He was a determined and stubborn man. He was going to try and contact her and Marguerite could not have it. Not yet. There was so much she needed to do first, so many demons to defeat, and Roxton would just have to understand.

Marguerite dialed the combination to locker 224B and when it popped she cracked the door ever so slightly, taking a tentative look. Marguerite then slid her hand inside and pulled out a large envelope. She gulped, staring at it. Her future was inside. Carefully, taking a look over her shoulder, Marguerite pulled open the envelope. However, she saw no certified document inside. Only a single sheet of old fashion parchment paper …

My Dearest Miss Krux,

Jiang Kuan had written it personally in his native language, knowing she would be able to interpret but some others would not without help.

It is with remorse and satisfaction that I inform you of the death of Master Xan, my father.

He passed away during the night from a mysterious and very serious ailment.

Immediately upon Xan's death I took over the household and his business matters.


Because of your kindness to me in the past I felt an obligation and immediately began a search for that which is most precious to you. I regret to say my efforts, and those of my circle, proved to be unsuccessful.

I could not find your birth certificate, Miss Krux.

My most unworthy father either burned it or he did not have the documentation to begin with. Or, another possibility … a birth certificate for one as mystifying and unique as yourself does not truly exist?

If I find any further news, Miss Krux, I shall dispatch it to you as soon as allowed. But please, in the meantime, do not contact me further on this matter.

Revel in the fact that you are no longer in Xan's debt. You are exonerated and congratulated.

Sincere appreciation and apologies,

Master Jiang Kuan


Marguerite stared at the missive for a moment longer then slipped it back into its envelope. She stopped her lower lip from briefly trembling and her expression was passive, "Back to square one." she whispered and walked from the train station.

>>>>

June 23, 1920.

She had not yet heard from Jiang Kuan and doubted she ever would. Somehow, it did not seem that important anymore.

Marguerite looked down, once again, at the man laying in the hospital bed before her. "John please … Don't give up." she spoke breathlessly, nearly pleading.

It had all come down to this. Perhaps it was inevitable that he would also become ill, that they would meet for the last time here in this dreary hospital room, but Marguerite wished - dear God she wished - things had been different. She never should have hid from him. She should have taken all he offered without reservation. They should have spent as much time as possible together before he …

"I wish we would have had more time …" he murmured, as if reading her thoughts.

"Don't use up your strength. Just rest. Sleep and I will be here when you awake." Her heart pounded heavily in her chest, 'Roxton-Roxton-Roxton … Get well-Get well-Get well …'

He focused on her, his voice low and sincere. "Promise?"

Marguerite wanted to cry. He had every reason not to believe her. "Yes," she said, "I swear."

Nodding, giving her hand a squeeze, his eyes closed and Roxton suddenly seemed utterly at peace. "I have always loved you, Marguerite." he said and waited for her reply.

Her hand slipped from his and touched a pale cheek, "I do love you." she breathed, "I always have and I always will." Marguerite promised, trying not to sound desperate. "We do have a future, Roxton. I swear we do. And if you will just try to stay with me I promise to be a good … wife …" Marguerite emphasized the word, knowing what he wanted to hear, and finally admitting to herself that being his partner in life was all she really needed all along. His name would be her name. Her name would be his name. " … and, my love, we will live the grandest life as one. We will do everything and anything together and I'll make you happy …"

He did not move.

Her hand slid from his cheek to touch his shoulder. She shook him gently. "Roxton?"

He did not stir.

Marguerite's throat had suddenly gone dry, "Talk to me, Roxton." she croaked, fearfully. 'Damn you, say something!'

He did not speak.

"Miss Krux," a soft voice spoke from behind. It was the nurse. "It is perhaps time for you to leave now."

Marguerite's hands slid from Roxton and lay at her sides. She could not move a muscle.

A doctor rounded the bed. He bent down, felt Roxton's forehead then pulled at his eyelids. The doctor lifted a stethoscope to check his patient's heart. He then looked at his nurse, still standing behind Marguerite, and nodded. "Coma." he said, voicing what they both suspected.

"But he's not dead." Marguerite's voice held a fragment of hope.

The nurse touched her shoulders and spoke quietly, under her mask, into Marguerite's ear, "This is the last stage. He hasn't got long now. It's amazing he held on as long as he did."

Again, Marguerite took Roxton's hand, now very lax, in her own. "He's strong." Her tone held conviction although her eyes were glassy. "He'll make it through this. I know he will. He's faced dinosaurs and cannibals and has survived. A simple germ cannot -- will not kill him."

The nurse and doctor looked at one another.

Three hours later Lord John Richard Roxton was pronounced dead.

>>>>

The funeral took place two days later. A blustery rain had let up long enough for a respectful, traditional ceremony. There had been so many deaths over the last few months that morose comments were murmured through-out the observance. Some mourners even spoke of having their clothes cleaned and pressed for the next funeral, a week away. So many more deaths were expected.

The eulogy was read by an old family friend of the Roxton's. He had gray hair, a deeply lined face and his eyes met Marguerite's many times during the verbal tribute. Marguerite, sitting still and unsmiling, miserably attempting to make sense out of her loss, could tell the man wanted to say something to her personally.

George Challenger was there and when the ceremony was over, when the coffin was slowly lowered into the ground, when most mourners had departed, he greeted Marguerite with a soft, melancholy hug. "Jessie would have been here but she is not well." he said.

Marguerite, wearing customary black as well as a completely destroyed expression, nodded. She held a single rose in her hand and tossed it gently near Roxton's gravesite. "I'm sorry, George. This must be so difficult for you. Are you and the other scientists any closer to an answer?"

"Just when we think we have our fingers on the answer it escapes us. We thought it started in the United States but it is so wide spread now … England, Italy, Germany, France …" Challenger shook his head back and forth, exhausted and deeply somber. "If we could only have come up with something Roxton might still be alive. And Jessie …" Challenger bowed his head and his shoulders vibrated with his anger and despair.

Marguerite had never seen Challenger display such heartache. A cynical part of her thought him incapable until now. She embraced him and patted the older man's back.

Challenger pulled gently away and looked closely at Marguerite. "We are going to be taking blood samples of those who are proving to be immune. Will you come in an be tested, Marguerite?"

She nodded, "If you'd like."

"I'm not certain we will find a cure in my lifetime but at least we might be able to find a better preventative medication. The inoculations we have out now ..." He frowned, watching as dirt was being unceremoniously thrown on Roxton's casket. "Dismal failures."

Marguerite tugged on Challenger's arm, directing him away from the burial. She could not watch it or listen. With every shovel full she felt her own life expiring.

"Miss Krux! Professor Challenger!" a voice called from behind and they turned. The gray haired man who had done Roxton's eulogy approached. "Forgive me but I must speak with you. I am the executor of Lord Roxton's Last Will And Testament. Please forgive me for approaching you at such a distressing time but we will be having an official reading next week and, Professor, he requested your attendance. His estate, of course, will be going to a cousin twice removed on his mother's side but Roxton had allocated a large donation to science." The man spoke in a low, gravelly-sounding voice and directly to Challenger, "He told me that he trusted only you to locate and destroy this terrible disease ravaging our country. His last words about the subject were that you should use the funds any way you wish but, please, save lives."

"Spoken like the hero he was." Challenger murmured.

The man looked at Marguerite, "Now, Miss Krux …"

She stared at him, dazed.

"Miss Krux," The executor pulled a clean, folded handkerchief from his pocket and placed it in her right hand, encompassing both the cloth and her fingers with both of his, "John told me he did not want you to be put through the monotony, embarrassment and sorrow of a reading. When a beautiful woman shows up and there is a great deal of money involved tongues will always wag." He pulled gently at the corner of the handkerchief, "But John said, if I could find you, to give you this."

"Thank you." Marguerite whispered.

A few moments later, as he and Challenger exchanged information, Marguerite unfolded the fabric, noting the initials J.R.R. - Roxton's own handkerchief - then she gazed down at the flash of color in her hand.

It was the ruby teardrop necklace.
 
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