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Heroine

Chapter 15

((*adult content warning*))
 
***
 
It hadn't been quite a year since Roxton died.

It always surprised Marguerite that the Roxtons, with all their wealth and status, did not have their own graveyard or mausoleum right on the grounds of Avebury. Most old, aristocratic families did. Or, at least, she had been led to believe they did. Marguerite wished she could have visited John's estate, even if only once at some stage in his life, during the good times preferably when his family was alive and well. It wasn't just because she wanted to see Roxton's grand home and wonder at the possibilities but because John Roxton himself - the man she had grown to love - was so much a part of the estate. It was his bloodline. The sweat and toil of his ancestors had raised its walls; and the family, those Roxtons who had managed the lands and property, made the estate what it became. No wonder Baroness Noble and so many other women wanted their names attached to a Roxton.

Marguerite had lived near Avebury when she was a child, never realizing there was a young boy riding ponies, playing games and getting into ten types of mischief nearby. What kind of child had he been really? Happy? Carefree? Sad? Sullen? Perhaps a bit of both? Then, after his brother was killed … Marguerite could only imagine. Roxton never really liked to talk about it but William's death followed him wherever he roamed. Perhaps now the two brothers were together in paradise and John was truly at peace?

Standing over his grave, blinking back tears, Marguerite sighed.

She heard from Challenger infrequently. Ever since his own tragedy the scientist had been a total recluse, working all of the time, determined to find a cure for the unnamed sickness or die trying.
Thoughtful, Marguerite turned from Roxton's grave and moved passed the gate that separated his families burial area from those lesser people who shared the Davenshire Memorial Cemetery gravesite with them. Somewhere, several rows away, Jessica Elizabeth Challenger lay. Marguerite followed the row of white crosses, pale stones and flat metal markers. "So many new graves." she muttered. It was certainly demoralizing.

Finding Jessie's marker, Marguerite smiled slightly. She saw the pretty violets which rested in a narrow, green container and assumed Challenger must have visited sometime recently. The flowers appeared fresh.

Marguerite lowered her head to pray. She had been doing a lot of that lately too. Funny how she had turned her back from God only to embrace the divine when she needed strength. She supposed that happened to most people. She was a resilient woman and believed in only what she could do for herself yet … 'Marguerite, you are such a hypocrite!' she determined candidly but felt, somehow, she would be forgiven for even that.

Without thinking, Marguerite reach for her lower left arm, where a bandage was hidden by her olive green cloak. Twice a week the doctors and scientists asked for - demanded - samples. If they did not stop poking and cutting her skin she would be nothing but a mass of scars by the time a cure was found.

"Sore?" A man three graves away asked, looking at Marguerite. He was mature, nearly fifty years old, but he had a kind smile to go with his salt-pepper hair. He crossed himself then approached Marguerite, pulling up the sleeve of his own coat. He showed her his bandage. "I know they're trying to save the human race but I'm beginning to think it's at the expense of those of us who are immune."

Marguerite, unable to help herself, chuckled lightly. She could not remember the last time she did that either. Who would have thought she'd find a ally right here in the middle of a graveyard. Most, who were not immune, resented those who were. It was strange but oddly consistent.

"That's pretty." he indicated the small ruby at her throat.

Uncomfortable, feeling something personal was being intruded upon, Marguerite pulled her cloak a little tighter, "It was given to me by a friend."

"A close friend?"

"A dead friend." Unanticipated, Marguerite sobbed and lifted a hand to her mouth.

"A very dear friend, I think." the man murmured, "I'm sorry. It's none of my business." He then turned away and coughed.

Marguerite looked up, concerned despite herself. "Are you ill?"

"Yes, but not because of this." he indicated his bandage once more, "My family has a history of emphysema and various cancers and I am afraid I was not excluded. When you start to smoke at the age of fourteen …" he shrugged and cleared his throat.

"I'm sorry." Marguerite was sincere. She recalled that Roxton had enjoyed a good cigar occasionally.

"My name is Gordon Crane."

"Marguerite Krux." She replied and thought a moment, "Gordon Crane. I know the name."

"The Manchester Guardian. "

"The publisher." Marguerite grasped, "I'm honored. "

"Well, I'm no Charles Prestwich Scott, but I know a thing or two about printers ink." he smiled, "I was present at a few of your lectures about The Lost World. It made great copy."

In a sense Marguerite felt she should feel offended, his tone made her speeches sound like sensationalistic drivel, but the man had a way about him - a sort of off the wall sincerity - that made her nod and smile. "You came here to visit a friend?"

"My wife." he said, "She died many years ago but I try to see her at least twice a season. She and our son."

"Son?" Marguerite, her tone respectfully quiet, asked.

"He died during the war. Shot down."

"Mr. Crane, I'm terribly sorry." and she looked down again at Jessie's grave.

Crane looked up at the mid afternoon sky then again at the woman, "Miss Krux, I hope you will not think me too bold but would you like to have lunch with me today?"

Marguerite stared at him for a moment. This was crazy. They were in a graveyard exchanging pleasantries as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Still, "I was never one to turn down a free meal." she heard herself say. Marguerite smiled, "Yes, I'd like to very much."

<<<

Gordon Crane married Marguerite Krux three months later. It seemed the right thing to do. They were very fond of one another. It was not an entirely ideal marriage. The couple seldom shared intimacy together because of his illnesses. Crane was forced to take many medications, some which kept him in a deep sleep for days. There were frequent mornings when Crane could barely lift a teacup then there were others when he'd awaken cheerful and robust.

There was no predicting her husbands disposition and, in an odd sense, Marguerite found that instability comforting. It was almost, but not quite, like living on the plateau. Marguerite accepted this burden as she accepted that life. Hers, his and many others needed to continue.

She would never forget John Roxton. Not ever. He was the first and possible the only man Marguerite had ever loved unconditionally. True, it took awhile - far too late - for the latter to manifest itself but now she knew she would have done almost anything for him and he her. But Roxton was gone now and he would be the first to understand her dilemma. Should she stay still or move on? He, probably more than any man she had ever met, would appreciate that Marguerite had the power to move beyond … even through devastating heartbreak.

>>>

It had been a very tough two weeks for Gordon. Since nineteen twenty two emerged on the calendar, he had been going none stop. He was required to attend parties, celebrations for a combination of holidays, and there was also the welcoming of new employees to The Manchester Guardian, as well as the promoting and retiring of others.

Late on the evening of January twelfth Marguerite, sitting at her husband's bedside, stroked his salt-pepper hair. When she knew that he had once again fallen into a deep, medicated slumber she picked up her lamp and walked to her own bedroom. She stepped carefully, silently cursing the storm which raged outside. It had caused their electricity to go out again. The entire household staff was wandering about all evening with candles and kerosene lamps.

Restless, Marguerite put her lamp down on the table beside her own bed. She turned the flame down to a soft glow then shut the door and removed her robe. Marguerite stretched ever so slightly, and crawled into the bed. She could hear a thunder strike and, a few seconds later, several flashes of lightning. It reminded her of a time so long ago now ... in Paris … Marguerite closed her eyes and sighed with the memory.

She unexpectedly felt a weight other than her own on the bed.

Marguerite rose to cry out when a hand covered her mouth.

"It's all right, Marguerite. It's me." he whispered.

She was frozen still. He spoke to comfort but it made her want to scream all the louder. It could not be true. She search his face in the low, eerie glow of the lamplight. "You're a dream." she stated. "You must be."

He said nothing but she could feel his hands on her arms now, his naked body pressing against her own.

And she could feel her response to his nearness, "I must be going insane."

"No." he soothed, "They allowed me to come to you."

"They?" Marguerite was breathing heavily in fear, "Are you a ghost?" she blinked and understood at once how ridiculous she must sound.

"Do I feel like a ghost?" he almost smiled, "It's too complicated to explain, Marguerite, and we don't have enough time. Just know I'm here and I would not hurt you for the world. You know that, don't you?"

"Roxton," Calmer, she lifted a hand and the pads of her fingers touch his soft lips, "You … you're dead."

"Yes." he agreed, "But for you, this night, I'm alive once more, Marguerite."

His hair was longer and he appeared to have a days growth of stubble on his cheeks. He was as she remembered him on the plateau. Strong and healthy. And so handsome and virile … "These things don't just happen. Not here."

"No, not here … But we have both been touched by the plateau, Marguerite, and because of that we are obligated to make things right again." When she merely stared up at him, waiting for further explanation, he continued: "We did a great wrong, My Love." He stroked her hair, "We didn't know it. You still don't but there has to be a correction. Things have got to be made right again, Marguerite. We have to make it right."

"John, I don't understand …" she whispered, disturbed.

"You won't. Not until much later. But that's okay. Your strength will carry you through -- because there will be bad times. Terrible times, Marguerite." He kissed her gently on the cheek and a cautious hand traveled tantalizingly from the middle of her chest, over the lacey bodice of the nightdress, down to her firm, flat belly. "But not now." His eyes seemed to burn with an inner heat, "One day it will become crystal clear to you, Marguerite. I swear."

This had to be a dream. It could be nothing else. Still, even if only a figment of her imagination, she had to tell him a truth. "I'm married." Marguerite whispered, almost apologetically.

"I know." He appeared hurt but only for a moment, "You deserve happiness even if only for …."

"But I'm not." She spoke quickly but dolefully. "That is, I'm not as happy as I would have been with you. John. Does that make me a horrible wife?"

His eyes devoured her hair and face, "Does he treat you well?"

"He's a respectable man. He is kind to me."

"Good. That's good." he whispered. But he saw her loneliness, the pain his passing had caused.

"I love you, John." Marguerite exclaimed suddenly, "Did you hear me when I told you how I felt in the hospital just before you …?"

"… died?" He smiled gently as nodded slowly, "You can say it my pretty brunette. And yes, I heard. I couldn't respond but I heard you. And I loved you more deeply than ever, Marguerite. I still do."

Expressively, Marguerite's arms encircled him, fingers touching the back of his head, softly raking through his hair, and held her dream tightly. She could still feel the scar from the injury Roxton had received while they were in the caves. How could a fantasy seem so authentic? "I don't care if this isn't real. I don't care if you're some phantom. I want you near me. Now and always, Roxton. Love me. Just love me, please …"

Their lips crushed together madly, their passions erupting into an act so common to human beings, those who required physical affection from the man or woman they loved. They panted with want and their bodies reacted with absolute need.

Marguerite moaned and arched her back. She wanted to feel every part of his body against every part of hers.

Desperately, Roxton pushed the straps away from her shoulders and caressed each with his lips and fingers. He then reached down further, stroking each lovely breast, his tongue lapping at her enticing peaks. Her skin felt like satin and tasted of sweet cream. He remembered it well, how her fragrance has assailed his senses, how warm and giving her body was.

"Oh, John ..." Marguerite sighed, tears in her eyes. She squirmed like a wildcat beneath him, cradling his head, holding him to her chest, loving him with all her heart as he kissed her sensitized skin. "Please." she begged once again.

He helped pull the nightgown off her eager body, giving him better access to the heat that was his love, the woman that was his perfect opposite, the human being whose love transcended time and even death. Roxton moved his hand lower, across the curve of her abdomen until he reached the area of her greatest desire.

"Please!" she hissed, more urgent that before, even in Paris where there was still hope for a future ...

"Soon." he promised and kissed down her body, his hands touching everywhere he could reach, softly teasing her to a magnificent apex.

She could stand the delicious repartee no more and, with surprising strength, pushed and pulled him atop her, running her hands across his back, clutching and begging for his attention, "Take me … take me … Give it all to me, Roxton." she begged.

He needed no further requests. Already Roxton could feel her guiding him into her hot depths and the excitement was more than either could handle, "I love you." he whispered, surging forward again and again.

"Yes." she said in a combination of agreement and elation.

He kissed her forehead and temple. His gentle hands touched her hair, smoothing smooth tendrils back away from her face as his mouth and tongue assaulted hers with desire. He even kissed the tears that had squeezed between the slits of her eyes

"Ohhhh!" she keened lowly, a sound much less human that of a sultry beast. Marguerite was setting the rhythm now and all he could do was follow through, thanking the powers that existed for this respite, for granting him his one wish before eternity beckoned.

The sensations, profound and all consuming, were almost unbearable and he could feel himself losing control. He tried to hold on, wanting their encounter to last as long as possible, but it could not continue. Already, Marguerite was crying her completion in his ear and he could not hold back any further, exploding.

What was once his heart hammered in his chest … "Marguerite … Marguerite …" he whispered, rocking her, thanking her for her profound love and care and so sorry that they could not be together like this for all time.

"Come to me again." She appealed, sliding slowly down from an unbelievable pinnacle. "You must come to me again tomorrow night."

He cradled her in his arms, her head on his shoulder, grateful she could not see his expression, feeling her hand resting against his chest. "I can promise you only tonight …" he said, quoting her from sometime in their past. He felt her suddenly stiffen in his arms and regretted what he said, "It's all I'm allowed."

Marguerite could have screamed and shouted. She could have asked him what it was he was doing, making her feel all these raw, beautiful emotions again -- just to leave her. Was it a bizarre revenge? But no, her heart sobbed, he would not do that. He was here for her as much as for himself. Roxton said she would eventually understand … Blindly, Marguerite's hand reach up to touch his hair, the roughness of his cheek, the firmness of his jaw. "Then we will have to make every moment count, won't we?" She spoke firmly but could feel her heart breaking all over again.

"Yes," he caressed her shoulders, "We will." and he kissed her once again as her lips reached upward for his.

When Marguerite awoke the following morning she was alone, her nightdress intact, and there was no evidence that she had ever had company the previous evening. 'A dream.' she thought, 'Of course that's what it was …What else could it have been?'

>>>

Marguerite discovered she was pregnant two months later. Gordon was deliriously happy. He told her the conception must have happened on New Year's Eve, when he was feeling romantic and she had been compassionate. Marguerite agreed but never quite believed it. Although, she conceded, it was the only explanation that made sense.

Four months into her pregnancy Marguerite attended yet another funeral. Her husband's. His weak body and mind had finally given in to his disorder. Marguerite grieved. So few men had been genuinely kind to her.

She gave birth on September 15, 1922, to Roxanne Caroline Crane.

One month after her child's birth, while waiting for the baby's nanny to change her and prepare the girl for their morning walk in the park, Marguerite was visited by a gaunt and grim-faced George Challenger. With him were some very serious men in white coats.

Marguerite was suddenly faced with a horrible, overwhelming reality.

In the back of the automobile, on the way to the clinic, Marguerite could only think about what she would later write in her personal journal. She thought she was a heroine. She didn't know she had brought him, all of them, home to die ....

>>>