Edith walked home from church alone Sunday morning seething. Thaddeus had tried to catch her before she left, but she had ignored him. The pastor had preached on charity, but the message had found no lodging in her heart. She was too busy glowering at Lydia who had come in as they were singing the second hymn, sporting a rather ostentatious powder blue had and matching gown, and proceeded to wedge herself into the pew right next to Thaddeus. That wasn't unexpected considering it was Lydia, but it bothered Edith to no end that he had done nothing to resist the display. She entered her apartment and slammed the door. She had wanted to believe Thaddeus last night when he said Lydia was his friend's sister, but a casual acquaintance didn't do such things. She set down her Bible and removed her hat. Edith glanced into the kitchen, but didn't care to eat, opting for a nap instead. As she walked to the bedroom, someone banged on the outside door. She ignored the sound, and after checking to make sure she had remembered to bolt the door, continued into her bedroom. She sipped off her boots, and drew her legs up onto the bed. A tear streaked its way down her cheek. Against all the odds, she had truly hoped things might work out for them. She had been praying that she would be able to accept the loneliness of spinsterhood, but secretly had harbored a hope that Thaddeus might marry her despite all the obstructions to such. It just wasn't fair! She thought. She couldn't be near her family, couldn't marry Horace- not that she had particularly wanted to- and now couldn't even enjoy her courtship with Thaddeus. Of course, she supposed she should be thankful if the end of their relationship came from his involvement with Lydia rather than her up and leaving him. And if he was indeed keeping secrets, better they be the kind involving another woman than a clandestine plan to murder her. These rationalizations did little to make Edith feel better. She was quite appalled that she had allowed herself to grow so attached to Thaddeus. In reflections, she recalled a poem she had recently read by and Englishman in memoriam to his friend who had passed on. One of the poem's lines read, it is better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all. At the time, Edith had thought the words touching, but now considered their application to her. Certainly the statement was true regarding Roland, for she had lost him as surely as if he were dead. She wondered if in time she would grow to feel that way about Thaddeus. One thing was sure, while if she could turn the clock back and prevent Roland from stealing from his employer she would, that would, in turn, have kept her from meeting Thaddeus Mallory. By this time, Edith was sobbing in earnest, and began working to calm herself. If Thaddeus would pay her court while secretly involved with Miss Lydia Plum, then she didn't need him. That thought soothed her aching heart enough that she was able to drift off into a fitful sleep. When she woke, she evening shadows were lengthening, and a glance a t the clock informed Edith that she needed to rise and dress for church. After attending to her toilette, Edith pinned on her bonnet, and collected her Bible and reticule. She opened the door and nearly walked straight into Thaddeus. He took her arm to steady her.
"I figured you had to come out sometime." He said. She scowled. She had no intention of speaking with the heartless cad, but when she turned to go back inside, he had blocked the door. "Eleanor, please listen to me." He said sotto voce, "I know you're angry and very hurt. You probably have right to be. But everything I've told you about Lydia is true. And that's all I know about her. Well, except-"
Edith looked up. Now the other shoe would drop. "Except?" she prompted.
"Lydia lost her fiancé some years back in a tragic… accident. Despite what she says, I don't believe she ever recovered from the loss. Grief does peculiar things to people- perhaps it has affected her behavior. Likely said, I'd never laid eyes on her prior to Thursday night when she just showed up at the shop. But as far as anything- romantic between us, which I know is what you're thinking."
"Anyone observing the circumstances would draw the same conclusion, you're right. But Eleanor, I have no feelings like that toward Lydia. At all. Can't you see? You are the woman I love."
As soon as Thaddeus spoke he clamped his lips shut. Edith suspected he hadn't intended to confess that. She felt tears sting her eyes again. He brushed them away gently. "Please, don't cry, darling." The church bell pealed in the distance. "We'd better hurry," he said taking her hand, "It won't look good, us coming in late together and you all upset."
Monday night on his way home, Thaddeus picked up another cable from Sylvester. There was still no sign of Horace Covington, and Roland Braxton had spent the past two nights at the clubs after receiving word of the death of Marcella Braxton, his father's sister. Poor Edith. Now Roland was her only living relative, and it appeared he was a complete mess. Thaddeus stopped by the boarding house and changed clothes. Before leaving to pick up Edith, he tucked the wire into his Bible where he was in the habit of keeping important communications should his room be searched. Oh his way out, he locked the bedroom door, and then walked down the street to Edith's apartment. They enjoyed a nice quiet supper; though Thaddeus constantly watched for Lydia should she show up. They sky was just beginning to darken when he took Edith home, but he needed to start work early in the morning, and wanted to make sure he got plenty of sleep.
"Thank you for a lovely evening," he whispered as he unlocked the door for her.
She smiled, "Anytime. I-I love you, Thaddeus."
He had previously read an expression describing a state of wild, unfettered joy, that, at the time, Thaddeus had thought quite stupid, but there were no other words that so described his ecstasy at Edith's confession. His heart sang. He took her hand in his and gently kissed it. He looked into her eyes, intending to tell her he loved her in return, but no words came. Instead, he felt the distinct sensation that he was going to cry.
She looked up, "Is something the matter?"
He managed to shake his head, and then turned and fled down the stairs and out into the night air. His feet quickly took him to the river. He sat down on the bank and watched the water ripple in the moonlight, contemplating his peculiar reaction to Edith's declaration of love. He was thrilled to be sure, but honestly a bit frightened as well. Lydia was right, this was a bad idea. But how could he back out after they were in so deep? Edith would be terribly hurt. Perhaps he should send for a replacement after all…
For the next two weeks Thaddeus avoided Edith, while he tried to decide on the best course of action. He could tell the few times he had seen her that she was upset over his standoffishness, but it was the only way Thaddeus could keep his head clear. Lydia was as much of a pest as ever. Edith was doing her best to befriend the other woman, but /Lydia wasn't the easiest person to be friends with. Finally Thaddeus decided to bite the bullet and request that another agent be sent to replace him. This decision was made after much prayer, because once the reason for the request came out, Thaddeus would likely be forfeiting his job. Not that Edith wasn't worth it, mind you, but he did need some means of supporting her, and carpentry was his only fallback. Of course for all he knew they might never be able to return to Charleston, in which case, he would be working with wood for the rest of his life anyway. He finally got his telegram worded satisfactorily, and left to walk down to the Western Union office to send it. As he was walking, Lydia came up behind him.
"Where are you going, Thad?" if he'd asked once he'd asked a hundred times for her to use his full name, but she refused.
"You were right, Lydia. It's a conflict of interest for me to be involved with Edith. I'm on my way to send a telegram requesting a replacement. Once the new agent arrives, I'm going to ask her to marry me."
Lydia turned sheet white, "What? No, you can't. I thought…" she actually looked ill.
That didn't sound good at all. "What have you done?" Thaddeus demanded.
"You weren't listening to me, and I was so afraid something would happen to one or both of you-"
Under normal circumstances, Thaddeus was a patient man, and in control of his temper. But these were not normal circumstances. "What did you do?" he bellowed.
"I…" she faltered and he glared, "I told her that we were engaged."
"You what?" he screamed, then looked around and was relieved to see that no one was around to hear him.
"I was only trying to-"
"I don't care what you were trying to do. Are you aware that you may have cost me this assignment with your stupidity?"
"Thaddeus, I'm sorry-"
He didn't let her finish, instead turning on heel and running in the direction of Edith's apartment. Chances were it was too late to salvage their relationship, but perhaps he could still keep her from doing anything that might put her in greater danger.
Edith crammed clothes into her leather valise, pausing occasionally to wipe at her tears. To think she had actually loved that man. She ran downstairs to tell her landlord that there had been an emergency and she had to leave immediately. She apologized for leaving all her furniture in the apartment and told him he was welcome to sell it, but he said he figured he could charge more rent if the apartment were furnished. When she got back upstairs, Edith noticed the vase of flowers sitting on the table. Thaddeus had brought them to her on Tuesday. She dumped the water and threw the flowers, vase and all, into the wastebasket. She closed the clasp on her valise, and walked back into the bedroom one last time to make sure there wasn't anything she had forgotten. She was wearing her old cotton dress again. No one in Thunder Bay had seen her in it, and neither had Thaddeus, so she hoped she might slip away unrecognized. She hadn't yet decided where to go; Edith supposed she ought to be thankful Thaddeus wasn't trying to kill her. But why he couldn't have seen fit to just tell her about Lydia, and break things off with her she didn't know. Deciding she was done here, Edith picked up her scarf, intending to wrap it around her head as she had before. Before she could, though, a persistent knock sounded on the door. Thaddeus. Unfortunately, as she had learned before he wasn't going to go away, and there was only one exit unless you counted dropping two stories to the sidewalk below as an option. Briefly, Edith considered doing just that. She was thoroughly tired of running from her brother's creditors' goons, and quite frankly after this latest fiasco… but, as a Christian she believed that since God created life only He had the right to end it, and that made suicide a sin. And deliberately committing a sinful act was not a good way by which to meet one's Maker. This pretty well left only the option of opening the door. At least she could yell at him, let the cad know how she really felt. That probably wasn't the most Christian response, but she forced that thought away. Edith flung the door open. Thaddeus stood before her, head down, hands in his pockets.
He looked her up and down, "Edith, my love, I am so sorry for what Lydia-"
"I don't care." She snapped, "If you couldn't see your way clear to telling me about you and her before now, your apologies will have no effect on my opinion of you."
"Edith, listen to me,"
"No, you listen to me, Thaddeus Mallory," she stopped, feeling the color drain from her face, "How do you know my name?"
"Because," said a voice from the shadows of the stairwell, "He's been following you since you left Charleston.
"Horace," Edith breathed his name in relief as the other man entered the tiny hallway, "It's so good to see you. But however did you find me?" she walked over to him.
"Edith I don't think-" Thaddeus said, but was cut off as Horace pulled a gun from his pocket and leveled it at him.
"And I intend to see that you never think again. You have been most useful these past months, Mr. Mallory, but now I don't need your services any longer."
"Horace what are you talking about?" Edith asked, quite frightened, "And what are you doing with that gun? Put it down before you hurt somebody."
"Edith, I'm sorry." Thaddeus said, "This is all my fault. I led him to you."
She turned to look at him, "You what? Who are you, really?"
"He's a private investigator with Wiemann Detective Agency in Charleston, Edith, dear. I've no idea what he told you about himself, but likely as not none of it is true."
"I've never lied to you Edith," Thaddeus said, "Especially not when I said I loved you. I'm not involved with Lydia. Not that way at least. She's also an agent. She's been helping me with the case."
"Case?" Edith parroted, bewildered, "What case?"
"You, dear." Horace still held the gun at Thaddeus' head. "I sent him after you. It seems I've found indulging my lifestyle of choice is somewhat… expensive shall we say. I don't have sufficient funds myself, so occasionally I require a bit of outside assistance. Your brother's law firm was most helpful in that regard."
"Roland's…? Do you mean to tell me that you embezzled that money instead of Roland? And then blamed him for it?"
"Ah, you are more astute than I credited," Horace replied, "But I was nice enough to pay the copious gambling debts Roland had occurred over the past few years. Nasty habit, that. Of course, half a million dollars doesn't last forever. Which is why I am so glad you changed your will when we got engaged."
Edith felt her knees buckle, but managed to stay upright, "My will? You're going to kill me? But Horace I don't have control over any of the family fortune. Father made Aunt Marcella trustee before he died, and she only dispenses a small stipend to me each month."
"Yes, you mentioned that to me. But don't fret, dear. I paid your Aunt Marcella a visit before coming here. She won't be a problem any longer. Really, people her age shouldn't be out on balconies late at night, sometimes their balance isn't that good. Since you were of course the heir to all her assets- well, jointly with Roland of course, but since he will be in prison for some time… and once news of your tragic death reaches us in Charleston- what can I say? All's well that ends well?"
Edith thought she might be sick, "You killed Aunt Marcella? And you're going to kill Thaddeus and me?" she asked.
"No. He isn't going to kill anybody." Lydia Plum pressed a small muff pistol, much like the one Edith owned, into Horace's neck. "Now, put your weapon down, and you might live to see trial. Otherwise, I make no promises."
Horace's finger flexed on the trigger, and Edith feared he would shoot Thaddeus out of spite. "Don't!" she said, her voice somewhat louder than necessary. "It's me you really want to kill. No matter which of us you shoot, Lydia will kill you the instant you pull the trigger. Wouldn't it be much more satisfying to see me die first?"
"Yes." He swung the gun around, and in the brief moment it was pointed at no one, Lydia fired her gun. The muscles in Horace's fingers tensed in reflex, but the bullet discharged harmlessly into the wall. Before his body met the ground, Horace Covington was dead.
Thaddeus helped Edith off the train at the station in Charleston. It had been snowing when they left Thunder Bay nearly two weeks before, but in South Carolina the weather was still warm in November. Sylvester had seen to it that the scandal was well publicized, much to Horace's family's chagrin, but it seemed the best way to ensure Edith and Roland were exonerated from any involvement with the embezzlement. The police had managed to locate the men who had assaulted her in her home last March, and as far as they knew no one else was after her. He still worried that there was something they had yet to discover, but had to trust God to keep her. The bulk of Horace's estate had gone to paying back Roland's legal firm. After news of his gaming and alcohol addictions got around, Roland had lost his job, but Edith refused to permit him to sit idle, so he was presently serving as a clerk in one of the finer hotels. Marcella's estate was still tied up in probate court, and Edith was fighting to have a new trust drawn up so Roland wasn't in control of a large sum considering his lack of responsibility. Edith had written numerous lengthy letters, begging him to turn to the Lord, but had managed only to extricate a promise that he would go to church with her once she returned.
Lydia had returned to New Jersey at the end of September. Her vacation time had run out two weeks prior, but the Her Majesty's constabulary in Thunder Bay had detained her pending investigation in the shooting of Horace Covington. After being thoroughly satisfied that yes, she really was a licensed investigator, and yes, she had only fired when lives were at stake, the police had released Lydia. Thaddeus had taken her to supper before she returned home, and she had told him that yes, she had secretly hoped that perhaps something of a romantic nature might develop between them (he resisted rolling his eyes) but that now it was so plain he loved Edith that she wouldn't consider such a thing.
As for him and Edith, they had gotten married right before leaving Canada by the pastor of their church there. Lars and Gretchen had stood up with them, but their only guests were members of the church. As soon as the ceremony was over, they had hopped on a ship (this time one without lumberjacks) and sailed back to the good old, U.S. of A. it would have only taken a few days to get back to Charleston, but instead they had used the trip home as their honeymoon, in no particular hurry to get anywhere. As soon as the case officially closed Thaddeus filed for a leave of absence, so he could stay with Edith. He was glad he'd been a thousand miles away when the story broke at the office. After waiting in suspense, he had finally received a letter from his boss, stating there would be 'no official action taken' against him, but if anyone in the agency ever asked how he and Edith met he was to 'tell a creative truth lest we set a precedent.' He and Edith had discussed his career at length, and she would not hear of him giving it up, 'providing you are not frequently following beautiful women all over the countryside.'
"There's Sylvester and Ruby!" Thaddeus whispered excitedly in his wife's ear, pointing to his friends. Sylvester had a new scar under his left eye, Thaddeus noticed, another reminder of what good friends he had. About that time, Sylvester saw him, and waved. He wrapped his arm around Edith's waist, "Come on, they said they'd have a carriage waiting to take us home."
In the carriage, Thaddeus retrieved the still unfired Colt from his pocket and relinquished it to Sylvester. "Where did you get this anyhow?"
"Boss said give it to you, since yours was tied up as evidence. Again." Ruby giggled.
As they were unpacking, Edith came across her muff pistol and set it on the dresser. Thaddeus had quite forgotten about it. He looked back to the bag she'd retrieved it from. "You put that in your luggage?" she nodded, "Fat lot of good it'll do you in there. I'd have worried a lot less if I'd known you weren't actually carrying it on your person."
"How did you even know I owned it?"
"You bought it while we were in Milwaukee. I followed you to the pawn shop." She looked startled, "Oh, by the way," he rummaged through his bag, and retrieved her garnet brooch, "I believe you're missing this."
"Oh, Thaddeus!" she flung her arms about his neck, "Thank you! I can't believe he still had it after all these months!"
"I bought it five minutes after you left the shop."
She studied him, puzzled, "But why? I mean, I appreciate it and all, but… you didn't want it for evidence, did you?"
"Evidence?" He laughed, "No. I guess… I guess I was falling in love with you even then."